Huawei talks up cloud ambition, rides IoT elevators with Schindler

Chinese networking equipment vendor outlines future cloud deployments it says are necessary to facilitate enterprise transformation and inks new partnership to build "smart" elevators.

SHANGHAI, CHINA--Huawei wants to play a role in providing the infrastructure it believes is necessary to facilitate an "intelligent" world, one that is driven by devices, connectivity, and cloud.

Senior executives from the Chinese networking equipment maker talked up the importance of cloud in enterprises' digital transformation, pointing to its role in the success of companies such as Google, Amazon Web Services, Didi Chuxing, and Airbnb.

Speaking at the Huawei Connect 2016 conference held here this week, the vendor's rotating CEO Ken Hu noted that cloud had changed business models and helped drive innovation, positive user experience, and cost savings.

"These companies leverage cloud technology and cloud architecture to more effectively share resources," Hu said, pointing to the likes of Airbnb and Didi, which was the equivalent of Uber in China. He added that these market players also tapped mobile technology to better connect customers and created new service value in verticals that were otherwise challenging to enter, such as hospitality and transport.

He said the next cloud era would see the emergence of numerous vertical industry clouds, with all enterprises deploying cloud models and cloud technologies by 2025, and 85 percent of enterprise applications running on cloud.

These would give rise to an "intelligent world" in which devices would provide the ability to "sense", networks would connect all devices, and cloud would be "the source of intelligence behind all things".

Hu said: "Huawei is committed to building the technological infrastructure that will harmonise devices, pipes, and the cloud. These will serve as the backbone of an intelligent world. As such, devices, pipe, and cloud technology are the strategic focus of Huawei's investment in the future."

Riding smart on elevators

A key part of the vendor's strategy was its focus on industry cloud, where it would partner specialised market players to jointly develop and test products and services for their verticals. At the conference, it unveiled a collaboration with Schindler Group to co-develop smart elevators, tapping Internet of Things (IoT) technology to improve the maintenance and reduce the cost of managing such systems.

According to Swift Liu, president of Huawei's enterprise network product, there were more than 15 million elevators operating in buildings last year, providing billions of rides each day. With urbanisation expected to intensify over the next 30 years, moving 70 percent of the global population into cities by 2050, elevators would become increasingly indispensable, Liu said. This would give rise to issues concerning maintenance and public safety, especially with recent incidents of injuries and fatalities related to faulty equipment in China and elsewhere.

In 2014 alone, elevators installed in China accounted for 68 percent of the total number of newly installed systems worldwide. Given the stats, the current average service interruptions of two days a year would equate to 30 million days a year to service the world's 15 million elevators. These interruptions were necessary for manual inspection to be carried out, resulting in a high operating expenditure.

Elevators were complicated equipment to manage, Liu said, stressing the need for more innovation in the sector. Past accidents, for instance, might have been avoided if they could have been anticipated with better technology, he added.

Having worked over the past two years on a potential offering in this vertical, Huawei built an IoT gateway that could be installed on the elevator to gather information captured by sensors installed in the elevator. The data would be relayed to a cloud-based controller and managed via a software-defined network (SDN) architecture.

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Installing a gateway, or edge computing device, at the elevator allowed for lower latency so a faster response could be achieved, Liu explained. If internet connection was lost, the terminal would continue to operate and retain the data, transferring the data to the cloud later when connection was restored.

Data gathered by the sensors would be used to monitor the elevators for any potential faults and identify systems that needed a maintenance check. The gateway also could support container technology, paving the way for third-party developers to install their own applications and push display ads, for instance, that could be shown in the elevator. This opened up potential for building operators to generate additional revenue from the elevators.

To ensure the infrastructure was secured, Liu said Huawei adopted a "four level" security policy that encompassed security at the chipset layer, to prevent malware from being written into the terminal, as well as the underlying code in the OS and network layers. The system also was built to support IPSec, he said, adding that all data was encrypted so only the customers would be able to decrypt and decipher the information.

Data collected could be used for analysis to improve further designs or finetune the system to improve its overall performance.

According to Schindler China CEO Daryoush Zial, the company had more than 1.5 million elevators installed in more than 100 countries, with more than 200,000 located in China. Of these, Schindler was responsible for the maintenance of a little over 100,000, he said.

Zial noted that the company was aiming for all elevators it installed or serviced to be network connected, but could not provide a timeframe on when this would be achieved. He said this also would depend on the regulations in the local market, which might push for such systems to be connected.

Schindler currently was planning to run pilots of the new systems in China and Europe.

Wu Chou, Huawei's vice president and CTO of enterprise network product line, told ZDNet the partnership with Schindler was not exclusive and that Huawei remained open to collaborating with other operators in the sector.

Reiterating the complexity of elevators, Chou said hundreds of sensors were installed in one system alone, with several deployed just on the doors.

He explained that Huawei provided the IoT platforms and terminals as well as backend systems, leaving the manufacturing and deployment of sensors to its partners in the respective verticals because the production of such devices required domain knowledge. It would be critical, for instance, to know the best places to install the sensors so as to better monitor the performance of the elevators, he said.

Chou said Huawei was involved in other IoT deployments in other regions and markets including Africa and Egypt, where these systems were used to maintain power grids and streetlights. These IoT-enabled streetlights could automatically adjust the intensity of the light based on their environment, cutting down on power consumption by more than 80 percent, he said.

Previously, such adjustments were based on fixed daily schedules or times, rather than the current ambient environment. The ability to dynamically adjust the IoT-enabled system would allow savings to be optimised, Chou said, noting that different sensors could be added to provide more improvements.

For example, he related how a customer in South Africa was keen to know if sensors could be added to the streetlights to detect the sound of gunshots, which could then automatically increase the intensity of the lights so the perpetrator could be more easily identified.

Asked if it was indeed possible, he said audio sensors could be installed to identify gunshots, which had distinctive attributes that would enable such sounds to be distinguished.

At the conference this week, Huawei had stressed the potential for cloud to improve such specialised vertical deployments.

During his presentation, Yan Lida, Huawei's president of Huawei enterprise business group, noted that businesses would be looking to generate more value from their cloud deployments, which would no longer be focused solely on reducing costs.

He added that companies across vertical industries were evaluating how to reengineer their business models around cloud, which had already begun to transform the financial services, healthcare, public, and media sectors.

According to Lux Resaerch, by 2020, the world's industrial IoT market would be worth some US$151 billion, comprising factory machinery and industrial products, among others.

Based in Singapore, Eileen Yu reported for ZDNet from Huawei Connect 2016 in Shanghai, China, on the invitation of Huawei.

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