BlackBerry makes an unexpected play for the Internet of Things

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Credit: Wavebreak Media

Can Project Ion reverse BlackBerry's fortunes?

In a dispatch from the Unexpected News department, BlackBerry and subsidiary QNX Software Systems have announced a cross-company initiative called Project Ion that makes the Internet of Things a company focus, with a public cloud-based application platform and a mandate to build a developer ecosystem.

It's not as strange a maneuver as it may first seem, QNX VP of Cloud Business Alec Saunders told CITEworld. The QNX Neutrino microkernel UNIX operating system -- the company's claim to fame, and the foundation for the BlackBerry 10 operating system ---  gets embedded in everything from cars to slot machines. And needless to say, BlackBerry knows a thing or two about building reliable cloud services. 

"This is our heritage," Saunders says. "This is our birthright." 

Project Ion is more the name of the initiative than any one technology, and will probably have a dry-as-dirt, brand-friendlier name when it actually becomes available to the public in beta later this year.

But the goal is the provide a common, vendor-neutral platform for smart devices to send the potentially huge amounts of data generated by IoT devices up to the public cloud for analysis and business decision-making. (Saunders says every car QNX Neutrino powers generates as much as 3 gigabytes per month.)  It will also use BlackBerry's years of enterprise mobile management and security expertise to ensure that data remains secure.

This is important to help the Internet of Things take off -- right now, different vendors send their data up to their own proprietary clouds in their own proprietary formats over their own proprietary interchanges. 

"That's not going to cut it," Saunders says.

As application development and an appreciation for the business value of data is moves out of the IT department and into the line of business, he says, it's important that developers anywhere in the organization get a common way to build applications and work with IoT data. With the proprietary approach, that's difficult, if not impossible.

That's why Project Ion is built on the polyglot Vert.x application platform, with a focus on using popular technologies like Node.js to help enterprises connect to and work with their own data sources. In the end, the goal is to help the enterprise build IoT strategies that scale. 

The news also comes with word that BlackBerry has formed strategic partnerships around the IoT ecosystem, including joining the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and the Application Developers Alliance (ADA) as part of a play to both expand vertical reach and boost developer appeal.  

If this is something that interests you as a developer, Project Ion is in a very limited preview mode starting in June, for which you can apply now. Come this Fall, it'll be available in a public beta, Saunders says, with Project Ion's official launch coming at the start of BlackBerry's new fiscal year in February. 

It's not a standard, as Saunders hammered in. But it's obvious that Project Ion is BlackBerry's play to get developers to think about the company as a platform, not a beleaguered handset manufacturer. And if it ends up as the de facto common application platform for the IoT as the company clearly hopes, so much the better for BlackBerry.

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