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Forget phones, BlackBerry's new Project Ion is all about THINGS

Cloudy backend promises to munch data from QNX devices

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Solid With its smartphone sales circling the drain, beleaguered BlackBerry has announced Project Ion, a set of initiatives aimed at delivering services and infrastructure for everyone's favorite hot-button buzzword, the Internet of Things (IoT).

The project was unveiled in a brief presentation at the O'Reilly Solid conference on Wednesday by Alec Saunders, who in January was tapped by BlackBerry CEO John Chen to head the company's new QNX Cloud business.

QNX, originally developed by independent vendor QNX Systems, is an industry-leading realtime embedded OS. Acquired by BlackBerry in 2010, when it's not propping up the company's latest BlackBerry 10 smartphone platform, QNX on its own powers a wide range of devices, from in-car entertainment systems to industrial machinery.

"QNX is literally everywhere," Saunders told the audience at Solid. "It's in satellites, it's in trains, it's in cars, it's in laser eye surgery systems, it's even in robotic vacuum cleaners."

The trick, Saunders said, is that these days, vendors all want to use sensors and connectivity to extract data from those devices. And that data can pile up fast.

"If you believe all of the predictions that there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet of things by 2020," Saunders said, "we could be talking about trillions of machine transactions and exabytes of data being created on a daily basis."

So the way BlackBerry figures it, who better to help companies manage and make sense of that data than the company that sells them their QNX software in the first place?

Details of just what BlackBerry is cooking up are still scant, but according to a blog post by Saunders on Wednesday, Project Ion will take a three-pronged approach.

The first piece will be a "cloud-based product" – it's still not clear whether we're talking about something that BlackBerry will manage or something that customers can install in their own data centers, or both – that will help customers capture and collate their IoT data.

Saunders demoed what he described as a prototype version of the product at the Solid show, but he said the commercial version will be "a secure platform that can scale globally to handle the millions of transactions and exabytes of data generated by these objects every single day."

Second, Saunders said BlackBerry is working to develop a new ecosystem composed of partners, wireless carriers, and application developers to help drum up enthusiasm for the whole IoT concept.

Third, BlackBerry plans to get more involved in the IoT landscape – among other things, by joining industry groups such as the Industrial Internet Consortium and the Application Developers Alliance.

"We believe BlackBerry is in the best position to provide the technological building blocks, applications and services needed deliver on the vision of IoT," Saunders said.

Mind you, none of this will happen overnight. Saunders said BlackBerry will be opening its QNX Cloud software to select customers in a private preview "very shortly," but no timeline of when it will be made generally available was discussed.

In the meantime, Saunders says he welcomes comment from customers.  "Will IoT change everything?" he wrote. "Visit blackberry.com/project-ion to tell us what IoT means to you or how you're using it today." ®

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