British Gas is one of the many companies which is taking advantage of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing infrastructure to deliver new and interesting technologies, in this case its Hive central heating remote control tool.
Introduced last autumn, the Hive Active Heating system enables British Gas customers to remotely control their central heating using an app on their smartphone, tablet or laptop. The heart of the system is a hub that uses a customer's broadband router to communicate with the outside world, but which also links wirelessly with the thermostat and boiler to control the heating.
This is set to be just the first of a line of home automation services, according to Seb Chakraborty, IT Director for Connected Homes at British Gas, and the firm has turned to AWS to deliver the infrastructure required to operate the service.
"We're using the cloud for rolling out all our Connected Homes products and services, and we have a number of these we're trialling. Some of those are in pure development, so we're using it to get started very quickly for testing our ideas, but also for running production services for Hive," Chakraborty told V3 in an interview at Amazon's AWS Enterprise Summit in London.
AWS was a crucial factor in the success of the project, he said, as it allowed British Gas to start development in early 2013 and have the product ready to it the market in time for the winter season at the end of the year, when customers would start using their central heating again.
"When Connected Homes was an idea, we realised that we had to give free rein to the development team to make their own technology choices to do something innovative, and we needed to move fast. We quickly took the decision to use AWS because we were effectively a startup within a big organisation, and we didn't want to invest in data centres and be saddled with setup and procurement times," he explained.
British Gas opted to go with AWS because a number of the key engineers on the project had previous experience of using Amazon's cloud services, according to Chakraborty.
"I worked for Telefonica before British Gas, and we had already done a lot of work with AWS and saw it as the leading cloud platform. It has more application programming interfaces, more tools, more horizontal capabilities than any other cloud provider," he said.
However, British Gas also expects to save an estimated 75 percent on operating costs by using AWS to host the Hive back-end, rather than building out its own on-premise infrastructure.
With the Hive service delivered from public cloud, this means that customer data is being stored on AWS, and security is a potential issue. However, Chakraborty said that there are few if any issues that British Gas has run into here.
"We're always vigilant about security and we always follow best practices when it comes to customer data and making sure it as secure as we can make it," he said.
With the successful roll out of Hive, British Gas is looking to expand its Connected Home products to cover more domestic appliances and services.
One future product that is being looked at is the "smart boiler" that can upload sensor data collected regarding the health of the pump and other components in order to spot developing problems before the boiler fails and an engineer needs to make an emergency call out to fix it.
This is currently under trial at the moment, but is also set to make use of AWS to deliver the service, Chakraborty said.
"This is what consumers are telling us they want. All devices in the home will eventually be connected and we will have that level of flexible control," he said.
The comments certainly back up claims from AWS that the cloud is becoming the de facto platform of choice for doing business, although concerns will no doubt still linger for many organisations over issues of security and data sovereignty.
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