The Cloud Conundrum of Connected Cars


By: R. Scott Raynovich

LAS VEGAS --VMworld2017 -- The connected car market is generating a huge amount of excitement for cloud vendors, chip vendors, and communications platforms. This is understandable, but what's underestimated is the scale of complications it brings, including issues around customer data and security.

The market is creating large amounts of disruption and opportunity at the same time. For example, the semiconductor content of automobiles is expected to as much as double over the next five years. The complicated part comes when one considers how all of these new components are connected, what happens with data and software management, and how you secure the connections and data.

If you are looking at the glass half full, this is good news. It's driving huge strategic bets by large companies, for example the forthcoming merger between Qualcomm (QCOM) and NXP Semiconductors (NXPI), which is worth $47 billion. Fujitsu and VMware in March announced plans for a collaboration to integrate the Fujitsu OTA (over-the air) Reprogramming Solution with VMware's IoT solutions, building cloud platform for connected cars and autonomous driving.

OTA is one of the more complicated challenges of connected car. Envision a car packed with
an increasing number of electronic control units (ECUs), which manage and communicate data ranging from the mechanical systems to entertainment systems. The software embedded within the ECUs is becoming more sophisticated and requires updates. Somebody has to manage and secure the data. The automobile original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) need to make important decisions. Do they use a separate management and cloud system for each of these ECUs? The way that the ECU vendors are marketing IoT, that's what's happening in some cases -- with parallel cloud systems for different components.

Fujitsu and VMware say that the automobile manufacturers need the capability to manage, reprogram, and manage data from these ECUs in a central place. This can enable centralized management, security, and audit.

VMware CTO of IoT, Greg Bollella, said that the Fujitsu and VMware collaboration is about consolidating the data from a wide variety of connected car components onto a single datacenter platform.

"We want to work with all the ECU vendors and provide a single management view," said Bollella here at VMworld. He believes that data management and security are crucial issues in IoT, where companies are gathering and managing the customer data.

"Data ownership is a big issue. For example, do consumers own the data being collected in their home? Does an enterprise own the data coming off the machines in their facilities? Consumers and enterprises are concerned about what might be inferred from the collected data. As an industry we've just started down this road and a lot is left to be discovered."

Indeed, car data is where it's at. As Reuters pointed out recently, with the proliferation of sensors, cameras, LiDARs, and chips, a single driverless vehicle will produce as much as 4,000 gigabytes of data per day.

VMware's angle on this makes sense. Will the customer and the automobile OEMs want dozens of vendors to manage their own cloud data platforms -- or is it more logical to have a central point of control?

This demonstrates the high stakes of the emerging automobile cloud, and why it's so important for companies going after IoT management such as AT&T, Cisco, and VMware, as well as the automobile manufacturers.