Why General Electric is launching the first cloud for industrial data

Its new cloud system will allow critical industries to make better use of the data available, GE representatives say.

Thibault Camus/AP/File
The General Electric logo at a plant in Belfort, eastern France, June 24, 2014.

General Electric says that it plans to take cloud computing to a whole new level.  

Big data centers, powered by tech giants such as Amazon and IBM, already store everything from music to photos to your employee’s backed up quarterly reports. But now GE says that the industrial sector needs its own designated cloud to hold, clean, and analyze the plethora of data it’s producing each year. That’s why the company intends to launch the first ever cloud service specifically designed for industrial data and analytics. The new cloud will allow the companies involved in critical infrastructure and services to make better use of the data available, company representatives say.

“The data we’re storing is very different from a Facebook picture, which is pretty well defined,” Harel Kodesh, vice president and general manager for GE’s Predix software platform at GE Software, told pdnet.com. “Some of the sensors on machines may not be working properly and their data is dirty. It needs to be cleaned, normalized, compressed and ingested in a secure and efficient manner.”

“The nature of the devices we’re dealing with is very different from tablets or smartphones,” he added. “They are often considered part of the critical infrastructure.”

Using the GE cloud, company representatives say that big industries that rely on heavy equipment, such as airlines, hospitals, and oil companies, will be able to capture and analyze big data from a variety of sources, giving them insights into the performance of their equipment and the external factors affecting it.

App developers will also be granted access to some of the data, a move that will allow them to design apps that manufacturers can purchase directly for their work.

“The move highlights how important the so-called Internet of Things, a term for matching sensors with cloud-computing systems, has become for some of the world’s biggest companies,” wrote Quentin Hardy for the New York Times.

GE is expected to rake in around $6 billion from software this year, much of which comes from its software Predix, which the company used to build the new cloud. The new industrial cloud will be called the “Predix Cloud,” after the software.

But GE might have some competition, as companies such as IBM and Microsoft also begin to court the industrial sector with offers of cloud computing services.

“In many ways, this approach resembles the IBM cloud strategy. IBM bought Softlayer in 2013, then launched the Bluemix development platform the following year with the hope that developers will create applications on Bluemix and run them on Softlayer,” wrote Ron Miller for Tech Crunch.

But GE claims that its services are different because they were specifically built with the security of big industrial companies in mind. Moreover, GE has a more keen understanding than other companies of how industrial machinery operates, company representatives insist, a fact that allows it to predict the impact certain data sets will have on its customers’ equipment.

Starting off, General Electric plans to build a data center on each of the US coasts. Around $500 million will be spent annually on the new endeavor, company officials confirmed. The company envisions that the cloud will be made available to outside customers sometime in 2016. 

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