CA’s internal ‘Shark Tank’ backs Aussie research based IoT virtualisation start-up

CA’s internal ‘Shark Tank’ backs Aussie research based IoT virtualisation start-up

CA Accelerator company KnowThings leverages machine learning techniques developed with Swinburne University

Perfect storm

AK says he was into home automation before it was cool.

“I have an electrical engineering background. So my nights and weekends while I was working for CA, I used to automate everything in my house, my garden, my kitchen, this is before the current swathe of home automation,” he says.

“So I took the ideas of what we were doing within service virtualisation and mirrored that to the challenges I had, at a small scale, trying not irritate my wife and my dog when I’m turning on the lights at 3am in the morning because I’m trying to automate my house,” he adds.

KnowThings is essentially IoT device virtualisation.

“Our focus is making it easier for developers and QA to build IoT solutions. Our first product offering is around virtual devices. These are simulations of the devices at the edge of your network which you can use during development time and through the later QA cycle. So early on you can prototype devices that haven’t been built or there are not enough of them for all the stakeholders to interact with those devices. And as you move forward you can test deployments of a few hundred thousand before you go out to the field,” AK explains.

“Even when you have enough things, there’s a tremendous cost in the data management the set up and tear down for tests. So when you can use a simultation or something which exists in software it greatly simplifies that practice,” he adds.

The simulation is powered using patented machine learning algorithms, developed by researchers at Swinburne University and the University of Melbourne.

CA and Swinburne have been collaborators since 2006. Their work together has been supported with a number of Australian Research Council linkage grants. In 2014 a research project led to the invention of what CA calls “opaque data processing”. Another grant awarded in 2015 focused on “virtual environments for improved enterprise software deployment”. The latest looks at machine learning driven service virtualisation.

“We can set up an enterprise environment in an emulated way to allow developers to test and run their systems for testing before release,” says Professor Jun Han, linkage project leader at Swinburne. “They took the idea and ported it onto the IoT area and it became in a sense device-as-a-service.”

“Being in the CA office environment gives them a chance to talk to CA engineers and exchange expertise,” says Steve Versteeg, CA’s vice president of research.

“It’s resulted in the core technology that KnowThings is using to do the device virtualisation. We’ve filed five patents around the core technology. Two have already been granted. And in total the collaboration has yielded over 30 papers,” he added.

Collective talent

CA CTO Berkes gets genuinely excited about his accelerator’s start-ups. He knows firsthand how an idea dreamt up by a small bunch of engineers can change the course of one of the biggest companies in the world.

CA CTO Otto Berkes
CA CTO Otto Berkes

He was one of four founders of the Xbox, whom in 1998 convinced Microsoft’s management that the company had a “unique opportunity to compete in the living room”.

“KnowThings was especially interesting because the idea was to take technology from an existing product – Service Virtualization – and apply it to completely different customer problem, namely, reducing the complexity of IoT development,” Berkes told CIO Australia.

Berkes is present for the incubating companies’ ‘3P’ (pause/pivot/persist) reviews.

“Our team works very collaboratively so that we can capture and refine all the great ideas generated by our collective talent. Each of our incubations is exciting and unique in its own way.  As a portfolio, they represent the future direction of enterprise software covering containers and microservices, developer tools, site reliability, and team productivity. Any customer problem that we have a chance of solving is exciting to us,” he said.

After successful early-adopter alpha and beta releases, the professional paid version of KnowThings is coming out next month. It is crunch time for AK’s fledgling company, and he’s loving it.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder in my life, nor has it ever felt less like working. I’m maybe losing a few hairs, but it’s a trade well worth making,” AK says.

“CA does a remarkable job at creating that space for innovation. And I’ve been able to capitalise on it. So we have the independence to pursue disruptive technologies or non-traditional ways of accomplishing it. It’s been a really fun journey.”

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Tags devicesresearchAPIMelbourneuniversity of melbourneSwinburne UniversityCA Technologiesstart-upInternet of ThingslabsacceleratorIoTservice virtualisationincubatorOtto Berkesdevice virtualisationKnowThings

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