Middleware is so extremely boring that if I’m bothering to cover a company’s middleware product, it must be doing something pretty important. And in the case of ReelyActive, it really is.
ReelyActive was formed in 2012 as a Bluetooth expert that built Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) location apps and services. But today it has pivoted to become a middleware layer that helps translate data from Bluetooth sensors into code that can be assimilated into a variety of analytics applications. Which is fine, but not worth an entire story. What is worth a story is a recent deal that puts ReelyActive’s middleware onto Aruba wireless access points.
In April, Aruba said it had integrated software from ReelyActive into its wireless access points. Millions of these access points are already installed around the world inside enterprises that deliver Wi-Fi. And with the update from ReelyActive, they can now deliver Bluetooth sensor data into Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
Jeff Dungen, the CEO of ReelyActive, told me that the integration with Aruba and Microsoft represents years of work from building location services using Bluetooth sensors that has been translated into middleware that could, in turn, be offered via partners. The Pareto middleware takes the data coming off any sort of Bluetooth sensor and converts it into a format other software can understand.
Because it’s currently integrated into Aruba devices that are already deployed throughout companies, it also means in-house IT departments can add sensors without requiring approvals for a new gateway. “It makes adding additional sensors possible for us,” said Jake Claes, an innovation architect with Entergy Nuclear’s data strategy & innovation projects division.
Claes is part of a team deploying Bluetooth sensors in five of Entergy’s nuclear power plant sites. Entergy is using Bluetooth sensors to monitor equipment in the plants in order to determine when maintenance might be due and to establish how efficient the operations are. As you might imagine, adding any sort of device to a nuclear operation requires both internal and federal oversight.
The nuclear equipment all runs on a separate operational technology network that Claes calls the IoT network. Changing or adding equipment to the IoT network isn’t easy to do, so his team wanted to find ways to add sensors that could monitor the equipment using the company’s IT network (which Claes calls the business network).
Claes found ReelyActive and realized that Entergy could use Bluetooth sensors to send their data through the company’s existing Aruba access points. Doing so would accomplish two business goals, the first of which would be to reduce the amount of steam leaking from equipment after regular plant maintenance.
Most power plants are basically using heat to generate steam in order to turn a turbine so as to generate electricity. If a plant leaks steam, it’s operating at a lower efficiency, wasting resources and money. Measuring this cycle isolation involves placing sensors on equipment to measure heat as a means of detecting leakage. Claes said that a two-megawatt loss for one year in a plant would equate to roughly $438,000 in monetary losses, plus it’s a general waste of resources burned to create the steam in the first place.
The other business goal that Bluetooth sensors could accomplish is making clear when equipment needs maintenance. By using vibration sensors, Entergy could determine if a piece of equipment was near a breakdown point. When operating a nuclear plant (and many other process manufacturing plants), equipment gets taken offline at preset intervals, and the entire factory shuts down. Today this happens every two years, but knowing if the equipment is able to go another six months might help drive better performance while requiring fewer shutdowns. On the other hand, knowing that a piece of equipment will fail in 18 months could lead to a planned early shutdown instead of a chaotic breakdown that takes longer to fix.
Claes hopes to eventually deploy Bluetooth sensors for tracking people and equipment, but is currently focused on getting these initial use cases deployed across all five Entergy plants. He said that most Bluetooth sensor companies had wanted to force Entergy to buy a gateway device to connect their sensors to an IT network, something that would require more approvals and complexity. CEO Dungen actively helped Claes find a few Bluetooth sensor providers that were willing to send raw data through the Aruba access points and let the Pareto middleware convert it for use in business applications.
By eliminating the need for additional approvals, and concerns over lock-in for proprietary software service contracts, ReelyActive made Entergy comfortable deploying IoT sensors in a way that delivers on the promise of industrial IoT without some of the compromises associated with proprietary options.
Update: This story was updated on June 8, 2023 to correct the spelling of Jeff Dungen’s name. It is Dungen, not Dugan.