It takes a lot of work to manage the data centers that make modern tech titans the global superpowers they are today.
This is something that Scott Noteboom knows a lot about.
From 2005 to 2011, he headed up Yahoo’s data center operations, helping them scale from 22,000 servers globally to 350,000. After that, Noteboom went to Apple, helping the company build and refine the data center infrastructure it needed to power ever-growing services like Siri and iCloud.
In 2013, Noteboom left Apple to start his own company, LitBit. Today, LitBit is announcing a $7 million funding round led by Storm Ventures, with Illuminate Ventures, Correlation Ventures, and Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures also investing.
To go along with the funding, Noteboom is ready to share what LitBit has been working on, after almost three years of silent running. In short, Noteboom is taking the lessons he learned at Yahoo and Apple and applying it towards helping big businesses manage all of their smart devices and machinery.
Why all the stealth? Noteboom says that maybe Apple rubbed off on him.
“When you work at Apple, some things get ingrained,” Noteboom says. “If you’re going to spend two years working on it, don’t talk about it until you’re ready.”
Old and new
One thing you realize working in a data center, says Noteboom, is that Alphabet’s Nest didn’t invent the idea of computerized control over gadgetry. For many years, data centers have automated everything from temperature control to security to lighting in an effort to maximize efficiency.
These kinds of systems have experienced a renaissance in the past several years: The availability of cheap computer processors and cheap cloud computing services for data processing, plus smartphones with which to remotely connect up to them, has led to a slow but steady movement towards making everything, everywhere a little more intelligent.
In the home, that’s led to the rise of the Amazon Echo and the Canary camera. In the business, that means more robots on factory floors and in warehouses, more sensors that can track when a complex piece of machinery needs maintenance, and more modern connectivity to everything.
The problem, as observed by Noteboom, is that very few of these systems, old and new, speak the same language. To connect to older connected air conditioning systems, Noteboom says, you may still have to use an old dial-up modem. And they’re not easy or cheap to replace.
“Those systems are designed to never change,” Noteboom says. “They’re completely isolated from each other.”
That makes it harder for the modern IT department to manage, let alone automate. It’s difficult for business-critical systems to get the kind of ease-of-control and integration you see with, say, an Amazon Echo and a Nest thermostat.
Google recently referred to a non-automated data center as “feeding the machines with the blood, sweat, and tears of human beings.” And it was a big headache for Noteboom when leading up Apple’s and Yahoo’s data centers.
Rhythm and Blues
Enter LitBit’s flagship RhythmOS.
What Noteboom and his team have built is an operating system that connects up with all of those smart systems, no matter when they were made, and “translates” them into a more modern universal language.
“[Internet of Things] isn’t a new thing, it’s a new thing and an old thing and the challenge is bringing them together,” Noteboom says.
From there, you can use or build apps on top of RhythmOS. Out of the gate, LitBit offers three: Maestro, a system for easily programming custom automations and flows for connected gadgets; Vitals, for creating custom alerts and settings; and Intellect, for examining and analyzing your data. Litbit customers can build their own apps, too.
From Apple, Noteblom learned how the user interface is just as important as the underlying technology, he says.
Not only does RhythmOS make it easier to wring more efficiency out of connected equipment, he argues, it opens the door for even non-technical people to start to work with these systems.
That’s crucial, as everything, everywhere gets smarter – sooner rather than later, office managers and salespeople are going to have to worry about managing smart devices just as much as a data center operator does today, he says.
Right now, Noteboom says that most of LitBit’s customers are in the data center space, just because of his history there. But he sees it going everywhere, sooner rather than later.
Indeed, Noteboom says that the proliferation of smart systems has the potential to spark a total industrial revolution, the same way that the cheap availability of machinery, electricity, and the World Wide Web sparked new economies over the last century.
“I think that by 2020, people will understand this is just as revolutionary as those other things, including the internet,” says Noteboom.