Microsoft Hohm beta debuts
Microsoft took the wraps off a new Web service dedicated to managing energy use. Called “Hohm” (presumably, a play on the combination of “home and “Ohm”), the product will take advantage of smart grid data on energy use when it’s available. Even when it’s not, however, Hohm will allow users to input their own details and share the results of their efficiency efforts, adding a bit of a Web 2.0 sheen to matters. The move comes after a number of other major IT powers, including Google and Cisco, have announced their own efforts in the area, suggesting that a lot of people think this market is about to take off.
The Hohm service itself is a bit of a hybrid of a number of services. From the smart grid perspective, a growing number of hardware makers are producing equipment that uses standardized methods of structuring and reporting data. That allows just about anyone to plug into the data, provided they’re willing to work with utilities to obtain it. At the moment, Microsoft has lined up four utilities that will work when the service starts up, but they’re certainly going to be working hard to bring more on before then. Two smart meter companies were also in on the announcement, indicating that Microsoft has already started validating the input from some of the existing hardware.
The data, however it’s obtained, will be stored using Redmond’s cloud offering, Windows Azure. The people behind Hohm have undoubtedly benefited from the experience of those who’ve built Microsoft’s medical records service, which also uses Azure.
Even if your utility isn’t offering up data to Microsoft, Hohm will make it possible to both enter your own manually, or set up any metering hardware or smart appliances to report in to Hohm. Microsoft is definitely positioning this as a “you get out of it what you put in” type situation—the more information a user provides, the better monitoring and efficiency suggestions they’ll get back out from the service.
Those suggestions will come courtesy of analytical tools that Microsoft has licensed from the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. When concrete information is available, such as monthly power usage and a roster of home appliances, Hohm will offer up specific suggestions for cutting energy use. In the absence of anything specific, data on typical consumption by region will be used instead, although that clearly runs the risk of recommending that you do something that you’ve previously done.
The last facet is a bit of Web 2.0. Users will apparently have the opportunity to compare notes on different energy saving techniques and discuss matters among themselves. Tying everything together—input from other users, from Berkeley Labs’ energy use models, and from the users’ own data—will be Bing search technology. Microsoft is definitely eating its own dog food on this one.
At the moment, the company is only accepting requests for accounts in anticipation of the day that Hohm is ready for a closed beta. In February, the company gave enterprises running Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 a free tool dubbed the Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for tracking their environmental impact and energy consumption.
The move by Microsoft is an obvious recognition of a large and largely untapped market. Surveys show that most home users are interested in energy monitoring programs, and that their interest is largely driven by the potential for savings on their monthly bills. Although there are a number of companies already aiming to take a piece of that market—not only Google, but a number of small and innovative companies as well—most of them are limited by the fact that smart grid deployments are only just getting off the ground.
Microsoft is taking a bit of a calculated risk by allowing Hohm to work even in the absence of any hard data. This may give it an advantage over the companies that are waiting for the hardware deployments to catch up. But, in the absence of this data, there’s the chance that users will be dissatisfied with the sort of general conservation advice that Hohm offers, and will wind up waiting for smart grid deployments as well.