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Devices get a Facebook of their own thanks to this Greektown company

There’s a service that works like a Facebook page for devices rather than people. It’s in the cloud, but it’s also in Greektown.

The solution, dubbed Zatar, enables companies that depend on cloud-connected devices to see the status of their products or to let the devices share data among each other. Instead of Facebook photos, users see icons of each device.

Zatar is the brainchild of 21 employees who call themselves “Zatarians” and boast a “work hard/play hard” ethos at an 8,000-square-foot office on West Jackson.

But this is no startup.

It’s a product of Zebra Technologies, a 44-year-old Lincolnshire-based maker of printers that spit out bar-code labels and radio-frequency identification tags.

Zatar could be used by a luxury handbag manufacturer to make sure its purses are safely stored inside the proper stores, or a pharmaceutical firm that needs to ensure its pills are being shipped at the correct temperatures throughout the world.

The products are outfitted with sensors or “smart” tags so they can remotely update Zatar on their identity, location and condition.

The company’s solution is part of the b-to-b world’s latest high-tech buzz: the Internet of Things, meaning how companies connect, communicate, manage and mine data from smart devices connected inside their networks, says Phil Gerskovich, Zebra’s senior vice president of new growth platforms.

The increased use of cloud computing and the ubiquity of wireless networks have made connecting devices and sensors more appealing and cost-efficient. Indeed, 75 billion devices are forecast to be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020, according to Morgan Stanley’s analysis of a report from router-maker Cisco.

Zatar, which is free for up to five devices and costs $2 per device each month after that, lets companies create their own applications, access the system remotely on smartphones or iPads using a Zatar app, share information with colleagues or partners worldwide, and specify the types of data sent to the cloud.

“Our solutions deal not just with how to track goods in the warehouse, but with what’s happening with labels and markdowns on shelves, redemptions of gift cards and loyalty cards, and in-store kiosks where shoppers get discount vouchers,” Gerskovich says.

Experts say Zebra must educate its customers in how to use the technology and fend off rivals ranging from utilities to telecom companies.

“The concept of the Internet of Things is still at the early stage of deployment,” says Michele Pelino, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Zebra will have to teach businesses how they’d benefit from Zatar and why they should spend money connecting their remote devices, Pelino says.

That will be a challenge because IT people will worry that a tightly connected network will be vulnerable to a breakdown if one thing goes wrong, and business people will need to be convinced the cost is worth it, she says.

ABOVE: Katie M. Nunez works on Zatar, which helps companies remotely manage devices and and equipment.