The Internet of Things (IoT) is a juggernaut heading straight for the enterprise, so it is only natural that IT is feeling just a little bit queasy contemplating all that data coming their way.
About the only consolation at this point is the fact that practically no one – not even those software/app-driven start-ups angling to topple your business model – is ready for what is to come. So if you get swamped, chances are your competitors are as well.
What may come as a surprise, however, is how much of the IoT is already here and how well the enterprise seems to be coping. According to a recent survey by 451 Research, a solid 65 percent of organizations are already using IoT processes to coordinate data feeds for business purposes. This can be seen in data-generating IT and facilities equipment, surveillance gear and smartphone feeds, while key verticals like manufacturing and health care are already well on the way to wiring up the shop floor and key medical devices.
Of course, this is small potatoes compared to what is to come, when virtually everything we touch – from our cars to our phones to our light bulbs – will become a data generator. So the real challenge isn’t getting the IoT technology in place, but to scale it up to gargantuan levels and then coordinate all that data so decision-makers can use it effectively.
According to eWeek, with input from Kepware’s Tony Paine, the enterprise needs to make a number of strategic changes to infrastructure in order to take on the IoT at scale. First off, organizations will have to boost their edge capabilities to seamlessly connect the multitude of devices out there, basically bridging the gap between information and operational technology. Part of this involves the deployment of unique IP address identifiers on a global scale and then extending highly granular visibility and discovery capabilities across this ecosystem. After that, there is the not insignificant challenge of managing and integrating data from what could literally be trillions of points around the world.
The security challenges surrounding such a widespread and ill-defined data ecosystem are plain to see, says IT consultant Joel Snyder. As the number of connected devices increases, so does the threat vector, which is why organizations need to take steps to maintain control now before the real IoT growth kicks in. Three key steps in this process are to segregate untrusted devices from corporate networks, implement strict control of device access through existing firewalls, and finally, implement state-of-the-art monitoring to quickly identify troublesome activity. Somewhat ironically, it isn’t so much the inbound data connections that are most concerning but the outbound, as this is where changes to IP addresses or other signs of compromise will be detected.
In all likelihood, none of this will be possible without two key enabling technologies: hybrid clouds and containers. As Enterprise Tech’s George Leopold points out, companies like Equinix are targeting the nexus of carrier-neutral data center services and networking in order to foster the kind of disaggregated storage and computing infrastructure required of IT applications. The goal, says CTO Ihab Tarazi, is to enable enterprises to build data hubs that leverage containers, persistent storage and other elements to support the distributed applications necessary to first launch and then scale IoT infrastructure quickly and within a reasonable budget.
Without question, the IoT is a monumental challenge, and the need to get there before your rivals do only adds to the pressure. But at this point, practically the entire IT community is focused on this one endeavor, and most vendors and service providers are motivated not only by selling IoT capabilities but employing them for their own purposes as well.
One way or another, the IoT will arrive. The enterprise has to decide whether it wants to be at the front of the curve or trailing behind.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.