Visibility, the Key to a Functional IoT

    The Internet of Things (IoT) is big, it’s complicated, and it is vital to the success of the enterprise business model. So before you get too far ahead in deploying devices and the infrastructure needed to maintain connectivity, it might help to give a thought about visibility.

    While it is true that much of the systems management and data handling in and around the IoT will be handled by advanced automation systems, human operators and data analysts will still need to maintain the ability to conduct deep-dive inspection of systems and architectures. And like many tasks surrounding complex data management, the tools you use and the way you use them will determine success or failure.

    One of the first things the enterprise should consider when building visibility into the IoT is the adoption of IPv6, says ThousandEyes’ Nick Kephart. In an interview with SD Times, he notes that the 32-bit name space of IPv4 maxes out at about 4.3 billion addresses, which is barely suitable for the internet as it is now. IPv6 uses a 128-bit address, broadening the namespace by multiple orders of magnitude. Without this, the number of connected devices becomes so broad that the enterprise faces a literal “black hole” of endpoints that it can neither see nor communicate with directly.

    Device visibility is only one aspect of the entire IoT picture, however. IT will also need new levels of insight into core networking systems, which is why Aruba Networks has engineered its new Aruba 8400 switch and OS-CX operating system around enhanced visibility, security and troubleshooting. The system provides early problem detection on the network, systems and application levels, coupled with automated correlation of networking activity for greater insight into existing and potential trouble spots. At the same time, the system provides full programmability using a built-in Python interpreter and REST-based APIs that provide automated scalability as well as application and infrastructure flexibility.

    One of the key problems with maintaining visibility and security in IoT infrastructure is that the enterprise does not necessarily control the devices that connect to it, making it difficult to deploy the proper client-side agents to bring them under unified management. ForeScout Technologies has sought to circumvent this problem through an agentless platform that can be quickly deployed across multi-vendor environments. The company’s CounterACT platform is designed for campus, data center and cloud architectures, offering out-of-the-box device classification that automatically identifies and categorizes IoT, mobile and virtual endpoints. The enterprise can then utilize a variety of configurable profiling methods and customized rules management tools to enforce compliance, segmentation, control and other policies.

    Meanwhile, a company called Armis is out with a new IoT security platform that strives for universal device discovery and identification coupled with extensive inventory and profiling capabilities to ensure proper behavior of distributed architectures. The company is headed by former members of the Israeli army’s cyber-intelligence unit, although it is unclear whether any of its technology plays a role in the Armis system. Company executives say they provide a unique way of passively integrating into legacy infrastructure that incorporates deep observation of existing profiles before actual changes are implemented.

    Visibility is likely to remain a top challenge for the IoT, if only because so much of the emerging infrastructure will be beyond the enterprise’s direct control. But the development arc is clearly focusing on ways to make IoT infrastructure flexible enough to satisfy user demands but still subject to centralized management.

    And as with traditional IT infrastructure, the ability to see what is happening within the system is the first step toward effective control.

    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.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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