Over the past few years, as once-disruptive technologies such as big data analytics and the cloud have passed over in the mainstream, the Internet of Things (IoT) – where everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data – has become the hottest new buzz phrase in business computing.
Hardly a day passes without another prediction of the spectacular growth of IoT applications.
This is a technology which clearly holds enormous potential – and not just for the largest enterprises. SMEs are increasingly waking up to the benefits and investigating ways to leverage the Internet of Things to gain access to behavioural data and make their business more agile and responsive to customer needs.
Hype vs reality
However, is all the hype in danger of outweighing the reality? CapGemini estimates that 70 per cent of organisations today do not generate service revenues from their IoT solutions. Many are still running pilot schemes with little immediate return on investment. There are also still concerns about complexity and perceived data security issues.
But when it comes down to it, cut through the excitement and speculation surrounding IoT and the challenge lies underneath the surface with the underlying infrastructure that a given organisation has in place.
If a business is to succeed in bringing new IoT applications to market, this needs to be agile and deliver resilient networking capabilities, effective security and reliable connectivity.
The main reason for this is the scale of demands that will be placed on infrastructure by the sheer volumes of data produced. Also the need to connect an increasing number of network endpoints that deliver faster wireless connectively will also become critical as IoT gathers pace.
While the impact on SMEs may be lessened by the lack of legacy infrastructure in place and the smaller scale of systems architectures implemented, if predictions of IoT growth are correct, proliferation will have a huge impact on enterprise networks.
Many IoT applications will demand ubiquitous connectivity across multiple networks which will need to cope with unpredictable traffic volumes. Anything from a product recall to the impact of natural disasters can cause dramatic peaks as faults and service interruptions are logged and reported. Equally, infrastructure and associated applications will be placed under stress by the need to collect, move and analyse all the data generated.
Businesses also need to be aware of challenges around developing interoperable standards because of the disparate nature of the devices and communications protocols in use. Many IT departments will have little experience of the specific technologies in use and risk connectivity and security problems.
However, perhaps the most important issue will be how an organisation adapts and enhances its distributed cloud delivery model in order to cope with escalating traffic and data growth. Today’s cloud architectures could struggle to cope with future IoT networks.
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If we get to the point where there are billions of devices in play and vast numbers of data transactions taking place in real time, the idea of a mesh or edge architecture with devices talking directly to each other and handling many of their own computational tasks, could take off.
This type of ‘fog computing’ – an environment where data, processing and applications are undertaken by devices around the network edge rather directly in the cloud, is already being heralded as the answer to this challenge, although there are still concerns about security.
Whatever the chosen network configuration or approach, it will be difficult for businesses to go it alone. They will need the security of a technology partner who can deliver networks to the highest standards, manage services and perhaps more importantly provide consultancy and advice on future strategic direction.
So more opportunities for services providers? Certainly, but only if they have the experience and vision to fill the gap between the idea and the practical application.
The IoT will only really reach its tipping point when it is commercially attractive to large conglomerates and small and medium-sized enterprises and this can only happen with a firm IT foundation.
Sean Paxton is product manager at Redcentric.
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