The Internet of Things is Here
Depending on which people you talk to and what projections you read, the Internet of Things (IoT) is slated to add anywhere from 20 billion to 60 billion or more objects and machines to the Internet over the next five to 10 years. Network and IT infrastructure teams will face a fundamental challenge from this expansion of connected “things.” They must ensure that they can monitor and manage this expanded network, which means they will need to update their infrastructure management systems to be IoT ready.
IPv6 is an IoT protocol
One thing is clear: IPv6 will increase in importance with the IoT. As mentioned, the IoT will add billions of new objects to the Internet. As regional Internet registries are fond of reminding us, the world’s pool of 4.3 billion IPv4 addresses is exhausted.
The 128-bit address scheme of IPv6 will provide a virtually unlimited supply of addresses for the billions of connected things that are coming online. Therefore, a logical first step for any networking team is to ensure that their management toolset is fully ready to support IPv6. These tools need to be able discover, map, and monitor objects that use IPv6. Enterprises will quickly discover that not every management system is ready to do this at scale.
IoT will mean different things to different enterprises
The IoT will present a variety of other challenges to IT organizations, and they will often be unique to individual enterprises. Each enterprise, depending on its industry and its business model, will have its own approach to the IoT. Agricultural companies will be connecting sensors that monitor crops and livestock. Car manufacturers will be connecting factory equipment and vehicles. And so on. In each case, these connected objects will have their own sets of constraints.
A sensor that is monitoring the health of an individual cow in a field, for example, will present a very different set of problems than those presented by a robot on a factory floor. Each of these objects will have a different network connection and different levels of onboard memory and computer processing capabilities, which will, in turn, define which kinds of protocols it can use to communicate with a management system. Many of these objects will not be able to interact with the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), which many network management systems currently rely on to monitor objects on their network. Network managers who think SNMP is all they need to manage IoT objects are set for a rude awakening.
Managing the IoT protocol glut
A variety of consortiums and initiatives have launched in recent years to create network protocols, application protocols, and APIs for the IoT. At this time, it remains unclear whether one or more of these efforts will become the de facto standard.
Google’s Nest business has developed the Thread network protocol in cooperation with several partners, including Samsung Electronics and Freescale Semiconductors (which was acquired by NXP Semiconductors in December 2015). Qualcomm has, with The Linux Foundation, spearheaded the AllSeen Alliance and its AllJoyn network protocol. Intel launched the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) to define another set of protocols and APIs for the IoT. The Industrial Internet Consortium, a collaboration between Cisco, AT&T, GE, IBM, and Intel, is tackling its own set of protocols. We have even seen consolidation in this standardization “market.” Last month, the OIC acquired the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) Forum, to “streamline and consolidate” both organizations’ IoT standardization efforts.
An enterprise that embraces the IoT will probably have to manage technologies that use protocols from more than one of these organizations. If that is the case, they will need infrastructure management systems that are flexible enough to adapt to such complexity. Network managers, in particular, may need an availability and performance monitoring system that can collect metrics and telemetry via these protocols. If so, network managers should start talking to their management system providers today about their IoT roadmaps. They should ask these vendors if their products are architected to work with multiple protocols and model non-standard objects like livestock sensors or smart thermostats.
Advanced analytics will be essential to the IoT
At Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), our research has found a growing interest in applying advanced analytics to IT infrastructure monitoring data in order to improve overall infrastructure performance and to deliver additional value to the business. Many IT organizations now export application performance metrics, transaction records, cloud provider API metrics, and time series performance data to big data environments for advanced analysis. With IoT, this appetite for analytics will only grow.
The data produced by the “things” of the IoT will provide opportunities for optimization and revenue generation. But the analytical capabilities of mainstream business intelligence (BI) tools are not ready to handle the influx of IoT data.
In many cases, infrastructure management tools will need to act as an intermediary. In the service provider industry, this concept is often referred to as data mediation. Many infrastructure management systems will be able to collect and analyze data from IoT objects, and then present this analysis to BI and big data analytics tools for advanced analysis. Enterprises will need to assess the abilities of their management systems vendors to not only ingest and analyze IoT data, but also the ability to export this data to third-party analytics environments.
The future is now, and it is cloudy
In a world with self-driving cars and smart houses, the Internet of Things is already here. And yet, there remains so much uncertainty about how IT organizations will support the technology. Businesses are adopting now, not waiting for standards to coalesce.
IT organizations cannot let the business lead on this because the IoT will rely on IT infrastructure to deliver value. IT should be partners on any IoT initiative. Therefore, it is time for IT leaders to perform extensive research and call up their trusted solution providers to discuss their IoT roadmaps. Infrastructure management vendors in particular need to help IT move forward.
EMA plans to explore the impact of IoT on network infrastructure and management with primary research in 2016, so stay tuned.
[Editors note] For more IoT insight, download SevOne’s whitepaper, “5 Proof Points the IoT is Impacting IT in 2015.”