The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to be the hottest topic in technology today. Barely a week passes without a new piece of research coming out predicting spectacular growth for the technology. Yet, look for evidence today of a wide range of businesses making substantial revenues from IoT – and it’s a lot thinner on the ground.
In fact, Capgemini Consulting estimates that 70% of organisations do not generate service revenues from their IoT solutions. Some are focusing on pilot projects or limited roll-outs that derive little immediate payback. Many other businesses that see value in the technology are held back by concerns about technological complexity or perceived data security and privacy issues.
It’s compelling evidence that if IoT is going to work as a future commercial force rather than just becoming another over-hyped technology fad, it needs above all to be built on a solid, robust but nevertheless flexible and agile enabling infrastructure. I believe that the key to unlocking the potential of IoT will come from the underlying ecosystem – resilient networking capabilities coupled with effective security solutions and processes and reliable connectivity to support the approach – will be increasingly critical to business success.
Ultimately, however clever and ground-breaking the proposed end application or strategic initiative, it will come to nothing unless it is based on a robust underlying infrastructure. It is the job of networks and cloud services to deliver the necessary seamless connection to the Internet and the requisite cloud computing capability to gather, store and analyse data and use it to drive business insight and competitive advantage.
Assessing the Challenge
One of the biggest challenges today’s networks face is how to cope with the sheer scale of the demands currently being placed on them by IoT’s exponential growth rate. Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group estimates, for instance, that there will be 50 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020 while global consulting firm, Accenture estimates that the Industrial Internet of Things could add US$14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
This dramatic growth will have a profound impact on the world of enterprise networking. IoT applications will proliferate and many will demand ubiquitous connectivity across multiple networks. Traffic volumes will be unpredictable too with everything from natural disasters to faulty freezers likely to result in a dramatic escalation in data generation as faults and service interruptions are logged and reported on. Equally, infrastructure and associated applications will be placed under stress by the need to collect, move and analyse all of the data generated.
The heterogeneous nature of the devices and communications protocols that will be in use in this new IoT-based world also presents challenges. Today, there is a lack of interoperable standards in place, IT professionals often have little experience with the specific technologies in use, potentially generating further connectivity and also security concerns.
Meeting the Need
In spite of these challenges, there are steps that enterprises can take now to start building the robust, flexible, scalable networks that can act as the foundation and basis of the new IoT-based world.
The need to connect more and more network endpoints wirelessly means that networks that deliver faster wireless connectivity are also becoming increasingly critical and as the ongoing migration to IoT gathers pace, they are only going to become more so over time.
Perhaps the most important issue though is how organisations adapt and enhance their existing distributed cloud delivery models in order to cope with escalating traffic and data growth.
Today’s distributed cloud architectures are likely to struggle to cope with the data and communications demands of tomorrow’s IoT networks. With billions of devices in play and vast amounts of data transactions taking place in real time, the idea of a mesh or edge computing architecture, with devices talking directly to each other and handling many of their computational tasks, is becoming more attractive.
That’s why, in the future, fog computing, used to describe an environment where data, processing and applications are undertaken by devices around the network edge rather than entirely in the cloud, is likely to be a term we hear more of. It’s a new model that holds the potential to address the latency and bandwidth issues of the new IoT age. There will be challenges to address, however, not least in terms of security, which is typically harder to achieve at the network edge.
Partnering for Success
Whatever the chosen network configuration or approach moving forward, businesses will not want to face the brave new world of IoT lone. They need technology partners who can deliver network implementations to the highest possible standards, who can manage services and provide them efficiently and effectively and who can provide consultancy and advice on future strategic direction as and when required.
While it may continue to be the latest innovative business applications that IoT gives rise to that continue to attract the media attention, it is this combination of robust, secure and flexible network systems backed by expert and highly-skilled IT solutions providers that will be key in turning the Internet of Things from a new business model with potential into a genuine driver of commercial advantage.