By Chris Mills, CTO EMEA, Pivotal
The Internet of Things (IoT) provides businesses with additional ways of communicating with their customers and their devices. With almost anything capable of being connected to the net, the amount of data points available are near infinite. This provides businesses with additional services they can offer to consumers, such as better service plans for their cars, doctors providing more personalised treatments or simply just an easier way of ordering a taxi.
Its importance within the enterprise has grown over recent years, partially due to Moore’s Law, which states that overall processing power in computers roughly doubles every two years. We can now build microchips with wifi capability so small that any device can contain them. From light bulbs to dog collars; nothing is excluded from becoming a connected device.
Whilst the number of connected devices has increased, so too has the technology needed to communicate with the volume of data being generated. We have seen this explosion reflected in the adoption of Hadoop for non-volatile storage. Thanks to the decrease in price and increase in speed of Random Access Memory (RAM), we’re also seeing larger volumes of data stored in memory, which dramatically enhances the speed of analytical systems.
Combined with the machine learning algorithms, collectively these developments have led to improved service levels, more connected lives for consumers and created new revenue streams for manufacturers.
The opportunities of IoT
There are countless examples of the IoT being used in real-life scenarios today. Embedding sensors into everyday appliances such as heating systems, smoke detectors and light bulbs connects these items to the internet, and more importantly, to one another. Via their smartphones, consumers can control things like the washing machine and lighting in their homes, simplifying household chores and reducing utility bills.
The healthcare market is awash with groundbreaking examples of IoT in action. Doctors are now able to use apps to link into vital patient stats quickly so that they can offer more personalised advice, as well as gain a clearer view of the patient’s lifestyle. This could be as simple as using a wearable device to track movement, exercise, or the patient’s heart rate. Healthcare services are being transformed to better serve patient and medical professionals’ needs; such as making test results, like MRI scans, available to staff anywhere at any time, from device to device, doctor to doctor.
Data is also proving to be something of a game-changer in the telecoms industry. Mobile network operators are already taking advantage of consumer data to map footfall in specific areas. In time, this incredibly valuable information could be used to predict future scenarios, like congestion to actively reroute traffic, or to provide emergency medical services with best route options in real-time to get to patients as quickly as possible. No organisation can afford to be working in a “disconnected world” any longer. So what are the key considerations to think about when deploying IoT in the enterprise?
Data protection, privacy and security often come top of the list for those with concerns around IoT. Providing users with an understanding of where and what data is stored would help to mitigate these concerns.
• Vendor lock-in
Customers are demanding flexibility and do not want to be tied into a single vendor, which adds further pressure on providers to utilise standards as well as ensuring they embrace open source. Doing so creates a competitive marketplace and drives down prices, with providers having to differentiate their offerings with add-ons to their core business offering.
We’ve already heard about core infrastructure upgrades taking place to move from IPv4 to IPv6 to cater for all of these additional IoT apps, and once IPv6 is more prevalent, there won’t really be any technology that will prevent IoT. In a lot of cases, the cloud-based services being used by vendors today are arguably more secure than running their own data centre on-premise. Cloud providers already have secure data centres that conform to internationally agreed standards. The hole in this chain is the applications being developed outside of this environment.
• Open standards
Encouraging application developers to use certain standards could help to prevent a lot of poor code from being deployed. For example, AWS could mandate that all traffic was sent over SSL, enabling it to manage the certificates and provide a secure private key infrastructure. This single step would make applications 100 times more secure than they are today.
• The Third Platform
Of course, IoT is nothing without the technology pillars of the so-called “Third Platform” - cloud services, big data and analytics, mobile computing and social networking. It needs the cloud’s elasticity to scale to the billions of devices and sensors in the world. Without big data technologies, we can’t access all of the data and build the insights we need to understand our customers’ needs in enough detail. Mobile is required in order for devices to connect to telephone networks to share their data.
The future of IoT in business
Today, we are only scratching the surface of what is possible for IoT. In the near future, every device we own will have some form of connectivity in order to enhance its capability and the service it can offer its user. Once we overcome the cautionary approach that some people take to using cloud-based services and data analysis, nothing will be impossible.
With so many devices all pushing data to these stores, we expect to see an enhancement in the number of off-the-shelf platforms that can do this for you. We’re already seeing parts of these platforms in play today. This area is a hot topic where open source projects, such as Spring, can lead the charge and help to define open standards.