According to an Information Week report, Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4)[i] has almost run out of addresses for devices. That’s why IPv6 had to be introduced: to ensure that we can move from the 10 billion connected devices today (more than the population of the world) to over 50 billion connected devices in 2020, according to Cisco Systems Inc., a company that designs, manufactures and sells networking equipment.
Back in the Dark Ages (the 1980s), networking started with computers talking to other computers on the Internet. Today, security cameras, temperature gauges, television sets, household appliances, heating systems, irrigation networks, trash cans, automobiles, medical devices, video games, nuclear power plants, trains, navigation systems—practically everything that can be connected is connected.
And what we didn’t think could be connected is also. For example, a Dutch company, Sparked, has cows connected to health systems (via a device in the cow’s ear) that alert owners when a cow is about to fall sick or is pregnant. Pets are connected, as are shoes, football helmets, piggy banks, toothbrushes and Christmas trees.
This tsunami of interconnectivity has led to the Internet of Things (IoT). It is a world in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers that have the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.
A “thing,” in the Internet of Things, can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, or an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low. Humans can assign any natural or man-made object an IP address and provide it with the ability to transfer data over a network.
Challenges for the Internet of Things
Connectivity is the first challenge. How does an autonomous cow monitoring system actually communicate with a health system in a remote veterinary hospital? How many types of networks does the data travel over? How do the networks exchange the data? How is it kept secure?
Today, this kind of integration calls for a high level of customization. For example, the cow’s medical supervisor wants the hospital system to send the prescription to the pharmacy, which in turn wants to alert the logistic company for the delivery to a remote pasture and into the hands of the cowherd.
But be warned, tomorrow the same customization will become a barrier to being agile.
How to make the Internet of Things a reality
Businesses know they can become smarter by tapping into real-time data to serve their customers. They are bound to become hyper-connected, making the Internet of Things (IoT) a reality. As a business, your challenge will be to choose the right platforms so that integration between devices and systems, businesses and customers is quick, affordable and painless.
From an architecture perspective, the IoT has three distinct layers:
- The sensor layer: probes, gauges and measuring devices
- The network layer: RFID, Bluetooth, WiFi, WSN, WAN, LAN, PAN, PBX, etc. Today each one has different standards and protocols
- The application layer: which is always based on business requirements.
There is reasonable complexity at each layer. So how do you become IoT ready?
Six how-to tips:
Here are half a dozen ways to be IoT Ready:
- Be network agnostic. You should be able to connect almost anything to the Internet without having to redesign it for security and connectivity. How your devices and systems connect to the external world is the key to being successful in the IoT future. Remote outdoor conditions will demand a different approach to connectivity from more controlled indoor environments.
- Enable a higher level of security. How secure your data remains will determine how robust and competitive you are. Ensure that the platforms you choose enable end-to-end security.
- Be able to manage any type of data. You never know what type of data the IoT will throw into your environment. Your research (or sales) team may want one type of data today, but it may want devices to pick up different types of data tomorrow. You don’t want to tweak your data management systems every time your business requirements change.
- Design your IoT around the data. You will deal with vast amounts of data. Ensure that your IT platforms are scalable to manage the huge flow of data that will try to smother your business sooner or later.
- Be able to analyze the data. Capturing and archiving data is one aspect; understanding what it means and how it can help you be successful is another. Dealing with data and intelligence cannot be an afterthought. Build business intelligence into all your platforms.
- Make the platforms interoperable. This may be difficult to achieve independently at the moment because it requires a great amount of cooperation from product manufacturers. Remember how long it took and the public outcry needed to standardize mobile phone chargers? Good luck getting the business units, shop floor and operations and production platforms interoperable. This does not mean you can’t aim for it. You must begin the journey somewhere and now is a good time. Just be patient because it will be hard!
Fortunately, these are not alien ideas for IT departments. In a world where the focus is to increase speed-to-market and draw real-time business insights, many organizations have already begun to appreciate the importance of platform selection to simplify their IT landscape.