The internet of things (IoT) and the associated technologies of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) have almost unmatched potential to transform the way we live and work.
For all the talk of IoT, however, we are still in the early days.
IoT is being built from the ground up and from the edges in. Technology companies, applications and service providers, along with entrepreneurs and regulators, are making their own contributions to an evolving landscape.
Like the internet before it, IoT will be everywhere, with no one industry or organisation owning it.
The IT industry as a whole has a responsibility to ensure we realise the vision in its complete form, but it’s clear no single provider can meet all needs.
To realise the full potential of IoT, collaboration, not competition, will be needed across the crucial areas of standardisation, security, network management and integration.
Setting the standard
IoT is the epitome of an IT ecosystem – a planet-wide network of connected devices open to any and every application.
But technical standards are a vital early stage in the evolution of IoT to build viable services within a strong overarching ecosystem.
Standards – including communications protocols and service quality definitions – are needed to ensure the development of the highly heterogeneous and open environment required.
Stakeholders must also agree on governance structures that ensure access, security and quality criteria for every possible usage.
As well as technology stakeholders, it’s vital that governments play a role in this process, as they will be a significant user and enabler of IoT. We have seen this recently with the announcement from the US Government on new guidance for IoT security.
It is in all our interests that the IT industry, commerce and government collaborate to agree these standards and the commercial agreements that will enable the IoT to blossom fully.
If we can agree the rules of the road, then we can journey together or separately as necessary – confident we can reach our chosen destination.
Keeping it safe
IoT will be a network of billions of devices that can be remotely controlled and generate enormous amounts of data; as such, it will present both a huge opportunity and an unprecedented security challenge.
We have already seen the challenges from the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in the US on 21st October 2016, which targeted the domain name system (DNS) and disrupted key internet applications including online shopping, social media and music streaming services.
To create a secure system, we will need a new approach to cybersecurity. As well as assuming devices will not necessarily be secure, we also need to avoid thinking of security as an afterthought or bolt-on.
A judicious use of encryption will help, but an ‘encrypt all’ strategy will not work. And since no one organisation is responsible for IoT, we need to agree standards. Security needs to be embedded in the end to end security concept, but it has its own challenges and technologies.
Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) will have a key role to play.
These capabilities enable responsive network protection in reply to threats as they occur. Affected areas of the network can be immediately isolated from the rest of the IoT network while remedial action is undertaken.
It’s a bit like adding an immune system to the network: with the right monitoring and control systems in place, we can shut down and heal affected areas and recognise the threats next time they occur.
Networks get dynamic
The size, complexity and fluidity of the IoT will quickly overwhelm traditional management systems. Imagine a simple core network fibre break – billions of devices could potentially send out alarms reporting loss of connectivity.
For IoT to function, we need a new coordinated approach to network management. The next generation of network management solutions will need automated root cause analysis, service impact assessment and alarm correlation capabilities.
Suppliers will need to equip network aggregation points and gateways with intelligence to ensure they only propagate true root causes to centralised management while suppressing non-impacting or casual alerts.
A new, dynamic form of network management will be the only effective approach for IoT.
Integration – putting the pieces together
Integration is fundamental to the delivery of a cohesive IoT solution. Any IoT delivery partner must be able to integrate services from multiple suppliers, in each of the service towers (end-user devices, network, hosting and applications).
As IoT will be a supplier ecosystem, every participant will need a well-defined service model and supporting architecture. Ideally these will be based on agreed standards that enable management of the infrastructure and applications in the context of the business services that consume them.
Another key consideration will be integration of cloud capabilities both from IoT suppliers and other third-party providers.
Turning the vision into reality
IoT is a massive opportunity for businesses. The possibilities are dazzling, but there are threats to manage and traps for the unwary. Neglecting the needs of security, network management and integration will lead to wasted investments and lost ground.
Although some vendors may try to take a lead by using proprietary standards or privileged services, they are likely to lose out to those who take a longer-term view and who build for the future.
The way ahead involves an open and dynamic balancing of collaboration and competition. By collaborating to create a strong IoT ecosystem, we can ensure that IoT reaches its full potential and works for everyone.
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