How the Internet of Things will – and won't – change IT

A new survey indicates IT folks are worried about the impact of the IoT, but aren’t doing much about it. That may be OK.

internet of things

Like too many other trends barreling down on beleaguered CIOs and IT managers, right now the Internet of Things is something to worry about, but not necessarily something to do anything about.

At least, that’s my takeaway from a recent Spiceworks survey of 440 IT pros in North America and Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Depending on which vendor or analyst you listen to, the IoT – new connected sensors, machines, and other non-human stuff – is about to dump anywhere from 26 billion to 50 billion new devices onto worldwide networks over the next few decades. Estimates of the value of this new market run up to almost $15 trillion in just 8 years.

We know the IoT is coming

According to the survey, 71% of IT pros know that the IoT will affect both consumers and the workplace, but less than half are doing anything with that knowledge.

Then there are the security and privacy issues surrounding the IoT, which concerns 86% of respondents. An indication that many tech professionals are hoping the IoT can be kept at bay is that, according to the Spiceworks survey, 43% plan to relegate new Internet-enabled "things" to a separate network; only 23% plan to allow them on the corporate network.

To a certain extent, that smacks of denial. Where are those new networks going to come from? Who’s going to build and maintain them? Who’s going to pay for them when perfectly good networks already exist?

Co-existence is beautiful

Right now, people and things co-exist on our existing networks: The IoT will put pressure on that co-existence, as "things" connected to corporate networks are set to double their stored data on these networks from 14% today to 31% in 5 years.

Spiceworks sees that as a potential problem, but it actually makes sense to me, for a number of reasons:

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Because we’re already busy building out our existing networks to handle a wide variety of bandwidth-eating applications, it may not make sense to fuss with brand new networks just to handle IoT data – except in special cases where IoT data is different enough to justify networks tuned specifically to carry it. In most cases, the expansion of existing networks and storage that IT is already working on will be fine for many IoT applications as well. It seems logical to deal with the problems you face right now and try to make those solutions also address the next generation of issues coming after that.
  2. Gradual infiltration. Sure, we’re looking at a flood of new devices sending data onto the Net, but not all of those devices will impact corporate networks. At least, not at first. As Internet-connected devices gradually worm their way into business technology environments, they’re not going to overwhelm everything overnight. In fact, we’re likely to see a cottage industry spring up to help companies leverage their existing infrastructure to take advantage of IoT devices and applications with the least disruption possible. That’s how it’s working now, and that’s how it’s likely to work for the foreseeable future. My only concern is that IT could be like the frog placed in a pan of cold water and then slowly brought to a boil. By the time we realize just how big a revolution the IoT really represents, we’ll have little choice but to try and cope with it using networks and storage and tools developed for the Internet of Humans.
  1. It’s still early. Counting on today’s technology to deal with tomorrow’s problems may not be the most efficient long-term approach, but that’s typically how it’s done…at least until the exact form of the coming challenge is established. Spending big bucks building solutions that may not be able to solve future problems that may not arrive at the time, scale, or shape we predict can be just as dangerous as ignoring the threat.
  2. Maybe it will go away. Another reason for avoiding IoT preparations is the hope that it won’t really affect them. Although 71% think it will affect both consumers and business, only 4% think it will be a mostly business trend. So while many may see the IoT having some business impact, they may still primarily view the IoT as a consumer-driven phenomenon that they can safely sidestep.

The Internet of Things is already arriving, of course, even as other sources of Internet data and traffic continue to grow simultaneously. It’s likely that in most cases corporate IT will simply deal with IoT issues as part of the overall growth of the Net, making special plans only when circumstances dictate.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.