Will your network be ready for the Internet of Things?

Preparing the network to transition seamlessly to the connected environment.

Internet of Things IoT networking

It seems like we can't go a day without hearing about the hottest new connected device or the latest smart [fill in the blank] technology. The much-discussed Internet of Things (IoT), and the varied devices that comprise it, could be considered the biggest trend in the industry today. We are in the midst of an exciting era of technology. And who doesn't love a cool gadget? I'm sure many of us are looking forward to the day when it's common practice for our fridge to tell us we're out of milk, and when we can lock our doors remotely if we accidentally forget. Our kids will definitely be thrilled about the gamified toothbrush that controls the movements of video game characters. 

According to Gartner, 4.9 billion connected things will be in use this year, and this number will skyrocket to 25 billion by 2020. But what is most exciting about IoT isn't the devices. It's how the devices work. What is going on behind the scenes that most people won't ever see? The possibilities for IoT are endless, but there are so many variables to consider, and many questions remain unanswered. Perhaps most importantly, how do IT professionals prepare their infrastructures to ensure a seamless transition to this ultra-connected world of things?

For enterprises, things like medical devices, smart utility services, HVAC systems, physical security systems, supply chain logistics, and even vending machines will become increasingly smarter and require more connectivity than ever before. Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner, in a 2013 interview with Network World, refers to this as operational technology, "where enterprise assets such as manufacturing equipment, fleet trucks, rail cars, even patient monitoring equipment in hospitals, become networked devices." All of these assets have the potential to become end points on the enterprise network, just like smartphones and tablets, explained LeHong.

The fact that the IoT and what it entails is still so uncertain can be unsettling for IT professionals tasked with building and maintaining technology infrastructures, and for the business leaders that rely on them to move their organizations forward. An article from Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau puts this concern into perspective: "IoT development today is at an early stage, perhaps at a point similar to 1995, the same year Amazon and eBay went online, followed by Netflix in 1997 and Google in 1998. People understood the trend at the time, but the big picture was still out of focus."

Without knowing the direct impact IoT will have on your day-to-day business operations, how do you effectively plan or prepare? There's no right answer for this yet, but it's important to start having that conversation. By building an understanding now, and analyzing the possibilities and the challenges it could create for your business, you can ensure you're not left in the dust when the IoT truly starts to come to life.

As more organizations and consumers start to use IoT technologies, it's evident that the networks that support them will need to maintain increased bandwidth and data capacity. Is my current infrastructure performing at the levels necessary to meet existing demands, and is it scalable for future growth? In addition to the network, is my layer one cabling infrastructure equipped to handle increased speeds and data flow? Will we be ready to handle the security challenges that will certainly be present with IoT? These are some of the questions IT executives should be asking and discussing with their teams. Map out a plan, knowing it will likely change, and start from square one.

According to Information Age, "One of the major challenges of the IoT involve the volumes of data created by connected devices, and the connected devices that produce and respond to it. For the enterprise network, all of the same considerations need to be made - primarily reliability, performance and security, and in anticipation of IoT, network administrators should also consider extensibility and scalability." 

The successful implementation of IoT technologies in the enterprise can lead to real business outcomes. For example, an IoT-connected network helped a medical center reduce patient-bed turnaround time by 51 minutes. With smart IoT fixtures, a major city was able to reduce energy costs by 62%. What outcomes could IoT create for your organization?

We all aim to provide the best experience for our end users – whether that's patients, students, employees, clients or customers. While widespread adoption of the IoT may not happen overnight, it's hard to deny that it will provide a number of opportunities. The earlier we all consider what these opportunities entail, the more prepared we'll be to take advantage of them when the time is right.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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