What you'll need when the big Internet of Things breakout occurs

Understand what your business needs to know before use of the Internet of Things (IoT) finally explodes.

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The Internet of Things (IoT) sometimes has the feel of a trend that’s forever going to be on the cusp of a huge breakout. Figures fly around about the projected size of the IoT and they’re always massive (such as the 50 billion devices Cisco predicted by 2020). But the number of things in the IoT is already counted in the 8 billion to 15 billion range. So, shouldn’t we be seeing more from the IoT by now? Based on what leaders are saying in a survey commissioned by Verizon, we soon will.

Seventy-three percent of executives said they are either researching or currently deploying IoT. And a majority of business leaders surveyed by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (55 percent) expect IoT technologies to help them make internal cost savings and/or generate external revenue in the next three years.

This widespread optimism, and investment, isn’t based on pie-in-the-sky thinking. I believe it’s because the key obstacles holding back the IoT such as privacy and security concerns will soon be cleared, and this shift will largely be driven by interconnection at the digital edge.

The IoT today and tomorrow

The promise of the IoT really begins to come to life when you imagine what we’ll be able to do with all the previously inaccessible data streaming off billions of once-mute objects that, it turns out, have a lot to say. We’ve gotten some answers already, and it’s worth highlighting a few ways the IoT is being used to understand why businesses are so hungry for more.

  • Pacific Gas & Electric is testing IoT-connected drones to monitor hard-to-reach infrastructure and detect methane leaks – a cost-effective substitute for $2,500 per hour helicopter crews.
  • Sensors embedded in soils or water can increase yields and ensure food for a growing global population. One example: IoT sensors used by shrimp farmers can detect water salinity and prompt freshwater releases to reduce high salinity and protect the harvest.
  • Doctors can use IoT sensors to monitor variables such as a patient’s heartbeat, rate and rhythm via the internet, to more proactively respond to developing problems.

Even as the IoT expands, familiar concerns linger. The high cost of investment in IoT infrastructure was the top concern of executives surveyed by The Economist, followed by worries about privacy and security. Meanwhile, the Verizon report calls security “the number one barrier to large-scale IoT deployments in the enterprise.” 

A single solution to IoT worries doesn’t exist, but IoT best practices involving interconnection are emerging that can mitigate some of the biggest concerns and keep the path clear for continued IoT innovation and application.

Interconnection at the edge  

Interconnection is defined as private data exchange between businesses, and it is an essential component of just about any IoT architecture. IoT applications simply aren’t built to function in silos. The machine-to-machine communication at the heart of the IoT can’t be centralized – it flows from dispersed devices located anywhere. For all this information to have optimal, real-time value, it needs to be stored, handled and processed close to where it’s created, which is at the digital edge, where commerce, population centers and digital ecosystems meet.

Interconnection enables proximity between users, IoT devices and cloud services at the digital edge. That means maximum efficiency, privacy, security and performance for the data flows crisscrossing through the heart of every IoT application.

Gartner’s “Edge Manifesto” highlights the importance of this proximity for digital business as  the IoT will only increase traffic, storage and computing needs.

“Moving data centers' processing and content delivery/collection closer to the sources and sinks of this information, including cloud onramps and offramps, offers significant benefits and spawns new business models,” Gartner writes. “This is the essence of the ‘edge manifesto.’”

It adds, “The use of smaller, distributed, connected data centers (perhaps space in colocation centers), closer to concentrations of users and generators of content (‘pushing things to the edge’), will be required for these workloads.”

The IDC report, “Edge IT: The Engine Powering Digital Transformation” also preaches the power of proximity to the edge, saying edge-based IT environments are the “foundation for innovation” for several trends, including the IoT.

“Senior business leaders and CIOs must recognize that the continued concentration of IT siloed inside core enterprise datacenters or in isolated cages in large colocation/cloud datacenters is an unsustainable strategy for digital transformation,” IDC writes.         

The IoT is everywhere, it’s growing, and businesses are betting on it big time. Interconnection gives companies the ability to make direct, secure, close connections to the IoT sources and resources they need to fully capitalize when the IoT’s big breakout switches from “someday” to “right now.”

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