What network pros need to know about IoT

Be prepared for management complexity, immature standards, IoT security challenges, and more edge computing.

it pros executives iot smart city machine learning ai city skyline metamorworks getty
metamorworks / Getty Images

Architecting for the Internet of Things creates a whole new ballgame for network pros.

Gartner predicts there will be more than 20 billion IoT devices in the world by 2020. About 40% of them will be deployed in the enterprise – monitoring air quality in factories, improving energy efficiency in offices, tracking assets across the supply chain, detecting equipment failures, and much more.

These devices will also be shuttling petabytes of data across thousands of IT networks, presenting new challenges in management, data governance, and compliance.

The Internet of Things is where information technology meets operations technology. Here, the data systems that keep businesses humming converge with the machines that manufacture many of the products these businesses sell. And the world of IT will never be the same.

"IoT’s future impact on data centers will be staggering," says Mike Schulz, senior principal architect at IT consultancy SPR. "The sheer volume of devices that will transmit information into a data center will continue to magnify the security, connectivity, and operational issues data centers currently face."

In other words, bridging the IT/OT divide won't be easy. Here are four essential things network professionals will need to know before they get started.

Expect complexity, lack of standards, IoT interoperability challenges

When large organizations adopt IoT, the number of devices network engineers must manage can increase by several orders of magnitude, as can the amount of data passing across the network.

"Instead of 100 devices connecting at one place, you're going to have 100,000 of them, each of them demanding a tiny amount of data but requiring thousands of open, lossy network connections," says Zachary Crockett, CTO for Particle, an IoT platform provider.

These devices in turn could be leveraging any one of thousands of connectivity protocols currently in the wild, most of them proprietary, says Jason Shepherd, CTO of IoT and edge computing for Dell Technologies.

"There is way too much fragmentation out there right now," Shepherd says. "Some people like to think there will be one magical standard IoT protocol to rule the world. That's never going to happen. And the closer you get to the device edge, the more operating systems, hardware, and programming languages you see.”

IoT devices also rely on a variety of wireless protocols not usually found in data centers, from ZigBee and LoRA to newly hatched standards such as LTE category M1 and NB1. The combination of proprietary technology and not-fully-baked communications protocols will lead to some strange errors, says Crockett.

"A software developer who's been pulled into an IoT project to write the embedded firmware might say 'I'm going to send this kind of message and support this kind of response,'" he says. "But there will be 50 different kinds of responses they didn't think of that will cause the device to error out and reboot. Folks on the network side are going to see errors they haven't seen before, and they'll see a great diversity of them. And many might mistake these errors for an attack, when it's really just a device misbehaving."

Open-source projects such as The Linux Foundation's EdgeX Foundry, which allow disparate IoT devices and applications to interact via standard APIs regardless of OS or hardware, should help solve

To continue reading this article register now