The three things your network needs to capitalise on IoT and Big Data

The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly. Much more than just smart cars and fitness wearables, IoT promises to give us control, provide insight, and minimise waste in nearly every market segment.

Predictions from Cisco to IDC to Gartner all agree the IoT sensor count will be in the range of 30-50 billion connected ‘things’ representing trillions of dollars of market value by 2020. IoT is real and here to stay.

Truth is, though, we already have more sensors around us than we realise. Bringing more off-line functions to our fingertips, promising to empower us further, helping us become more productive and serving us operational cost savings. Lots more convenience. Lots more control. Lots more data at our fingertips.

If all these promises sound familiar, they should. Remember the original promises of smartphones? WiFi wireless access? And even the Internet? They each promised to make our lives more convenient, give us more control, and put more data at our fingertips. Fast forward 15, 20 and 25 years, respectively, and each one kept its promise. Of course they also each delivered some notable self-discoveries and growing pains.

IoT is still in its infancy. It has a lot of growing to do. Just like the early days of smartphones, WiFi and the Internet, vendors are still figuring out what works best; users are figuring where automation fits and where it does not; and of course, disrupters are figuring out inventive ways to disrupt. If history is any indicator, there are two things we know: (1) there will be product winners and losers as companies experiment along the way, and (2) the end result will be worth the pain.

Harnessing the power of IoT means harnessing Big Data

While driverless cars, fitness wearables and home thermostats may dominate the headlines, the bulk of IoT is in business automation. Connected cities, industrial automation, healthcare, oil and gas production and distribution, and smart transportation will be the big drivers. Big drivers each contributing to, analysing, and making decisions from Big Data.

Since 2007, EMC has been tracking the size of what they call the IoT Digital Universe, or DU. The DU is all the digital data created, replicated, and consumed in a single year, and it is doubling in size every two years. By 2020, the DU will be 44 zettabytes (trillions of gigabytes). The collective ability to analyse these vast sums of data and pull out meaningful insights is likely the biggest boom to hit enterprises since the factory assembly line.

And like an assembly line, the key to handling high volumes of data and traffic is by planning for scale at the infrastructure level. Redundancies, failover architectures, and load balancing are good places to start. Security test tools to verify operations against DDOS and malware attacks are good additions. Using high speed Test Access Ports (TAPs) to analyse and monitor traffic at network speeds increases confidence and allows for better traffic load balancing, extending the usability of in-line devices like firewalls.

While many think of IoT as ‘low impact data’ like fitness steps and turning on your home heater, it is much more. Consider this: By 2020 the amount of connected devices will hit 32 billion and the amount data that will be generated as a result of IoT will be 10 per cent of the world’s data. Seems bigger now, doesn’t it?

Dealing with Big Data means planning ahead and designing a network to handle high volume plus attacks. Trust but verify. From development through deployment, every IoT vendor needs to do three things well: validate their design, provide for visibility, and test their security.

  1. Validate Design

Here are key questions: When it is okay to be done testing your network? How many protocols did you test? Did you stress the application with a variety of botnet, malware, obfuscation and evasion attacks? How about large scale DDoS and mobile botnets?

Ensure the routers and switches in your data center, virtual and physical, can handle the load and can recover when problems arise. Test, test and test some more. It may seem like a lot, but one lesson we all learned from our experiences of wireless, smart phone apps and even the original Internet, end users have very short attention spans. Disappoint them and you will struggle to ever get their attention back.

  1. Ensure Visibility

Data implementations are often so complex that it is difficult to predict how they will react until they are deployed. Here is where visibility comes into play. Being able to monitor live applications is critical to ensuring smooth operation. Eliminating blind spots requires 100 percent visibility into your traffic.

Being able to see your data allows you to monitor operations more closely and optimise performance. It allows enterprises to get the most performance out of their tool investments. Why buy more tools when your current tools have untapped capacity?

  1. Test Security

Continually evolving and new attacks seek to find yet-undiscovered holes in your network defense. With new threats emerging all of the time, how many have you tested against? To fully understand how next-generation firewalls (NGFW), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), and other security devices will perform, try subjecting your devices to simulated cyber-war conditions. Include massive-scale, realistic application traffic and the latest DDoS attacks. It is the only way to truly know you are protected.

By validating security using the most up-to-date applications and security threats, you can see how your network will perform when faced with various threat scenarios - a list that grows daily and impacts your end users, brand, and profitability.

Worth The Effort

As IoT emerges and takes hold in consumer and enterprises alike, insuring that your network infrastructure can handle the high traffic requirements and the new security threats will be key to gaining real benefits from Big Data and connected devices. Validating the network design, maintaining visibility in the infrastructure and testing to ensure security are the right measures to put in place to be prepared and participate in opportunities that IoT and big data will bring. With an estimated $7.1 trillion available market by 2020, and productivity and cost savings benefits, it is clear that IoT is worth the effort.

It was the mid-1990s when I got my first work cell phone. I believe it was a Nokia, and I only carried it when I had to and used it sparingly. It was handy but not essential to my personal productivity or safety – or so I thought. Fast-forward 20 years. I left my current smart phone behind when I was at a store and had to go without it for 24 hours. It created a personal productivity crisis for me, not to mention the strange feeling of being “untethered” from my work, family, and friends.

What seems like today’s novelty is tomorrow’s necessity. IoT will bring huge benefits we can understand now, and have yet to grasp. We need to ensure the network is prepared to enable us to participate fully in the opportunities of IoT and Big Data in the future.

Bethany Mayer, President and CEO, Ixia