IoT: From smart ideas to smart reality - but is your network ready?

The stats are here: investment bank Goldman Sachs cites the Internet of Things as a $7 trillion opportunity by 2020 - with IoT set to have an impact at every stage in the production and distribution of products.

Wikibon predicts the value of efficiency savings from machine data alone could reach close to $1.3 trillion and will drive $514 billion in IT spend by 2020. Manish Sablok, Head of Field Marketing, North West and East Europe at ALE, looks at the four fundamental network requirements to enable business to take full advantage of the transformations that IoT will drive.

The hype surrounding the potential of IoT shows no sign of subsiding, and now – IoT is morphing from a smart concept to reality. The 'smarts' are on parade: smart cities with their smart grids and smart transportation systems and smart cars, all demonstrating the benefits of machine to machine (M2M) connectivity.

ALE is already involved with the communications and networking backbone of Gujarat International Finance Tec-City in India, a Smart City development that implements IoT at a fundamental level.

There are many ways in which IoT can be implemented and one such example is how it can help a transportation department, responsible for the road network in a city, leverage the potential of M2M in order to create a smart transportation system. This type of IoT may involve polling data from thousands of roadway sensors and devices such CCTV cameras, vehicle detectors, weather stations, signs, ramp meters, traffic signals, and other devices multiples times a second in near or real time – and all this requires connectivity.

It’s the connectivity that becomes critical to how these devices will inform travellers of road conditions, events, and incidents to keep the transport network following. And having the right network infrastructure is crucial to enabling this connectivity.

IoT ready infrastructure

From remote pipeline monitoring to healthcare telemetry, M2M technology provides the framework for wired and wireless devices to interact and transmit data to other interoperable devices. A vast interconnected web of “smart” devices provides continuous streams of data and leaves businesses with a wealth of large data sets.

But without a suitable network infrastructure, millions of pounds worth of sensors and smart devices can be bottlenecked and rendered useless by inadequate and ineffective information routing and distribution.

There are four key requirements for the development of the smart network:

1. Reach to the Edge

The sprawling nature of IoT requires comprehensive management of the entire network, wired and wireless, right to the edge as devices - smart and not so smart - seek access and data transfer to core network components. This is why the switch is key. All the connected devices and sensors are transmitting data on the network, but sending data from devices straight to the data centre can be inefficient, cause bottlenecks on the network, and impact performance.

An intelligent network needs to extend functionality right to the edge so data can be analysed and processed on the way to the core, or from device to device. To manage the increased flow of IoT traffic, switches at the edge of the network will need to offer enhanced security and integrated analytics. New switch technologies which now incorporates Deep Packet Inspection, application fingerprinting and application monitoring make this possible - giving administrators a comprehensive view of apps on the network and the information needed to optimise network performance.

2. One network, many applications

It is virtually impossible for a network that has been installed and upgraded on an ad-hoc basis - often with a separate solution for voice, data, wired and wireless - to deliver on the promise of IoT. There are many enterprise IT systems out there that are simply not fit for IoT purpose.

A single converged network is fundamental to an IoT environment and guarantees a greater level of interoperability and support for IoT applications and devices.

Unified management eliminates network silos, allows greater central control and enables an intelligent network management solution that can automatically prioritise data traffic to ensure real-time communications, and enable business critical applications get the network service they need, with considerable cost savings.

It also provides the foundation to build the IoT applications of the future.

3. Make smarter decisions

IoT brings with it big data - and with big data comes the need for advanced analytics to provide real-time insights.

Predictive analysis and reporting functions are vital in enabling enterprises to use big data to build proactive, data-driven, decision making.

Analysis of big data can also provide valuable insight into network operations. Predictive network analytics tools delivered alongside network management systems provide reporting utilities that offer detailed network performance indicators. This can be as simple as determining whether a new service or application a business is rolling out will exceed current network capacity, or that every Thursday afternoon the R&D department needs extra bandwidth to support its data heavy processes.

By examining this data, enterprises can achieve greater return on investment in their applications, identifying redundant or unpopular features and allow developers to target their resources more effectively.

4. A smart network to educate dumb devices

Not every device is smart. Poorly secured smart devices such as smart watches and activity trackers pose a threat to essential network security - as do traditional 'dumb' devices such as door locks. Simply monitoring and controlling the flow of packets to and from IoT devices is not enough to guarantee security. A network management system – such as the OmniVista® NMS is essential to provide traffic analytics and regulate control over authorised and unauthorised access. Remote or centralised management enables system administrators to efficiently manage devices and safeguard network integrity and data.

All devices right out to the network edge must be made smarter by the network management and the switches on the network.

The converged road to IoT

IoT offers the chance for enterprises to deliver compelling new applications and support deployments with millions of endpoints by providing real-time insights that help enterprises capture, understand and make more effective use of device data. But it will also bring new challenges and expectations.

The key is one converged network supported by state of the art switches that enable an enterprise to remotely manage, monitor and safeguard all devices, software and data to provide IT departments with in-depth intelligence to make smarter decisions.