99 problems but the cloud ain't one: How the cloud is enabling IoT

After being one of the most hotly discussed technology trends in 2015, it’s clear that the IoT is quickly moving beyond the hype into the mainstream.

The connected world is already shifting beyond the “Internet of Screens” – where smartphones, tablets and PCs are the main devices online – to the “Internet of Things”, where companies like Jaguar Land Rover and L'Oréal are creating connected cars and smart make-up, respectively.

However, although experimentation and growth is fast, the best ways to enable and address the challenges of creating this connected world are still being explored and developed.

The challenge

With the IoT comes an exponential growth of data. By 2020, data is going to be gathered by up to 38 billion connected devices feeding back information in real time. This creates a two-fold problem:

  1. The problem of where and how to store all this new data
  2. The problem of where and how to turn this raw data into useful information

Most IoT-enabled end devices tend to have limited space for data storage and computing. In effect, these ‘smart’ devices are usually simply data gatherers or displays for data that is manipulated at another location. Furthermore, commercial IoT applications and processes need to be able to communicate with and feed into a business’ critical-applications to be able to help inform decisions.

What is required is therefore an integrated platform for receiving data from devices prior to being analysed and turned into meaningful information for businesses and their customers. It is here that cloud is emerging as the enabler of choice for the IoT.

The same features that have made cloud computing the top-of-mind IT infrastructure deployment for businesses – scalability, flexibility, connectivity and cost efficiency – are the same ones that make it a natural fit for the needs of back-end IoT systems.

A silver lining

The potential scope and many possible uses of IoT in organisations are still being explored. The scalability of cloud-based systems allows providers and adopters of IoT to start small – without large, upfront capital expenses – and then add more devices, systems and functions to the network as and when required. Having your cloud provider cover the power, cooling and connectivity costs will also free-up organisations’ in-house teams to focus on making sure that the IoT deployment aligns with the business’ goals.

The benefits of cloud-based infrastructures for software developers is no secret, and apply equally for the development of the next generation of IoT applications. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provides developers with a platform to spin up cloud instances using their software and tear them down without any manual intervention, all from one portal. Developing IoT applications in the cloud could both increase development speeds and reduce costs.

To deliver on the promise of IoT, integrating data from new connected devices and sensors with information contained in existing business applications will be critical. Whether the existing systems reside on-premises or in the cloud, communication between them and the new IoT devices will have to be as seamless as possible to turn data into actionable insights in real-time. The best IoT cloud platforms will be able to link applications and processes through pre-integration, easy-to-use interfaces and the ability to smoothly transition deployments between private cloud, public cloud and on-premises IT. The result will be a hybrid cloud environment able to align the IoT’s unstructured data with businesses’ existing systems to produce data that improves services and processes, as well as delivering ‘ready-for-growth’ cloud scalability.

The transformative impact of the IoT is going to be vast. Its likely effects range from how we experience retail shopping, to making businesses more cost efficient, and even enabling life saving devices that monitor the progress of a patient minute-by-minute.

Cloud computing is no longer a new technology; its benefits are well known and it is already pervasive in the business world. The same benefits of computation and storage scalability, flexibility and connectivity that made cloud computing popular also makes it the ideal platform on which to build the relevant applications to communicate with and manage IoT projects.

Independently, the two technologies present plenty of opportunity to transform business processes and services. Together, the opportunity to be gained is much greater and more easily enabled.

Vivek Vahie, Senior Director at NaviSite

Photo credit: Chesky / Shutterstock