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It’s a data centre, but not as we know it. In the next few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to utterly transform the hubs where data is collected, processed and stored, according to Fabrizio Biscotti and Joe Skorupa, analysts at IT market research firm Gartner.
The Internet of Things Data Explosion
“IoT deployments will generate large quantities of data that need to be processed and analysed in real time,” says Biscotti. “Processing large quantities of IoT data in real time will increase as a proportion of workloads of data centres, leaving providers facing new security, capacity and analytics challenges.”
In other words, from heart monitors to vending machines and smart utilities meters to mobile phones, machines are ready to start talking to each other. Some already are - and their chatter enables them to report on their status, convey data to other devices and receive instructions remotely. By 2020, Gartner reckons, there’ll be around 26 billion devices installed that are capable of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The cost of being able to process and understand these conversations, meanwhile, will force changes in data centre set-ups that involve incremental revenue for IT suppliers of some $300 billion.
“The enormous numbers of devices, coupled with the sheer volume, velocity and structure of IoT data, creates challenges, particularly in the areas of security, data, storage management, servers and the data centre network, as real-time business processes are at stake,” says Skorupa.
As a result, he adds, “data centre managers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management in these areas to be able to proactively meet the business priorities associated with IoT.”
The Internet of Things Data Centre Challenges
To help them in this task, Biscotti and Skorupa have prepared the following list of the potential challenges the modern data centre faces:
- Security - The increasing digitisation and automation of the multitudes of devices deployed across different areas of modern urban environments are set to create new security challenges to many industries.
- Enterprise - Significant security challenges will remain as the big data created as a result of the deployment of myriad devices will drastically increase security complexity. This, in turn, will have an impact on availability requirements, which are also expected to increase, putting real-time business processes and, potentially, personal safety at risk.
- Consumer privacy - As is already the case with smart metering equipment and increasingly digitised automobiles, there will be a vast amount of data providing information on users’ personal use of devices that, if not secured, can give rise to breaches of privacy. This is particularly challenging as the information generated by IoT is a key to bringing better services and the management of such devices.
- Data - The impact of the IoT on storage is two-pronged, in terms of the types of data to be stored, both personal data (consumer-driven) and big data (enterprise-driven). As consumers utilise apps and devices continue to learn about the user, significant data will be generated.
- Storage management - The impact of the IoT on storage infrastructure is another factor contributing to the increasing demand for more storage capacity, and one that will have to be addressed as this data becomes more prevalent. The focus today must be on storage capacity, as well as whether or not the business can harvest and use IoT data in a cost-effective manner.
- Server technologies - The impact of IoT on the server market will be largely focused on increased investment in key vertical industries and organisations related to those industries where IoT can be profitable or add significant value.
- Data centre network - Existing data centre WAN [wide area network] links are sized for the moderate bandwidth requirements generated by human interactions with applications. IoT promises to dramatically change these patterns by transferring massive amounts of small message sensor data to the data centre for processing, dramatically increasing inbound data centre bandwidth requirements.
Above all, what’s needed is a distributed data centre management approach that incorporates improved systems management tools and procedures.
“IoT threatens to generate massive amounts of input data from sources that are globally distributed,” says Skorupa. “Transferring the entirety of that data to a single location will not be technically or economically viable.”
While the recent trend has been to centralise applications in order to reduce costs and increase security, this approach will no longer be viable as the impact of the IoT is increasingly felt.
“Organisations will be forced to aggregate data in multiple distributed ‘mini’ data centres, where initial processing can occur. Relevant data will then be forwarded to a central site for additional processing,” he says.
That has massive implications for skills, for back-up processes, for network bandwidth and capacity and for processing capabilities.
Says Biscotti: “Data centre operators and providers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management platforms that can include a data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) system of approach of aligning IT and operational technology standards and communications protocols to be able to proactively provide the production facility to process the IoT data points, based on the priorities and the business needs.”
“Already in the data centre planning phase, throughput models derived from statistical capacity management platforms or infrastructure capacity toolkits will include business applications and associated data streams,” he says. “Those comprehensive scenarios will impact design and architecture changes by moving towards virtualisation, as well as cloud services.”
This, he claims, will reduce the complexity and boost on-demand capacity to deliver reliability and business continuity - but given where most data centres are today, it’s looking like a very long haul for some.