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A real-time connection is key to IoT development

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chesky / Shutterstock)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly becoming an integral feature of our daily business environment. More organisations are using devices in a distributed network to support the day-to-day running of the business in order to improve productivity, enhance customer service and reduce maintenance overheads.

With the number of IoT devices expected to reach 125 billion by 2030, it is clear that many industries have already begun using them for critical business processes. It is therefore important that businesses understand as early as possible, the radically differing requirements of IoT devices, their criticality to the business and the implications for businesses that don’t get it right.

The first crucial consideration for all businesses is to understand that different IoT devices have fundamentally different requirements. Some connected devices, such as wearables, do not need a sophisticated real-time connection with high bandwidth. These high latency devices typically send infrequent data points every few minutes or even hours. There is no great criticality to their function and they do not need to be monitored closely.

However, business-critical devices which have much more sophisticated capabilities, such as video surveillance cameras, industrial control systems, or consumer transaction terminals have very different connectivity requirements. By definition, these devices demand low latency connectivity to support real-time monitoring and management, something that may not have yet been implemented across their device estate. It is vital they have a genuinely ‘live’ connection to ensure the data they share is up to date and accurate at all times and to enable people to remote into and or monitor and control them. This is particularly vital as devices, such as smart industrial control systems, are constantly generating new data on everything from performance to location.

The thinking behind the traditional ‘IT help desk’ model is now being adapted to allow business-critical IoT networks to share everything from text and audio to image and video across vast distances in real-time. The aim is to make vital business data potentially digitally omnipresent across the IOT the instant it is created. This idea of all IoT devices being genuinely real-time, hails back to the idea of using remote access technology to allow an IT technician to screen-share in real-time with a customer in need of help.

The remote patient monitoring market has grown 44% within the last year, and medical staff now rely on IoT to collect data from patients, keep doctors connected to co-workers and patient data, and keep equipment connected to the engineer. The tracking of patient health requires an extremely low latency, where data is sent every second to doctors and nurses to ensure they do not miss anything life threatening. This does not just stop at the smaller IoT devices however, it is also critical for larger medical devices to have a low latency to ensure both the device and the doctor are kept as up to date as possible and uptime is maximised.

Doors to new possibilities

For example, traditionally an MRI machine could be out of service for 30-60 hours a year, meaning patients were kept waiting for potentially lifesaving results. An IoT MRI however, has remote access capabilities which allow an engineer to ‘remote in’ to the scanner and resolve any issues which may could impact performance or cause downtime. This means that healthcare institutions with increasingly high patient demand, are able to keep their MRI devices operational, improving patient response times and outcomes. In addition, the data collected by the MRI machine is accessible by doctors, and they are able to receive up-to-the-second updates which gives full transparency as to patient health. Nurses can be prepped on a ward for the patient’s requirements before the patient has even left the room with the MRI machine in it.

Manufacturing is another sector where we will see a need for low latency, continuous, real-time connectivity. There have been many headlines over recent years referring to proliferation of Industry 4.0 and the automation of manufacturing technologies, but it is the process behind the next industrial revolution that is critical to understand. In order for manufacturing to be truly automated, there is a need for a constant exchange of live data among thousands of sensors and a central control room. This is only achievable through extremely high-speed, secure connections protected against downtime. Real-time information is essential to ensuring the production line is continuously working properly, and every object is being built to the correct specifications and safety requirements. With to-the-second updates from multiple devices being sent across, this also enables engineers to have an overview of the entire ecosystem and promptly fix software issues with any device in real-time.

These sophisticated, business-critical IoT devices also need to be kept extremely secure. We are now seeing incidents with researchers demonstrating the potential impact of business-critical IoT devices if they are hacked. Security researchers demonstrated how hacking connected industrial manufacturing equipment to change design specs could mean products are built with faulty and unsafe parts; a 3D printer was even hacked to sabotage the propeller on a drone.

To meet demanding security requirements, these mission-critical devices must have software that is up to the task of protecting sensitive information. This means there is a need to establish a hyper-secure and encrypted connection, the kind traditionally provided by remote access software to enable screen-sharing protocols.

Remote access software also enables trained and certified engineers to remote in to devices to ensure they are highly secure by manage and perform security updates across an entire estate.

IoT has opened the door to a wide range of new possibilities for innovative solutions to all sectors. Applying the thinking behind the IT help desk to the wider IoT is central to the implementation of mission-critical IoT devices across all sectors, ensuring that data can be shared, viewed and analysed continuously, securely and in real-time.

Adam Byrne, CEO, RealVNC
Image Credit: Chesky / Shutterstock