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How to manage a growing IoT environment

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Unsurprisingly, consumers are becoming increasingly more accustomed to using connected devices, including connected cars, machines, meters and wearables.  With these trends set to continue for the foreseeable future, businesses face a growing challenge in implementing, maintaining and securing their IoT networks if they are to ensure returns on IoT investments meet the ever-growing needs of their users and customers.

Assessing IoT maturity

According to Gartner, there are five levels of IoT maturity to assess how far businesses have come in their journey – and how far they are yet to go. CIOs can use this model to understand, track and maximise the business impact of IoT investments across their organisations. The five stages are: Initiating, exploratory, defined, integrated and optimising.

At the moment, most businesses sit anywhere between stage one and stage three. Many companies have only just started connecting everything to one central system. This means processes are no longer operating in siloed conditions, but businesses are focused on learning about how to create a connected enterprise so that they can progress to eventually working in a more data-driven environment.

As things start to evolve, companies naturally navigate their way into stage four, as integration is a crucial step to achieving IoT maturity.  Companies across the globe are realising that they need to completely integrate their IoT projects into the organisation’s overarching strategies and long-term goals. This is crucial in ensuring IoT infrastructure creates truly seamless, connected experiences at every level of the business.

Ensuring network reliability

As IoT networks grow and become more complex, they risk becoming unstable if they aren’t continually monitored for infrastructure or virtual machine issues.  A robust monitoring system empowers network managers to anticipate, diagnose and solve issues, often before the problem even has an impact on the end user.  As IoT networks are commonplace in businesses and homes alike, network failure can have a disastrous effect on productivity and can significantly damage the overall customer experience.

Creating a secure network

An IoT network is only as strong and secure as its weakest endpoint.  Each connected device is a potential gateway into the network, so it is integral that network managers can monitor every device (new and old) to detect rogue devices that may pose a risk. Security is a key concern of IT teams because of the importance of the data at stake and the technical complexity existing in the communication network and cloud infrastructure. There are three main targets for hackers to access the functionalities and data of a connected device: devices and hardware, cloud infrastructure that includes conceptually IoT supervisors via servers and the network of communications.

We don‘t yet know if IoT will live up to the hype, but we are convinced that it will definitely have an impact on the way we experience IT – and the way companies need to monitor their IT infrastructure.

Tips to prepare for monitoring an IT infrastructure for a growing IoT environment

There are certain things every organisation should do to anticipate and prepare for monitoring their IoT environment in the future:

  1. Envision what the Internet of Things will mean for your business – The Internet of Things will change some businesses more than others. A professional services firm might be concerned about integrating a smart thermostat, whereas a manufacturer will face the challenges of unifying a number of disparate systems, machinery and devices. Network administrators will be at the forefront of the integration process and play a large role in making connected devices functional and useful.
  2. Prepare to integrate – While some connected devices will be productised and designed to fit neatly into networks, others will be homegrown and rely heavily on customisation. With all these different device types, integration becomes a challenge. It is critical that all connected devices be brought under one roof so they can be accurately monitored.
  3. Understand the protocols that connect us – There are three main protocols that are used to connect the Internet of Things: Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), REST APIs, and XML. By gaining a stronger understanding of how devices interact, you’ll be able to design more sophisticated network architectures, which make monitoring that much easier.
  4. Remember that not all “things” are new – Not every connected device is the latest and greatest hardware from industry-leading companies. Many devices are outdated, especially in industrial settings, or are connected by small computers like Raspberry Pi. You need to understand the many different hardware requirements and identify how to connect necessary devices, even if they’re from the last century.
  5. Be flexible – The Internet of Things is likely going to be the biggest challenge network administrators have faced since cloud services and BYOD. There will certainly be pressure from leadership to tackle the “next big thing” in IT. You will have to be both patient and flexible to handle the complex challenges of monitoring a network of connected devices and deal with the pressure to “get it done.”
  6. Plan proactively – When it comes to network monitoring, planning is your friend. The advent of BYOD had major effects on networks and bandwidth, and so will the Internet of Things. To maintain uptime and availability, be sure to plan for bandwidth usage from connected devices.
  7. Recognise that anything with an IP address can be hacked – Today’s hackers are both fearless and creative, a dangerous combination for IT departments. Anything with an IP address can be hacked, and the Internet of Things widens the threat vector. Before you connect the refrigerator to central IT, be sure to have a security plan in place.
  8. Customise, customise, customise – One of the most exciting aspects of the Internet of Things is that there is seemingly no limit to what can be connected. In terms of monitoring, that creates challenges that can be solved by creating new sensors and custom reports. This is especially exciting in industrial settings, where data extracted from devices can be used to make business processes smarter and more efficient. You can take advantage of this opportunity to show off your creative side and build custom solutions for these monitoring problems.
  9. Keep every “thing” in order – Modern IT systems are often chaotic. It has become incredibly easy to spin up a virtual machine, download and run cloud software, or now, connect a device. Mapping and tracking every “thing” that is added to the network as it happens will save you plenty of headaches in the long run.
  10. Think two steps ahead – Connected device projects likely start small in most businesses, and many will not be of great consequence. But, eventually, the connected world will deliver new data and information about how businesses operate that will become drivers of key decisions. You will be responsible for collecting and analysing that data and turning it into insights. Having a plan in place for what’s next is crucial, even if there’s less happening at the present.

Martin Hodgson, head of UK and Ireland, Paessler AG