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Is your enterprise network ready for the IoT revolution?

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

For many in enterprise IT, internet of things (IoT) initiatives are no longer a goal, but quite simply a reality. By the close of this year, Gartner (opens in new tab) predicts the number of connected items gathering data across the globe will reach a staggering 8.4 billion, rising by a third on the previous year’s forecast. Whilst rapid consumer adoption represents a large proportion of that figure, businesses are on pace to employ 3.1 billion connected things in 2017 alone, with some of the most compelling use cases of this technology coming to light within the industrial sectors.   

IoT’s role in business transformation   

The information collected by networks of connected devices has proven to be so valuable, it has become an essential component in helping companies to gain a deeper understanding of their own business and informing their strategies. In the case of mining, autonomous haul trucks have worked to maximise uptime, resulting higher productivity levels within a highly competitive industry. In oil and gas, production data from wells all around the world is being aggregated to enhance workflow efficiency, supply chain and health & safety. At the heart of it, leveraging IoT in vertical industries is believed by many to be the key to solving output and maintenance issues that have plagued businesses for decades.    

As an increasing number of businesses look to connected devices as a means of sourcing vital information aiding both growth and innovation, enterprise traffic related to IoT applications and devices across local and wide area networks is set to soar. This is a phenomenon already set into motion by the growing dominance of cloud computing. Indeed, a recent report from Aryaka has charted WAN traffic as growing at a rate of over 200 per cent a year (opens in new tab), on a global scale. This explosive data growth, coupled with the ever-growing number of connected devices, means traditional private data networks are not agile or cost effective enough and increasingly, IoT has to leverage the public Internet.   

Risk versus reward 

However, whilst the world of IoT and its associated higher network complexity bring a wealth of opportunities, these are matched by an equally consequential group of threats. Over the past six months, the number of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on UK businesses has doubled (opens in new tab). Whilst some have attributed this surge to the growing availability of ‘DDoS for hire’ services, the figure reflects an increased level of sophistication in leveraging new sources and new kinds of attack surfaces for these threats, with many designed to hit multiple points as a tactic to deceive and overrun traditional mitigation measures.   

Standing more synonymously with the term IoT are botnet attacks. With the various security flaws in integral IoT devices being well-documented, connected fleets have become prime targets for nefarious activity. Botnet attacks see cybercriminals attempt to seize control of a network of devices and use their combined traffic to launch a series of unrelenting DDoS attacks to trigger outages. The most recent cause célèbre of this nature is the “Reaper” botnet – a virus which is known to have already infected thousands of devices and believed to be particularly treacherous due to its ability to use known security flaws in the code of those insecure machines. 

With technology’s connected future holding such promising opportunities, countered by great and growing levels of threat, it is no wonder that the B2B sector is embarking on its journey to IoT adoption with trepidation. So how exactly can companies navigate their way to embracing connectivity, whist also safeguarding both their networks and their assets? 

Look beyond your network 

One aspect is not limiting the parameters of network monitoring. A decade or so ago, the cause of downtime was relatively easy to find. Enterprise companies largely owned their network and had a visual dashboard, and when things went from green to red, that indicated an outage. But today, network infrastructures driven by IoT and the essential eco-system of partners and providers that accompany any large-scale initiative have made things much more complex. In addition, on-premises solutions in the wider IT estate have rapidly been migrating to the cloud meaning today’s corporate network is really a hybrid of many different networks and cloud applications.   

Today’s IoT deployments will typically be connected over the public internet and are often highly distributed meaning, many service providers from all over the world can be involved. In addition to the devices themselves, there is likely a combination of cloud services or applications, data analytic platforms, industry specific applications, APIs for the necessary integrations and a range of custom applications that may sit with the customer or on another cloud platform. Ultimately, there are a lot of moving parts, exponentially so in some cases.

Traditional monitoring solutions would address pieces of this landscape, such as the private network element, or the owned network devices such as switches and routers, but finding the root cause of application issues and outages would be virtually impossible in this situation. 

At ThousandEyes, we believe in network intelligence for the cloud era, enabling customers to have visibility and operational insight across all the networks they use. We’ve also recently introduced a new feature called Device Layer that supplies users with the health status of individual network devices. This, combined with our ability to gather traffic insights that go beyond private networks, into the public internet, enable us to truly contextualise application or service availability issues with network traffic problems.   

Once Device Layer discovers connected devices, it dynamically maps the topology of the enterprise network. This allows ThousandEyes to visualise the enterprise WAN (opens in new tab), including the internet, which has effectively been seen as a closed ‘black box’ to most network and application performance tools until now, and continually updates as the environment changes. This type of solution not only seeks to locate traffic bottlenecks with superior accuracy, but also spot the beginning of a degradation issue that could lead to greater performance problems in the future.   

Although IoT-based security threats have developed at an alarming rate, the success stories from those embracing the technology only work to strengthen the business argument behind it. From autonomously managed car parks, to IoT-enabled soil monitors put to use in an agricultural setting, the achievements made to date strongly suggest that IoT could indeed live up to its excitement and help solve some of the biggest problems that businesses face.   

In each case, the IoT application ultimately provides the user with more information from which to make informed, considered decisions. To ready enterprise networks for this level of connected infrastructure, businesses are required to not just prioritise transparency in the information they receive, but champion more effective and future-ready network monitoring practices.   

ThousandEyes has announced a new engineering and sales office in London, its first office in Europe. Discover more here (opens in new tab).   

Ian Waters, Director of Solutions Marketing at ThousandEyes (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

Ian Waters is Director of Solutions Marketing at ThousandEyes, the Network Intelligence company that delivers visibility into every network.