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Why collaboration, not competition, is key in a hyperconnected world

The Internet of Things and the associated technologies of analytics and artificial intelligence have almost unmatched potential to transform the way we live and work. Even now, connected sensors, and the insight from the data they collect, are creating quiet revolutions in areas as diverse as agriculture, insurance and medicine. At its full transformative potential, the IoT will enable a hyperconnected world based on an informed, actionable infrastructure that will drive an infinite variety of applications and uses.  

However, for all the talk of the Internet of Things we are still in the early days. While some parts of the IoT such as Machine to Machine and RFID can trace their heritage over more than a decade, IoT is still an emergent phenomenon, rather than a directed industrial development. The IoT is being built from the ground up and from the edges in as technology companies, applications and service providers, entrepreneurs and regulators make their own contributions to an evolving landscape. Like the Internet, the Internet of Things will be everywhere, with no one industry or organisation owning it.  

The IT industry as a whole has a responsibility to ensure we realise the vision in its complete form, with an IoT that is open, scalable, interoperable, transferable and transformable. However, it’s clear that no single provider can meet all needs. A fragmented landscape of networks and devices which can only cooperate in proprietary groups will impede market development and waste resources. Similarly, the data needs to be readily accessible to deliver insight and it all needs to be secure. 

To realise the full potential of the Internet of Things, collaboration, not competition, will be needed across the crucial areas of standardisation, security, network management and integration.

Setting the standard

The term ecosystem has been used loosely in the IT industry in recent years to refer to collaborative networks of suppliers, partners and customers. The Internet of Things is the ultimate epitome of such an ecosystem, as a planet-wide network of connected devices open to any and every application. However, technical standards are a vital early stage in the evolution of the Internet of Things, to build viable and credible services within a strong overarching ecosystem.

Standards, including communications protocols and service quality definitions, are needed to ensure the development of the highly heterogeneous and open environment required. Stakeholders must also agree on governance structures that ensure access, security and quality criteria for every possible usage. As well as technology stakeholders, it’s vital that governments play a role in this process, as they will be a significant user and enabler of the IoT. 

We have seen this recently with the announcement from the US Government on new guidance for IoT security. It is in all our interests that the IT industry, commerce and government collaborate to agree these standards and the commercial agreements that will enable the IoT to blossom fully. If we can agree the rules of the road, then we can journey together or separately as necessary – confident that we can reach our chosen destination.

Keeping it safe

The IoT will be a network of billions of devices which can be remotely controlled and will generate enormous amounts of data; as such, it will present a huge opportunity – and an unprecedented security challenge. We have already seen the challenges from the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack in the US on 21st October 2016 which targeted the Domain Name System (DNS) and disrupted key internet applications including online shopping, social media and music streaming services.

To create a secure system, we will need a new approach to cybersecurity that recognises that some devices are un-secure while others are legacy (e.g. Process Logic Controllers in manufacturing). As well as assuming devices will not necessarily be secure, we also need to avoid thinking of security as an afterthought or bolt-on. A judicious use of encryption will help, but an ‘encrypt all’ strategy will not work. And since no one organisation is responsible for the IoT, we need to agree standards. Security needs to be embedded in the end to end security concept, but it has its own challenges and technologies, which means suppliers will need credible security practices that can produce just-in-time security within and across domains

Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) will have a key role to play. These capabilities enable responsive network protection in reply to threats as they occur. Affected areas of the network can be immediately isolated from the rest of the IoT while remedial action is undertaken. It’s a bit like adding an immune system to the network: with the right monitoring and control systems in place, we can shut down and heal affected areas – and recognise the threats next time they occur. Encryption will also be central to providing a base level of security for IoT. 

Sensors attached to the IoT may capture, process or exchange personal data – so there is a clear need to provide the strongest security and privacy controls. Suppliers which place privacy and data protection at the forefront of their IoT developments will be well placed to ensure their solutions respect the privacy of data subjects and abide by the growing body of privacy law. By agreeing and adhering to security best practice, providers across the IoT will help to ensure that it is safe and secure for all users.

Networks get dynamic 

The size, complexity and fluidity of the IoT will quickly overwhelm traditional management systems, at both physical and logical levels, within telcos as well as enterprises. Imagine a simple core network fibre break. Billions of devices could potentially send out alarms reporting loss of connectivity. In the first instance, the management systems will need to be able to receive these alerts, process them to determine the root cause failure and then suppress all the incidental alarms. Even traditional telco Operational Support Systems (OSS) which can do this today for millions of alarms will fail under the billions of events that could be generated in such a scenario. 

For the IoT to function, we need a new coordinated approach to network management. The next generation of network management solutions will need Automated Root Cause Analysis, Service Impact Assessment and Alarm Correlation capabilities. Suppliers will need to equip network aggregation points and gateways with intelligence to ensure they only propagate true root causes to centralised management while suppressing non-impacting or casual alerts. A new, dynamic form of network management will be the only effective approach for the IoT.

Integration – putting the pieces together

Integration is fundamental to the delivery of a cohesive IoT solution. Any IoT delivery partner must be able to integrate services from multiple suppliers, in each of the service towers (End User Devices, Network, Hosting and Applications). 

As the IoT will be a supplier ecosystem, every participant will need a well-defined service model and supporting architecture. Ideally these will be based on agreed standards that enable management of the infrastructure and applications in the context of the business services that consume them. Another key consideration will be integration of cloud capabilities both from the IoT supplier and with other third party providers. Fujitsu is addressing this with its RunMyProcess service, which effectively provides an integration, orchestration and automation capability across multiple services and providers.

Turning the vision into reality

IoT is a massive opportunity for businesses. The possibilities are dazzling – but there are threats to manage and traps for the unwary. Neglecting the needs of security, network management and integration will lead to wasted investments and lost ground. Although some vendors may try to take a lead by using proprietary standards or privileged services, they are likely to lose out to those who take a longer-term view and who build for the future. 

The way ahead involves an open and dynamic balancing of collaboration and competition. By collaborating to create a strong IoT ecosystem, we can ensure that the IoT reaches its full potential – and works for everyone.

Iain Groves, Solution Owner, Fujitsu
Image source: Shutterstock/a-image

Iain Groves is Solution Owner at Fujitsu UK & Ireland.