Few people can deny the substantial benefits the Internet of Things (IoT) brings to the modern enterprise. For the first time, organizations have a way of interacting with products and services on a continual basis, providing an entirely new level of customer fulfilment and customization at a time when consumers are demanding, well, practically everything from their providers.
But the IoT cannot exist in a vacuum. It must integrate with legacy IT infrastructure in ways that support the rapid-fire exchange of data to and from countless devices without overwhelming the legacy technologies that still make up the bulk of the enterprise data framework.
Clearly, the enterprise side of the equation needs a boost, and one of the key elements in this transition is networking.
According to LeanIX's André Christ, the obstacles for IT/IoT integration are varied and numerous. Besides the sheer volume of data coming in from the field, IT will have to cope with the complexity of disparate sources, data sets, goals and objectives. In addition, organizations will have to implement a cohesive security strategy that enables deep visibility and rapid response to threats. Looming over all of this is the fact that this new integrated environment will have to accommodate numerous stakeholders, many of whom will have different ideas about how it should function.
Clearly, this is not going to happen overnight. As IFS’s Rick Veague noted on Forbes recently, even companies with extensive sensor networks on their factory floors provide only rudimentary connectivity to back-office enterprise systems. Much of this data goes only toward predictive maintenance and other shop functions, even though it could be highly valuable to ERP, CRM and other critical platforms. Adequate use of data both before and after products are delivered to customers can dramatically improve cost structures, revenue streams and even overall safety and performance of the product itself. But it will take a concerted effort by the enterprise to ensure that this data is being captured, compiled, processed and analyzed for maximum leverage.
Connecting to devices is not the only aspect of a functioning IoT network. A recent study by ISG highlights the myriad elements in the IoT ecosystem, all of which must be supported by a proper communications infrastructure that adequately addresses range, transmission capacity, usage and other factors. In any given enterprise, the IoT will have to amass information from big data and analytics engines, third-party providers, consultants/business partners, and government/regulatory agencies — all of which are likely to have their own IoT infrastructure, most likely in the cloud. Interoperability is already a significant challenge within the enterprise; delivering it across multi-vendor, multi-platform infrastructure that spans the globe promises to be downright herculean.
But this is the challenge we face, which is why perhaps the most crucial aspect of IoT networking will be on the integration and orchestration layer. A recent study by market intelligence firm Fact.MR estimates demand for IoT integration and orchestration middleware will top $18.5 billion within the next decade as companies in all industrial and commercial sectors realize the value of managing APIs across disparate infrastructure. The API, after all, is crucial when it comes to capturing an IT accessible event for analysis, and it also serves as the primary connection between web services and authorized users. Going forward, expect IoT middleware to be lighter than today’s IT-facing solutions. It will also most likely be delivered as a service to provide the highest degrees of performance and flexibility.
The IoT is in a fluid state right now, and will likely remain so well into the future. The enterprise should take care not to model its networking layer on the rigid infrastructure of the past. Only a flexible, composable and, most likely, fully abstract architecture will be able to accommodate the ebb and flow of IoT workloads over the long term.
As more devices come online, the network will come under increasing pressure to make sure everything remains connected at all times. By laying the proper foundation now, the enterprise can ensure its ability to handle whatever comes along in the future.
Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.