The Internet of Things may be at a nascent stage of development but its impact is already being felt across the enterprise landscape. And quite naturally, this is playing out on network infrastructure in a big way, both within the data center and on the wide area.
But since all network upgrades require investment and are driven by the expected return on that investment, how is the enterprise supposed to make these determinations for what is still a largely unknown technological shift? And exactly how is the IoT going to mesh with all the other advances taking shape in the data universe, like mobile infrastructure, software defined networks and the cloud?
According to Information Age’s Ben Rossi, the IoT will change a number of long-standing practices in network deployment and management, but perhaps the most significant will be to security postures. The IoT will have the twin effects of increasing traffic in core networks and pushing IT footprints toward a distributed and largely ill-defined edge. That means security tools will have to become even more adept at not only scanning traffic and maintaining firewalls like it always has, but following data and applications as they traverse commodity, third-party infrastructure. For enterprises that are already having trouble maintaining security on employees’ BYOD devices, imagine the challenges of securing all customer refrigerators, or their light bulbs.
There is nothing like a crisis to spur development, of course, and the IoT is proving this adage by forcing organizations to ramp up the refresh rate of networking infrastructure, which has traditional lagged behind its server and storage counterparts. Dimension Data recently released a new Network Barometer Report that claimed the enterprise is not only replacing network components at a faster rate than ever before, they are approaching it from a much more strategic investment perspective. In part, this is due to the significant changes that the IoT and related technology initiatives are having on both systems and processes. In the past, network upgrades were focused on providing more speed and more bandwidth for data environments that emerged in the 1980s and ‘90s. These days, the network is being tasked with high degrees of scalability, flexibility, resource federation and even autonomy, which means deployment decisions must now focus on user requirements and process outcomes, not just throughput.
So how can the enterprise tell if its network is ready for the IoT, and if not, what is the best way forward? Derrick Lee, vice president of Asia-Pacific global and vertical accounts at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, says a good place to start is recognizing the fact that much of the IoT traffic load will consist of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. This will require not just a small packet network environment, but one that is highly dynamic and requires a great deal of automation and deep, granular visibility to maintain connectivity between perhaps billions of devices.
Indeed, says Cisco’s Mark Haranas, there aren’t enough fingers on Earth to manually oversee this whirlwind, and the speed at which network architectures will be created, used and then disposed of will far exceed the human capacity to track it. So automation is not just a healthy add-on to IoT infrastructure, it is a core requirement. In fact, plain, old automation probably won’t be enough, either. As environments scale, automation driven by artificial intelligence will be needed to adapt to changing network environments with as much autonomy as prudence allows.
It’s fair to say that the IoT is not your father’s Internet. It is a fundamental reimaging of how networks can be deployed, managed and utilized, and it will likely alter everything from the simplest of data processes to entire business models.
The enterprise is front and center in this transformation, which means it will have to pay even more attention to network health and resilience than it does now, and over a far wider area.
Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for Enterprise Networking Planet and IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.