An increasingly popular technology buzzword over the last few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has created excitement, fear, and wonder among everyone from IT professionals to analysts. Gartner estimates 26 billion IoT devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, while Cisco predicts 50 billion. Either way, these devices will generate massive amounts of data that will inevitably make their way to a data center.
These projections sent shockwaves throughout the data center industry in particular, as the proliferation of connected devices will require data center facilities to account for the effects of such rapid growth. “IoT deployments will generate large quantities of data that need to be processed and analyzed in real time,” said Fabrizio Biscotti, research director at Gartner, back in 2014. “Processing large quantities of IoT data in real time will increase as a proportion of data centers, leaving providers facing new security, capacity, and analytics challenges.”
The abundance of IoT devices and the resulting upsurge in data has started an “analytical revolution,” which has and will continue to transform data center operations as we know it. Though Gartner claimed the IoT has already reached the height of its hype, the technology is really still in its beginning phase— and there’s no sign of slowing down. In fact, some experts predict the IoT will drive the digital transformation, an initiative “at the heart of business strategies for companies of all sizes,” according to IDC. As such, data center engineers should have a realistic understanding of how the IoT will affect operations, as well as how to manage the ever-increasing amount of data coming in and out of the facility in real time.
The Concept Isn’t New—But the Demands Are
Though recently gaining mainstream popularity, the term “Internet of Things” was actually first coined back in 1999. As such, the direct impact on data centers because of the IoT has been gradual, since the technology itself has been around for nearly two decades. During that time, however, tools and processes have been refined to the point that mining the data and reacting in real time to the data has become critical. In other words, while the core of the technology that powers IoT devices remains fundamentally the same, the outputs and expectations of what can be done as a result of those devices is shifting rapidly. As the number of devices continues to increase and create opportunities, the use of IoT data and the speed required to process it all has certainly changed since its inception.
In the early days, the data collected from IoT units was used for basic functions, such as monitoring and tracking health performance of hardware. Today, however, the use of IoT data has evolved to include remotely locating devices, managing operating conditions for equipment, making real-time decisions, and even mapping future product development efforts.
Furthermore, the drive for IoT was functional data and big data information. Nothing was real time. If the data was 48-hours stale, it didn’t make a difference. Today, IoT data is used for everything from redirecting traffic around an accident to furnishing location information on medical supplies. The luxury of time has disappeared; the data is real time and the reactions must be as well. As a result, the IoT will drive growth in faster networks, processing power, handle the amount of data being processed, and the need to have answers immediately. As the demand for real-time response for IoT events increases, the demand for fast data and communications will certainly rise along with it.
Data Challenges in IoT
In today’s world, time is money, so the faster you can move the data around the faster you can react to situational conditions. For example, if you are using IoT to track a train traveling from San Francisco to Boston, you need to know immediately if there is a problem so you can mitigate it. The challenge is, as the reliance on IoT data increases, so does the amount of effort required to move it around, resulting in bigger and faster circuits into a facility.
Additionally, by its very nature, IoT is a low-tech solution. You can only add so much into a device before it becomes an issue and, given a choice, manufacturers pack more functionality into a device before they even think about adding security. Therefore, most IoT devices are vulnerable to cyber threats, and criminals are increasingly targeting them as an easy way to make money. In fact, Forrester projects we will see a severe IoT-related breach in 2017. Software Engineer and TechCrunch Contributor Ben Dickson agrees, predicting that the next wave of ransomware attacks will not target our files, but our IoT devices—which is especially concerning for connected medical devices, power grids, and traffic systems.
Though the technology has been around nearly two decades, the recent surge of interest and availability of IoT devices will continue to change the way we do business. For the data center industry, the massive amounts of data each IoT device generates, matched with its vulnerabilities, certainly creates challenges—requiring much more capacity, robust security, and faster communications. However, if the IT industry comes together to support and proactively address the challenges facing data centers today, the opportunities that will result from advances in the IoT have the potential to positively affect every industry in the future.