Tuesday, 23 May 2017 10:58

Embrace IoT - do not get lost in the hype

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There is a lot of hype surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT). As with any technology that attracts mainstream attention, organisations can feel pressured to jump on board for fear of missing out.

The rise of the IoT and the burgeoning volume of data this growing collection of connected devices produces, presents opportunities for greater insight, more control, and less waste for organisations in nearly every industry.

As much as the IoT has already started changing the way enterprises gain insight into their customers and business, it is still in its relative infancy.

This means that the opportunities for companies to leverage the IoT for innovation and commercial purposes are enormous. But dealing with the big data the IoT offers means planning and designing a network to handle high data volumes securely.

iTWire spoke to Ardy Sharifnia, recenty appointed general manager ANZIxia about the key IoT components businesses should understand and consider when developing their IoT strategy.

How would you describe the Internet of Things?

Ixia Andy SharifniaThe Internet of Things (IoT) is a combination of separate but united elements. Each of these has its own specific technology and technical considerations and is independently set up. The elements don’t need IoT to survive, but the sum of all these components working together is what constitutes IoT.

The IoT is really an ecosystem of communication. It could be anything from simple command-and-control feedback, all the way to very sophisticated ecosystems. It is the concept of connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet and/or to each other.

This is why the IoT has the potential to impact how we live and work. Of all the current technology trends, the IoT brings the most disruption and the most opportunity for businesses over the next couple of years.

So, what are the different elements that make up the IoT?

Things

‘Things’ are what makes the IoT possible and why analysts project exponential growth. They are the connected endpoint devices that collect and send data. According to Gartner, by 2020 there will be up to 20 billion such connected things.

Access technologies

Access technologies cover all the different methods used by ‘things’ to share information with the rest of the IoT infrastructure. The method used depends on multiple factors such as distance from the nearest access point, projected data rate and throughput, power requirements, and size.

Network infrastructure

The network infrastructure transports data from the access technologies to the cloud processing ecosystem. Unlike network infrastructure in the past, to serve IoT data traffic, networks need to be flexible to grow with increased traffic or shrink when traffic dies down.

Cloud processing

The potentially huge amount of data generated by things has to be stored and processed so organisations can make sense of it and decide what follow-up action to take. This can require vast amounts of resources, which most organisations can’t afford to provide. Storing the information in the cloud and transmitting it via the internet solves the problem of where to store the data and how to access the compute resources required to analyse it.

Without cloud processing, businesses would find it impossible to aggregate, store, manipulate, and analyse IoT data for business benefits.

Security

Many IoT devices have weak or non-existent security built in, which means they are susceptible to cyber attacks. As a result, many organisations cite security as the reason they haven’t fully embraced the IoT.

There are programs that can help test IoT device processors, operating systems, and network connections with realistic protocols and application traffic. These tools help find vulnerabilities before they cause harm to a business network.

For organisations implementing IoT devices and solutions, it is important to know that the products are thoroughly tested by the manufacturer. It is also essential for IT teams and/or CIOs to review current network policies for these devices to ensure they don’t simply retain factory settings, for example, which can create significant vulnerabilities. Instead, IT teams must take whatever steps are possible to maximise security, including changing factory-set passwords, applying updates and patches as soon as they are available, and using single sign-on tools to manage and limit access.

How worried should organisations be specifically about the security of IoT?

Organisations need to know that their devices will work reliably and securely. Companies creating IoT products have to test through all stages of development and continuously monitor the devices.

Testing needs to address the following before moving a product or solution to production:

  1. Reliability: IoT devices are designed to stay powered on for many years, so it is necessary that they deliver consistent performance under different conditions.
  2. Compliance: Bringing new products to the market also requires that these products meet the different industry and governmental regulations and standards.
  3. Interoperability: With the widespread adoption of common standards across industries, new IoT products need to be able to interoperate with other IoT devices and systems.

The reality is that security and analytics tools are only as good as the data they are seeing. As such, the only way to truly address these common and widespread challenges is with a strong visibility architecture.

What are the top three considerations when implementing the IoT in an organisation?

  1. Get the design right. It is important to make sure that systems designs will cope with what businesses need from them. To do this, virtual and physical routers and switches in the organisation’s data centre should be tested to determine if it can handle the load, and can recover from problems if they arise. It is also a good idea to test protocols to validate the architecture and its implementation before going live with new systems or projects.
  2. Eliminate blind spots. Being able to monitor live applications is critical to ensure smooth operation. This requires 100% visibility into an organisation’s data traffic and eliminating infrastructure blind spots.

Data implementations are often so complex that it is difficult to predict how they will react until they are deployed. This visibility will mean organisations can monitor operations more closely and optimise performance.

  1. Test security. New data security threats emerge all the time, with attack exploits continually evolving. To really understand how individual layers of security infrastructure will perform against known and emerging threats, they need to be subjected to simulated attack conditions.

By testing and validating the security systems with the most up-to-date applications and threats, organisations can get a clear idea of how their networks will perform when faced with various threat scenarios in a production environment.

While the IoT is set to revolutionise many aspects of business and daily life, it’s essential to understand how carefully manufacturers have tested devices’ reliability and security before connecting them to a network.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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