Robert Haynes has been in the IT industry for over 20 years and is a member of the F5 Marketing Architecture team where he spends his time taking technology products and turning them into business solutions. Follow Robert Haynes on Twitter @TekBob.
It’s safe to say that there are now three certainties in life—death, taxes, and the prevalence of smart, Internet-connected devices. A world of change is upon us in which your fridge can calculate the freshness of your food and a computer smaller than a grain of rice can be injected into the human body to diagnose illness.
And there’s no sign of things slowing down. Each year will see exponentially more devices connected to the Internet than the last. In fact, Gartner predicts there will be 25 billion connected “things” by 2020.
These “things” will come in all shapes and sizes, from three-ton automobiles to entertainment systems and wearable blood sugar monitors. While the world of smart devices talking to each other—and to us—is well underway and here to stay, reaping the rewards will depend on our ability to design and build infrastructures to service this new Internet, the Internet of Things (IoT). How we choose to respond to the explosion in connected devices, applications, and data will determine who benefits most in a market that IDC forecasts will grow to $7.1 trillion in the next five years.
Harnessing the Powerful Force
Whether or not your organization is currently tapping into the IoT, there will be no escaping the effects of this growing phenomenon. Much like “bring your own device” transformed the workplace and enterprise mobility, IoT is a force that will impact all industries and pretty much every aspect of our daily lives.
The challenge in harnessing this powerful force isn’t limited to managing the sheer volume of data, it’s also making sense of that data, streamlining the apps, and the application architecture itself.
While there’s been extensive discussions about the IoT market size and the growing number of new devices, the wider implications for the underlying network infrastructure used to manage, monitor, and monetize these devices, though less obvious, requires considerable attention. The consequence of these devices and their supporting ecosystem failing could vary from a simple annoyance – no one wants to wait to kill zombies while their gaming console downloads updates – to something significantly worse, like a security breach in a healthcare delivery system. Vulnerabilities in devices will exist, patches will need to be pushed out. How will your infrastructure cope?
The Underlying Infrastructure
As IT professionals, we’re tasked with designing and building the infrastructure that’s ready for the challenges that lie ahead with IoT – from DNS and new protocols to security and scalability. DNS is the most likely channel for connected devices to locate needed services, and it’s potentially the means by which we will locate the devices themselves. There might be better schemas, but those would require adoption of a new technology standard, which would be costly, slow and, to be honest, a rare event.
In the same vein, the explosion in embedded devices may well be the event that drives more mainstream IPv6 adoption. There are several advantages to this: a huge namespace, small IPv6 stacks, address self-configuration, and the potential to remove NAT problems. The data center will require some prep work to embrace this shift. Components such as firewalls, routers, and application delivery controllers will need to be IPv6-ready, capable of understanding the protocols and data that devices will use to communicate.
To ensure security, intelligent routing, and analytics, your networking layers will need to be fluent in the language your devices use. Decoding protocols such as MQTT, CoAP, or HTML5 web sockets within the network will allow traffic to be secured, prioritized, and routed accordingly. Understanding and prioritizing these messages will enable better scale and manageability of the onslaught of device traffic and data.
Clearly, our DNS infrastructures must scale to accommodate the extra demand, but what’s even more concerning is the potential for DNS hijacks and outages that could wreak havoc with our connected world. Sensor data could be sent to the wrong location, “updates” might be intercepted by malicious servers, and let’s not forget the ever-popular DDoS attack. Unless we remain proactive, the ubiquity of connected devices presents a field day for attackers. Outpacing attackers in our current threat landscape will require more resources in order to minimize risk. We will need to continue to harden our own infrastructures and look to third party services like DoS mitigation to lessen the effects of attacks.
Forging the Path Ahead
We might not have all the answers, but one of the great certainties in life—connected devices that are here to stay—will force us to move forward into this brave new world. While there’s much to consider, proactively addressing these challenges and adopting new approaches for enabling an IoT-ready network will help us chart a clearer course toward success.
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