We recently saw an unusual online post. It showed a standard weather radar map from WFRV-TV, a Wisconsin station. The image shows over Lake Winnebago a large green area that normally denotes rain. But here the meteorologists labeled the large green swatch: “Lake Flies!”
Our first reaction was this clearly is a joke, but a quick internet search of “lake flies radar” provided a different explanation. Each “lake fly” by itself is small (less than 1/2 inch), but the species has a mass hatching in May each year. The sheer volume of that annual hatching can fill the sky, showing up on weather radar like a storm stretching for miles in all directions. Fortunately for those living in the area, the life cycle of lake flies is measured in weeks and the skies soon clear.
The Internet of Things is Amassing
There is no denying that the Internet of Things (IoT), like those lake flies, is having a mass hatching, and the devices on it are amassing. Last year, Gartner positioned IoT as being at the peak of the “hype cycle.” In physical size, IoT “things” range from small sensors to large appliances, and everything in between. But the data transmitted by these devices tends to be small – tiny packets of information sent through the cloud for consumption and analysis somewhere else. So for some, given the hype and the perception this only involves tiny packets of data, IoT is not on their radar. For these people, the IoT is just like little flies buzzing around, nothing serious to be concerned with or worried about. Seeing that lake flies radar picture puts the lie to such thinking.
Is there IoT hype? Yes (as there is with any new technology). Are IoT data packets small? Yes (though there are exceptions). Yet, Gartner estimates there were 8.4 billion devices connected to the IoT in 2017, up 31% from the previous year. Gartner further predicts that the number of “things” on the IoT will exceed 20.4 billion in 2020, less than two years out. No matter how you view it, that’s a lot of IoT devices, a lot of IoT data amassing, and it should be a very large blip on everybody’s radar.
How much of a problem could it be?
Four key areas could be impacted by that large IoT radar blip approaching your data center:
- Security — Security concerns on the IoT come in multiple flavors. First, traditional network boundaries no longer apply. Mobile started us down this path and now, the Internet of Things introduces a huge volume of new access points posing additional risks to internal systems. Basically, the attack surface of your environment has changed drastically. Not only does the IoT device create an access risk, there have been examples of such devices being hacked and used as part of the attack. Next come the “pedigree” of the data received from IoT devices, and the devices themselves. Business and manufacturing systems are relying on data received from IoT devices to make business decisions, some with safety implications, when they involve manufacturing lines, self-driving vehicles, medical devices and the like. Data from an “imposter” device could create serious problems which would be difficult to detect. We need to ensure the IoT data received is valid, from a trusted IoT source. Consequently, security and data validation plans must be well strategized and designed.
- Data Privacy — Wearables and home sensors will continue to send large volumes of personal data into the cloud, where the individual may lose control of, or even sight of, the information. To protect consumer data, personal data privacy needs and risks must be identified, mitigated and communicated transparently to consumers to allay their concerns. With the advent of GDPR, this becomes an even larger issue for organizations to address.
- Network Bandwidth — As mentioned above, IoT data packets are inherently small, but the volume of messages can be huge, potentially overwhelming a corporate WAN, unless a plan is in place.
- Storage — The real value of all these IoT devices lies in the data they capture. All that data is stored and kept for analysis in large data lakes that could seriously impact the storage plans of a business. So the storage and archiving of that volume of IoT data must be addressed.
Don’t Panic, it’s Not the Robopocalypse
The Internet of Things, like any disruptive technology, can turn our viewpoints and paradigms on their heads. When that happens, it requires good design and planning to be successful. We understand the challenges of IoT, but we also see its tremendous benefits. And fortunately, there are technologies and processes that can help address the challenges. Some examples include:
- Public Cloud – One solution is moving to the cloud key applications and data stores which are the final destinations of the volumes of data generated by the swarm of IoT devices. Going to the cloud allows you to adapt and scale to varying data volumes in a timely and cost effective fashion.
- Data Governance – Even without the challenges of IoT devices, data privacy is an ongoing issue in today’s technology world. GDPR is a prime example of the forces in play and the difficulties ahead. A critical component to any data privacy solution is understanding what data you actually have, and where it is. This requires a solid data governance process. Adding the data from IoT devices into that process puts you well on the road to dealing with privacy challenges.
- Blockchain – Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that by itself is disrupting industries across the spectrum. An interesting area being explored is the melding of blockchain with IoT to provide complementary capabilities. Given its distributed nature and the immutability of the content, blockchain is an attractive platform for addressing IoT security, provenance and privacy issues.
- Machine Learning – Machine learning can potentially help address part of the security challenge. Using machine learning algorithms, the volume of data received can be examined, uncovering patterns that may identify data discrepancies that represent security risks by imposter or hacked devices.
The Internet of Things is Here to Stay
Our “lake flies” analogy goes only so far. The tiny insects show up just once a year, and disappear from the radar in a few weeks. In contrast, based on analyst estimates and current trends, the Internet of Things is here to stay, and growing at an incredible rate.
The big IoT radar blip outside your data center provides great value, but also many challenges that need to be considered. As many of our readers have heard us say frequently, no technology negates the need for good design and planning, and the Internet of Things veritably demands them. And don’t bother trying to brush that fly away. He has lots of friends heading right at you.