Unless you have been living at the bottom of the ocean enjoying everything Atlantis has to offer, you are probably at least mildly aware of something called the Internet of Things (IoT). While it may seem easy to dismiss IoT as just another tech buzz word, we warn you…DON’T. IoT, once fully evolved, will be a paradigm shift not just in technology but a complete change to the reality in which we live. It represents one of the most exciting breakthroughs of our lifetime. And for those forward-thinking companies and entrepreneurs who capitalize on this opportunity, they will be on the ground floor of one of the biggest shifts in modern technology, bigger than when telephones connected us, airplanes lifted us, and the internet put information at our fingertips. In a way, IoT is the complete and awesome evolution of all the technological advances within the last century towards a grand singularity, an interconnected, insight-driven and highly-automated world of which science fiction has dared to dream.
But before we get too far, let’s start with the basics.
What is IoT?
The Internet of Things is used to describe consumer and industrial objects, often embedded with sensors, that use an internet connection to transmit data to a cloud-based infrastructure for real-time insights and actions.
When people think of IoT devices they typically think of:
Smart Hubs (like Echo by Amazon or Google Home)
Industrial components (like jet engines, delivery trucks or farming equipment embedded with sensors)
But the full potential of IoT is an exercise of the imagination. Think of smart cities with a smart traffic grid where the lights can respond and adjust to optimize traffic flow in real time. Add in autonomous cars that can interact with the sensors of the traffic grid to get you to your destination in the quickest time possible, while avoiding accidents and roadblocks as they happen. Think about athletes training using immersive VR simulations that put them in game situations with extreme analytics of their mechanics and performance. Think about predictive health monitoring where your clothes and gadgets can track your daily activities to build a real-time medical record and preemptively alert you of injury or disease. Think about walking by a store in a mall and rather than mannequins, you see a digital representation of what you would look like in clothes that are your exact style and fit.
Because here’s the crazy thing. IoT = Everything Is Possible. And if you are reading this article, you’re lucky–there’s still time to get in the game.
IoT is a whole new landscape of opportunity, creating new industries, products, services and jobs that don’t even exist today. It will bring an entirely new dimension to the way we live, limited only by vision and imagination. The true potential of IoT lies in how we can connect data from any and every source, integrate it multi-dimensionally, and gain actionable, real-time insight in a way we’ve never had before. The more data sources, the more dynamic the data integration, the more dimensional and actionable the insights.
The IoT market is currently estimated to reach $14.4 TRILLION by 2022, a bullish estimate due to its pervasive market implications. While most of the general publicity has centered around sensors and devices, the real heart and soul of IoT is how the cloud and data analytics functions working seamlessly. In essence, IoT in its maturity will only be as strong and as smart as its cloud backbone.
Therefore, the key question will be, with all the available devices and available analytics applications set to explode, will the infrastructure be ready?
Currently, the majority of data/metadata generated by IoT devices comes in the form of numbers, words, characters, etc. which are not large files (think, a few kilobytes), but this is poised to change quickly. To give you an idea of future scope and scale, take the aviation industry as a case study. At last year’s Paris Air Show, Bombardier showcased its C Series jetliner featuring Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engine. The state-of-the-art GTF engine is fitted with 5,000 sensors that can produce up to 844TB of data per 12-hour flight. In comparison, according to Aviation Week Network, at the end of 2014, Facebook generated approximately 600TB of data per day. With all the GTF engines scheduled to be deployed into the field multiplied by thousands of flights per day, the sensor data generated by the aviation industry alone could easily surpass data accumulated by social media. And we’re not even counting IoT applications such as automotive, manufacturing, precision agriculture, smart cities, smart buildings, smart appliances and all the data these innovations will generate that require real-time cloud-based analytics and storage.
There are 3 major growth factors to take into account when looking at the future of IoT and the infrastructure needed to support it:
The growing pool of connected devices will generate an aggressive uptick in data/metadata that must be transmitted, analyzed and stored.
Software companies are building more powerful software tools that are executing a higher number of analytics processes with sophisticated complexity, thus demanding more compute resources.
Larger datasets and media files, such as photos, videos and soon, VR, will represent challenges to real-time analytics and efficient storage in a cloud environment.
These factors place the bottleneck in the realm of hardware infrastructure, which must be high performance, highly available and highly efficient, and must scale sensibly (from both a footprint and cost perspective as well as minimal complexity). The truth is, companies who find that they can’t efficiently support, process and store the data that they are responsible for may simply find themselves out of business once IoT becomes the interconnected reality in which we live. So for the best chance of survival and better yet, success in the upcoming insight-driven future, the planning for modernizing data center/IT infrastructure must start TODAY.
With the scale of data centers rapidly increasing, certain resources such as geographical footprint and power/cooling (ie energy, water) become constrained. Lead by hyper scale companies like Facebook and Google, IT organizations are looking for ways to make their data center footprint more efficient, such as with the introduction of the Open Compute initiative to build modular and hyper-efficient data centers.
To decrease overhead costs, many forward-looking companies planning their IoT strategy should consider moving away from legacy, application-specific hardware to a more streamlined, efficient, and virtualized infrastructure built using modular platforms. These platforms scale sensibly and can be easily configured and/or repurposed for efficiency or high-performance requirements. This allows for unprecedented flexibility and utilization of resources. Companies currently using the public cloud should consider calculating what IoT growth will mean in terms of data and cost of computing and storage, and consider shifting to an on-premise data center platform, or at least a hybrid approach–keeping metadata in the cloud and leaving the heavy computations and secure storage to the on-premise hardware may potentially be a better cost-optimization model.
Hardware providers also have to get better. Companies like Intel, ARM, IBM’s Open Power Foundation, NVIDIA, and server manufacturers, have created powerful chips, GPU cards, and server platforms that achieve greater processing speed and performance at higher efficiency and lower cost. For open-architecture solution providers like AMAX who utilize all available leading technologies to build racks to cluster solutions optimized for performance and efficiency, this approach can help companies plan their IoT strategy to support powerful analytics while scaling with optimal flexibility and efficiency, so their infrastructure is never the bottleneck.
From there, everything is possible.