The Internet of Things is vast. How vast? Well, how many things do you think there are, or will be, attached to the Internet? As Carl Sagan might have put it, “Billions and billions.” And that number is probably low.
But the IoT is more than just vast. It’s a new frontier of opportunity to do business differently, to serve customers, and to improve life in new ways. Let’s narrow things down a bit and look at one IoT galaxy at a time. Let’s start with asset tracking, which is making a tremendous difference in the healthcare, retail, and industrial sectors.
In a hospital, assets include medical devices, beds, stretchers, and wheelchairs — anything that might be needed to treat a patient. When a life hangs in the balance, a caregiver needs to put his or her hands on the item instantly. The IoT can help. By placing an electronic tag on an item, a nurse can use a simple app to search for that item in a building or across a campus. The IoT is a crucial part of the next-generation responsive health-care facility. It improves the hospital’s workflow and the patient’s experience, but most important, the patient’s outcome.
The more successful the retailer, the larger the number of assets in inventory will be. And the more difficult will be the task of keeping track of them. One large retailer was having issues placing pallets of items on the right shelves in stores. Mistakes could be costly. For example, a misplaced pallet could trigger an unneeded order to replenish the stock. By placing electronic tags on the pallets, inventory managers were able to instantly find where a pallet was placed vs. hunting for it manually. Inefficiency was eliminated, and customers were able to find what they wanted. And as Chris Kozup explains in this Aruba Unplugged blog entry, electronic tags, in combination with location-based technologies such as beacons, can enable customers to locate hard-to-find items with a simple mobile app.
A jet engine is an expensive asset made up of many thousands of parts. Its lifespan is measured in decades, and failure is not an option. Fed by data from sensors on the engine, jet engine makers are constructing computer models of the engines — digital twins — that mirror the performance of the actual engine. Maintenance engineers run simulations on the digital twin to see when parts might degrade, increasing the likelihood of failure. With this information, preventive maintenance can be performed with a very high degree of efficiency, enabling the engine to operate safely and profitably.
With so many things ready to contribute valuable information, it’s important to think of just how all that data will get from where it originates to the analytics engine that can make sense of it. Dumping all the data from all the assets into the cloud is too costly and time-consuming. At least some of the analysis needs to be done near the assets, at the edge of the network. As I explained in an earlier blog entry, the intelligent edge is a key part of leveraging the IoT revolution to your benefit.
Some information must be acted on locally and quickly. If you are in a manufacturing plant, you need to know right away if a machine is vibrating in a way that will lead to a manufacturing defect. That data must be analyzed rapidly in real-time, where a plant technician can act on it. But some data needs to be sent to a central location that might aggregate information from several plants for analysis of long-term trends. You need a hybrid architecture that incorporates both the cloud and the edge.
Keeping IoT Secure
Because of the vast number of devices and the wide variety of places they may be located, the IoT greatly enlarges the security perimeter that you must defend. IoT security is a vast topic that I’ll deal with in greater detail later, but for now, I’ll stress the idea of visibility. Given current approaches to security, IoT devices may be invisible to you in IT, but not to the hacker community. Needless to say, that’s a recipe for disaster. It is critical to have visibility over all the things connected to your network. If you are implementing IoT, you should consider implementing ClearPass, which automatically discovers all IP-enabled devices, including IoT devices that are connected to your network.
Explore the Expanding Universe
It’s easy to think of the IoT as fundamentally hardware, but it’s far more than that. The IoT encompasses the entire software stack, from the edge to the cloud and back. It encompasses data capture, connectivity, security, compute, and analytics. As the number of IoT devices multiplies, an expanding universe is being created that presents new possibilities for improving not only productivity but life itself.