Most business leaders believe the internet of things (IoT) offers a tremendous opportunity for their organizations to pioneer new business models, improve customer relationships, and increase efficiency and productivity. In fact, an Oxford Economics survey found that 72% of organizations feel IoT is critical to their competitive advantage.
But in order to make IoT efforts successful, organizations will need to pay attention to their networks, particularly their wireless networks. According to IDC's February 2017 IoT IT Infrastructure Survey, WiFi and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) are the top contenders for IoT connectivity.
What should network administrators and managers be doing to prepare their wireless networks for IoT? In a recent interview, Milind Pansare, director of strategic alliances and technology ecosystems at Aerohive Networks, offered three tips. At Interop ITX next month, he will present "Wireless Is the Future of Your IoT Initiative," where he will discuss emerging protocols, security issues and technologies for different IoT use cases, and what you need to consider to ensure your wireless environment can adapt to evolving needs.
1. Address security
"Security is obviously one of the biggest considerations," Pansare said. "So everyone needs to start there."
Last year, the emergence of the Mirai botnet awakened organizations to possibility that IoT devices could be used in cyberattacks. Pansare said that network administrators need to ensure that attackers aren't using an organization's IoT devices to gain entry into systems or incorporating IoT devices into botnets to attack other networks.
He added, "The most common mistake that people make is allowing things or IoT devices to get on their networks using just a common passphrase, a single PSK [pre-shared key]." Instead, Pansare recommends that organizations use more advanced security solutions to validate IoT devices and provide visibility into what is connected to the network. This visibility can also help with another big concern for network administrators: manageability.
2. Track IoT traffic
Not only do networking pros need to secure their WLANs, they also need to be able to control which IoT devices are connecting to WiFi and how much bandwidth and other resources they consume.
"One of the biggest issues for network managers is that many of them do not know how many IoT devices are on their network," Pansare said. Oftentimes, employees add devices to the network without IT's knowledge. IT needs to make sure it has network management and monitoring tools in place that will allow them to identify which devices are connected and with whom they are communicating.
"Identity is really the lynchpin of security and manageability," Pansare said.
3. Use your IoT network data to obtain business insights
For many companies, the point of pursuing IoT initiatives is to gather data that will help them gain business insights. Pansare said that network data, as well as the data from IoT sensors, might help generate those insights. For example, in a retail store or a fast-food restaurant, data about how many smartphones and other devices are connecting to the wireless network might help managers know when they need to open more cash registers.
He said network managers need to ask themselves, "So using location, presence, configuration, and identity through application programming interfaces on the WiFi network, how can I build apps that will enable me to have insight?"
Pansare noted that a software-defined approach to wireless networks can help address all three issues -- security, management and data analytics.