A lot of people believe the Internet of Things creates challenges due to the additional number of devices being placed into the network. While it's true that more devices place stress on the core infrastructure, IoT is more complex than just having more computers or mobile devices on the network.
Preparing enterprise networking infrastructure for IoT isn’t just a matter of pulling more cables, putting in more WiFi access points and WAN links, and it's not like supporting BYOD. It requires addressing increased DNS demands, new protocols, and different management requirements.
How IoT is different
Let's start by looking at how IoT is different from regular Internet connectivity, which for the purposes of this article is defined as a connection between people using devices, which are connected to apps. IoT is broader, connecting objects, apps, business processes and people through the data shared between these items. These range from devices on people (wearables, health care sensors), sensors in the real-world infrastructure (parking meters, road sensors), and vehicles (airplane engines, fleet of delivery trucks, trains).
IoT devices’ behavior differs from people (or apps like browsers) accessing the Internet. When you use a web browser to access a web page, the two endpoints are the user (on a PC or phone) and the servers (or caches) that serve the web page. Although we demand fast service, humans don’t really demand almost real-time response, and the heavy lifting is done on the servers within the data center.
In contrast, IoT apps' data may need to be acted on quickly (i.e., real-time sensors), and will likely use a hierarchical form of processing. A high volume of the data is generated at the endpoints, but all of this data may not need to be all uploaded to the data center, and may be processed in intermediate stages first.
For example, sensors in an airplane engine will collect data in real time, and only a sampling or anomalies are sent to the data center for analysis, so this network will be designed as a hierarchy. Enterprises will need to design the network to offer different service levels at each point in the hierarchy. Mobile networks exhibit some of these characteristics -- spanning from a base station to a core network.
Cisco calls this fog computing, and Ericsson and others call it edge computing. In either case, processing is done at the edge so that reduces network latency.
Any IoT device needs to perform DNS queries and the sheer number of IoT devices, which is estimated to be potentially in the tens of billions by 2020, will put a strain on the DNS infrastructure. Although IoT will rely on the public DNS infrastructure, private DNS infrastructure will also get affected.
Not only are there more sources of queries, the nature of IoT devices is different. Unlike web browsers on client end points, these devices often contain sensors where activities may occur throughout the day. DNS caches will of course assist in speeds, but it will not be enough to eliminate all queries. What does this mean for enterprises running the apps? The data may not arrive in time (it may be queued), and you may no longer meet real-time expectations.
The traditional method for addressing this is to add more DNS servers directed by a DNS load balancer that may be behind a firewall, which becomes a bottleneck. Vendors have proposed solutions, including F5, which sells BIG-IP DNS (formerly Global Traffic Manager) and created a solution with Infoblox that tries to address these scaling problems.
IoT devices will rely on new protocols such as AllJoyn or MQTT, which are designed for machine- to-machine communications (M2M). This creates a challenge for the existing set of infrastructure management tools that analyze performance or packet inspection. To get ample visibility on the new protocols running on IoT networks, new network management tools for the data center and the edge may be necessary.
Managing the physical IoT devices will be a challenge due to their diversity. Interoperability will be important, so I recommend finding some common ground to keep sane. For large industrial devices that provide a command line interface, traditional console managers are a simple method for remote access, or a gateway can help if there are diverse connections for IoT devices (serial, USB, custom sensor connections).
Companies such as Lantronix provide these gateway devices and have dealt with industrial devices for decades. For other cases, it may be best to rely on a service provider such as a mobile operator or equipment vendor to create a management solution and leverage their experience.
IoT devices may be anywhere and not always on wired (Ethernet) or wireless (WiFi) networks, as PCs are, so we will see a stronger reliance on mobile networks. There needs to be a platform to stitch together the enterprise with the mobile network. The core enterprise network will share data with the IoT edge and coordinate on billing and management.
Enterprises lack deep skills for managing devices at this scale, so mobile network operators or mobile vendors can assist using their experience.
Products that can help include Ericsson’s Device Connection Platform that enables operators to manage their enterprise customers’ devices and Cisco’s Application Enablement Platform and IOx middleware.
Ultimately, I believe large IoT networks will eventually have more in common with mobile networks than traditional data center or WAN networks and the key challenge will be interoperability.