Most enterprise IT departments are preoccupied with BOYD and the mobile devices accessing their networks, but a much more vexing monster is lurking in the shadows and waiting to spring. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a collective of Internet-connected consumer devices, manufacturing systems, business tools, customer service appliances, medical equipment, agricultural sensors, and other things.
IDC predicts that the IoT will grow to 30 billion things by 2020. Cisco expects the IoT's market value to grow to $14 trillion by 2022. Whatever you want to call it, an avalanche of communication is coming, and it's heading straight for your WAN.
The rising bandwidth gap
In a recent InformationWeek survey on next-generation WANs, 68% of respondents said demand for WAN bandwidth will increase over the next year, but only 15% said they were expanding capacity. The bandwidth gap -- the difference between required and available bandwidth -- is large and growing. This relates to one of my predictions for 2014: that limited bandwidth will stifle IT convergence. In some parts of the world, companies can buy a lot of bandwidth. In other regions, the capacity does not yet exist. The limitations in these regions will prevent some global companies from deploying bandwidth-hungry enterprise IT strategies worldwide.
In the coming decade, the IoT will cause the bandwidth gap to balloon out of control. Enterprises will see enormous amounts of traffic coming from a massive number of sources. In addition to more bandwidth, enterprises need to plan for bandwidth optimization and stricter traffic management. IT departments will need to ensure they have mechanisms that prioritize Internet and intranet access to business-critical applications and devices first.
For companies that navigate the coming bandwidth crisis carefully, the IoT promises a nirvana of integration, instant information, and vast new capabilities. Companies that carefully prepare to exploit this opportunity when it arrives will have a strong advantage over competitors that fail to do so. However, raw bandwidth isn't the only obstacle. For IT staff in the trenches, this so-called nirvana will look like pure chaos.
Familiar challenges on steroids
The IoT not only will introduce new endpoints, but it also will introduce entirely new types of endpoints. Familiar IT challenges such as security, compliance, application integration, training, support, and budget restrictions will be magnified as if they were bulked up on steroids.
Mobile devices are often the weakest link in a company's data security strategy, and the pace of cyberattacks is not slowing. It's too early to predict what threats the addition of things on the network will present, but it's not too soon to know whether protecting the WAN is mandatory. The IoT also presents an unwieldy challenge for compliance. Financial institutions will have to factor the IoT into Sarbanes-Oxley in the US and similar regulations in other countries. Things introduce a very confusing problem when it comes to complying with privacy and consent laws such as HIPAA.
Application integration will be more complex than ever. As Dave West, former president of Forrester Research, told TechTarget, "Application integration problems are a top reason why businesses -- and their enterprise architects and project managers -- can't deliver business innovation at the speed demanded by customers using all these application platforms." The bandwidth gap adds a kicker. To manage the WAN effectively, companies will need to create WAN-aware applications that use virtual networks and prioritize delivery based on other traffic using the WAN.
Bet big on small steps
IT department heads will not wake up one day to find the Internet of Things has arrived. The IoT will not come with a tidy budget for the IT department. The IoT will happen one requirement at a time, one project at a time, and one strategic shift at a time. Budget will follow. That's how new technology adoption works. However, the sooner companies can combine forward-thinking expenditures with immediate needs, the better off they will be.
CIOs and system admins should begin to formulate a solid technology plan to prepare for the growing IoT. They should consider the IoT when making smaller day-to-day decisions. With any innovation, organizations should test the technology and estimate ROI before diving in. The best IT decisions don't happen on waves of hype. They happen according to daily task lists. That's how the Internet of Things will happen, too.
Dr. Deepak Kumar is the Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Adaptiva. He has received five patents and written more than 50 publications.