The Internet of Things is in the first stages of enabling new business models and connecting everything from manufacturing robots to industrial refrigerators to the Internet. No longer will the end points for the Internet be human users, but rather devices. Those end points will be in the billions to tens of billions -- far and away dwarfing the human users as end points for the Internet.
The emerging three-tier architecture for the IoT is comprised of sensors, gateways and the cloud. But in order for these to all function in a manner that can reliably support and not hinder the IoT, business and cities alike will have to enlist not one, but all types of connections to the Internet from public broadband to private circuits. In fact, it will have to mix all of these to create a robust virtual network for the IoT's billions of end points.
Ensuring reliable connections
One of the challenges that IoT architecture has to contend with is robustness and reliability on both the LAN and WAN sides of the network. On the LAN side, a variety of wired and wireless mesh technologies will combine to provide robustness. On the WAN side, because the scale of IoT is magnitudes of order larger than current WAN networks, it becomes infeasible to build a traditional dedicated or private network.
Software-defined technologies will play a significant role as overlays on top of a variety of physical transport links. A variety of WAN links will be key as redundancies need to be built in. In the human-centric Internet, users can take remedial action when connections are unreliable, but in the case of IoT, automation and the ability to dynamically overcome glitches on one WAN link and move traffic to another will be crucial.
In addition, the central control for IoT typically will be in the cloud, which will require technologies that can manage both access and network components deployed in the cloud. This will all have to be done with assured performance, security and reliability.
Simplification is essential
IoT has been enabled by the simplification of hardware. The open hardware movement has close parallels to the growth of cloud software in making formerly complex technologies and processes available for massive deployments. For example, the popularity of the Arduino microcontroller and the Raspberry Pi Linux computer have their underpinnings in simplifying computing and control for the masses.
Simplifying WAN technology is as important as the IoT sensors themselves in bringing a mass market for IoT services. Extending this sort of simplicity into the network, as other technologies before it have for ease of use by the masses, is critical for enabling the IoT with ubiquitous, reliable and inexpensive connections.
Virtualization should ease the task of setting up massive IoT networks relatively simply. It would enable IoT sensors to connect to overlay entry points collocated with IoT gateways, which would also ease insertion of any new services without physical network reconfigurations.
You need all the elements of the IoT to function reliably to realize the true promise of IoT: sensors, gateways, cloud intelligence, and also the virtual network overlay that connects them.