Instrumentation is coming – 2018 promises the IoT-ification of a lot of existing technology, plus edge computing, improved analytics and even some security improvements, if we’re reading these tea-leaves correctly.
IoT has been one of the biggest phenomena in technology for years, but 2018 is the year that it begins to really shake up the rank-and-file of enterprise users, according to Christian Renaud, director of 451 Research’s IoT practice.
There's a new level of sophistication coming to the way companies approach the analytical end of the IoT phenomenon, Renaud said. Businesses store roughly half of the data they capture, and analyze about half of what’s stored.
“So why did I pay all that money for all those damn sensors if I’m not going to do anything with all the data that they capture?” he saud. “I think the people that have deployed are getting a lot better about what data [they’re] capturing, is important and what data is not.”
That’s set to change as businesses recognize the importance of processing all the data they’re taking in. The exploratory/discovery phase is over, and more widespread deployment is on the way.
How that new focus on analytics looks on the ground will vary by industry. In the retail sector, for instance, companies are tying point-of-sale systems into all their other databases, which are multiplying because of IoT. This lets them correlate PoS data with numbers of people who enter the store, what areas of the store they visited, demographics and tying that into conversion rate.
Kilton Hopkins is an entrepreneur and the IoT program director at Northeastern University’s Silicon Valley outpost. He said that the measurement trend has been on the rise for some time now, and that falling hardware prices are part of the equation.
“For every year of IoT that goes by, we see an increase in measurement. With continual price decreases in sensor and microcontroller hardware, it becomes more cost effective to gather more data over time,” he said. “Before we can do any analysis and make any improvements to our business operations, we need to have data. So if there is something that still needs to be measured, maybe this is the year?”
Out on the edge
Edge computing, in the context of IoT, is the idea that you can actually do some of the computational work required by a system close to the endpoints instead of in a cloud or a data center. The intent is to minimize latency, which, according to Renaud, means that it’s going to be a hot trend in certain kinds of industrial IoT application.
“You’ve got these IT vendors who’ve been convincing people to go to the cloud for the last few decades, and they went out and said ‘OK, we’re going to bring the cloud to IoT land’ and the IoT people said, ‘The hell you are, because I’ve got ultra-low latency applications that can’t take a 200ms lap time through AWS,’” he said.
The hottest trend is the use of dedicated edge boxes to connect brownfield devices or to do some form of low-latency analytics or control-plane applications.
“The people that are in the driver’s seat for buying IoT solutions are generally not the IT people,” said Renaud. “They’re generally the guy who owns the factory, the guy who runs the fleet.”
As usual, the elephant in the IoT room is security – constrained devices are still deeply vulnerable to malicious actors, and there isn’t an easy solution to the problem. Simply put, it’s never going to be economically viable to build tough security into certain kinds of IoT endpoint.
This means that real security for IoT is going to have to come from somewhere else in the stack – the network, perhaps, or even higher up, as groups of companies eventually work out broad standards.
The dean of Northeastern’s Silicon Valley campus, P.K. Agarwal, said that this work has to remain a priority in 2018.
“We have reached a point in the evolution of IoT when we need to re-think the types of security we are putting in place,” he said. “Have we truly addressed the unique security challenges of IoT, or have we just patched existing security models into IoT with hope that it is sufficient?”
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