Why does the Internet of Things matter?


Talking about cloud services to IT Professionals can seem like explaining Christmas to turkeys, but the knowledge and attitude we have learned actually put us in a great position as these services are more widely adopted. In this article I want to focus on the world of the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT reminds me of my days in a small systems group at the Ministry of Defence (actually at Horse Guards).  The Colonel had told my manager that not only would we be looking after all of the servers, desktops, and those new fangled laptops, we’d also be responsible for the phone system. Furthermore, we weren’t going to be getting anymore staff and we’d also be learning ISDN as that was part of the plan. The colonel had a sword and so we couldn’t really argue, but if we roll that forward to today, any IT guy is going to be managing mobile phones, as well as unified communications. It’s important because the next thing we might be looking after, if we aren’t already, is the building, the vehicle fleet and even the staff.

 

Why IoT Matters?

Simply because it matters to the businesses we work for, and we are best placed to integrate these solutions with existing infrastructure:

Retail

The business want to know about where stock is, where customers are spending most of their time in store and possibly even want the same monitoring for staff (ethics aside). Sensors can do all of this automatically, as well as monitor the environment.

Manufacturing

IoT is already well established in manufacturing; robots are controlled and monitored, as are modern milking machines. At the tip of the spear, F1 teams have used 3D printers, autoclaves for baking Carbon fibre components and sensors to attain accurate and reliable data from the cars trackside.

Public Sector

We might want to monitor what the police are doing to ensure their safety and safe convictions based on their actions and movements (again I’ll leave the ethics to you). Patient monitoring, especially for chronic illnesses like dementia and diabetes, would result in better outcomes and better analysis of these major drains on the NHS.

 

Maintaining safety and quality

The reason we need to get involved in IoT as IT Professionals is safety and quality. The ‘thing’ might well be a high powered intelligent device like a car with over 200 computers and actuators in it and cost thousands to make, or it might be a 50p temperature sensor attached to a freezer. Some of these ‘things’ are in a fixed location and some move (and move a lot). So how do you manage all of these to ensure that personal data from wearables is properly protected, cars can’t be unlocked remotely without the right authorisation and data quality is maintained?

There isn’t a right answer to any of this anymore than there is with laptop or mobile security. Added to this, the sheer number of assets that an enterprise will have connected will far exceed what we have to manage today, so how do we begin?

Breaking the problem down

The answer? Break the problem down, use standards where they exist and be proactive – so not like my boss waiting for the Colonel to come to us and tell us what to do.

Breaking the problem down, many sensors and devices aren’t directly connected to the internet.  If you’ve seen the Connected Cows demo at Build or Future Decoded, then the cow wasn’t actually connected, it was a gateway at the farm that was. That could be a server, with cached data (as connectivity is not always good) that can be managed. If it’s wearable then it’s probably paired to a mobile phone, like my Band is as I write this. In that case, we know how to manage that too.

That leaves things like cars and older devices which might not originally be internet aware, but are being adapted to be.  If these are on the end of a good connection then connecting them to a cloud service rather than directly to the corporate LAN might be a better way to go as the cloud service will trap the data. This is already protected by the provider and all we have to do is go and get the data or interface with the device via that service.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing has well defined standards for protecting and detecting problems in connected systems, e.g. the aviation and nuclear power industries, and these can be applied to smarter building in our organisations (e.g. door entry systems).

Cloud Services

Even if you aren’t a fan of Azure you’ll need something like the Azure and Windows services to make your own successful IoT solution reliable and secure. At one end the Windows IoT suite has built in master data management and data on devices is protected via a trusted platform module (TPM). On the Azure end, there are IoT Hubs and Stream Analytics to make reliable analysis and decisions on well connected solutions.

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