Preparing for the Internet of Things

How you, as an IT pro, prepare for the coming Internet of Things says a lot about you and your company's future in that space. Policy changes aside, there's a list of things you can do to prepare.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

What are you doing to prepare for the Internet of Things in your company? How are you going to handle connectivity of the new internet-enabled "things"? How will you handle the new bandwidth requirements from network-hungry devices? Are you prepared for the amount of storage required to maintain those devices? What about security concerns for new devices? And, how will you handle the significant amount of device and user management that's coming your way?

You might not know the answers to any of these questions, but fortunately, you have colleagues who at least have taken their best guesses at it. In a recent survey of 440 IT professionals in North America and EMEA, Spiceworks has compiled some surprising results.

Key Findings

Spoiler alert! Why wait until the very end of the story for the punch line? This isn't a novel, after all, it's a tech article. Here's what Spiceworks found from the survey data:

  1. Most IT pros agree that IoT will impact consumers in addition to the workplace. In fact, the vast majority believes the trend will pose significant security and privacy issues.
  2. Even so, more than half say they aren’t doing anything specific to brace their infrastructure for the coming impact of IoT.
  3. Despite the divide between belief and targeted action, it turns out the future is now. Our survey found that many IT pros are already doing things that’ll help support IoT – even if they aren’t thinking of them in that context. But chances are…they should be doing more.

But of course I'm going to show you the numbers. That's part of the fun of a survey is that you get to see all the numbers and how your answers compare with others in your field.

"While 71 percent of IT pros acknowledge that IoT will affect both consumers and the workplace, their actions seem to speak louder than their words… more than half (59 percent) state they aren’t doing anything to prepare for impact."

The Connectivity Question

For handling connectivity of the new internet-enabled "things", 43 percent of those surveyed said that they will assign a separate network for the new devices. That's actually a good plan. A VLAN isolates network traffic very well and network engineers can decide which protocols, ports, and services to allow in and out of the "things" VLAN. In total, 23 percent stated that they'll just put them on the corporate network. The production corporate network is a fine place if proper security measures via a management suite are employed.

Eight percent said that they wouldn't allow the devices onto their networks. I find that answer to be premature and not realistic, but only time will tell. I don't believe that you can prevent all devices from connecting to your networks.

Executives and IT people are the worst offenders of any corporate policies restricting devices, so good luck with that.

Just over one-fourth (26 percent) of respondents admitted that they "don't know" how they plan to handle the new devices. To that I say, "Awesome". Prepare to have your data stolen and a huge malware problem.

IT Preparation Methods for IoT

The Need for a Bigger Pipe

Most IT pros realize that over time, things or no things, they'll need more network bandwidth to handle higher demand. But those surveyed believe that multiple factors, not just more things, will drive the need for a bigger pipe.

  • More data usage — 78 percent
  • Increased content demands (e.g., video) — 68 percent
  • More users — 59 percent
  • New devices joining the network — 55 percent
  • Different devices joining network — 30 percent

The one result in that list that should surprise you is the last one. Fewer than one-third said that they feel that different devices joining the network will drive the need for more bandwidth. I assume the respondents know more than the guesstimaters at Gartner who predict that by 2020 there will be 26 billion devices and at Cisco who predict 50 billion "things" by 2050.

In my previous article on this topic, I called such attitudes as having the "Head-in-the-Sand" syndrome. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in the location where I assumed those heads would be firmly placed. You can only hide from the growing number of things if you don't plan to be in IT.

Think about it for a moment. Twenty-six billion devices by 2020. 2020 is a mere five-and-a-half years away, folks. If you think that number is off, you might be correct. I think it could be low and conservative.

If one billion people each have one device, that's one billion devices, right now. How many have more than one? Now add in security cameras, automatic locks, monitoring sensors of all kinds, medical devices, industrial controls, internet-connected cars, and so on. As big of a number as 26 billion is, I think it's very low.

The Storage Conversation

The conversation always turns to big data, doesn't it? All those devices. All those user accounts. All those service accounts. All those ones and zeros. It all has to go somewhere. Unless you don't care about the data, that is. And not caring about the data is certainly an option. I'm not being facetious here. It is an option. And it's a reasonable one. The fact is that you don't have to keep every bit of data that's sent across a wire.

For example, you don't have to save the data for device "state" necessarily. If a sensor sends a signal to open a switch, you don't have to save that data. The data that's important to save is the result of that open switch—a higher temperature, a lower flow of water, or stopping the loading of crates.

But, it's certainly true that if you keep a lot of new data, you're going to need a place to store it, a method to retrieve it, and a process to archive it. So, it's probably time to have that conversation, no matter how much you dread it.

Everyone's Favorite Topic: Security

Security concerns have respondents annoyed to the point that only 23 percent are going to allow devices on the corporate network. Remember that 43 percent earlier who were going to allow the devices but on a separate network? That's a valid security solution. And the 8 percent who will handle security by not allowing the devices on their networks at all.

If you're going to allow new devices on your network of the consumer, corporate, or industrial types, my best advice is to buy a good management suite. If for no other reason, you need to track the number and types of devices that connect to, or attempt to, your network.

Management Sweet Management

Management suites also have security features built into them, such as jailbreak device denial, perimeter security, operating system updates, app updates, security lockouts, and data wipe. Some suites are more heavy-handed than others, especially for BYOD scenarios. Corporate policy and changing business needs will drive how much security and how much management heaviness you require.

The greatest problem facing IT departments in preparing for the Internet of Things is that of constrained budgets. Yes, it's a problem that never goes away, but for your company to adequately deal with the coming changes to your network infrastructure, management, security, and storage, you're going to need for someone to write bigger checks.

What are your plans for preparing for the Internet of Things? Are you planning now or are you going to "wait and see". Talk back and let me know.

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