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4 IoT connectivity challenges and strategies to tackle them

IoT connectivity challenges, such as scalability and compatibility, complicate deployments, so IT admins must plan for the infrastructure needed to support IoT initiatives.

IoT connectivity plays just one part in ensuring IoT technology integrates with all other aspects of a deployment, but IT admins must address connectivity at the smallest level of the device up to the entire network and system infrastructure.

The goal of IoT is to gather, process and transmit data from the edges of a network to more centralized systems of control, whether on servers in individual departments, on the cloud or in a central data center. Connectivity, as a fundamental building block of IoT, is the ability of an IoT device or appliance to execute a communications handshake that links and then paves the way for communication with another device or system. The handshake verifies the authorized connection and that all devices transmit data at a compatible speed.

In the IoT industry, connectivity defies both industry standard setting and a one-size-fits-all approach. Organizations might use close range connectivity options such as Bluetooth, which only connects IoT within a few feet of each other, or expansive connectivity like cellular, which can achieve connectivity around the world. Some organizations might also still use wired IoT connectivity for networks and standalone machines.

In IoT deployments, connectivity links things together and integration makes them into a whole. For example, an IT admin can connect a digital camera to the network, but the available bandwidth on the network might not give the quality of video transmission needed to support telemedicine. An IoT device can connect to the organization's systems, but if an IT admin forgets to check device security settings or to perform a software update, then a botnet invasion could bring the entire network down. These situations exemplify the essential role connectivity plays in IoT integration and why IT admins must address IoT connectivity challenges effectively.

With so many IoT services and connectivity options, organizations must decide which approaches they will use to give them the data throughput and range they need; the amount of latency they can tolerate; the scalability of the IoT they will require; and the mobility, security and cost conservation that must be achieved with the IoT.

Address IoT connectivity challenges

Business needs will determine IoT connectivity decisions. In some cases, IT admins will have a clear direction, and, in others, there will be tradeoffs between connectivity options. IT admins should think through four major areas of IoT connectivity.

1. Bandwidth and data throughput

Broadband networks that can provision large swatches of bandwidth on demand work best for video surveillance, conferencing and video, and photo collecting, but what if an organization has dozens of small branches scattered in rural, as well as urban, areas? As the remote workforce expands, organizations might have home workers in rural areas who have to use what's available to them, such as DSL. If the organization must collect large amounts of data in the field, the data might need to be captured and then downloaded into a local server in a field office. In these use cases, IT must assess where implementing more expensive broadband is feasible and cost-effective and where other connectivity solutions serve better.

2. Compatibility

A plethora of enterprising startups populates the IoT industry without a uniform standard of interoperability. Some IoT solution providers have their own proprietary OSes that can't connect with any other system. The result can be a hodgepodge of independent IoT silos. Inevitably, the organization will need to connect all these devices for data exchange and might not have an easy way to do it. IT admins must test the device compatibility and partner with vendors who have measures in place to integrate their products or services.

3. Scalability

Organizations that expand their IoT deployments must figure out how to scale up their infrastructure in a sustainable way. As infrastructure builds out, the organizations must add more IoT devices such as sensors, routers, gateways or cameras, and implement platforms or services that can monitor all activity, control security, and perform software and firmware updates and deployments automatically.

To do this, IT departments face the challenge of both automating and rearchitecting networks and systems so both can scale as more IoT is added. IT teams have the additional challenge of vetting each IoT device to ensure it's compatible with underlying networks and systems and other IoT devices.

4. Security

Many IoT devices come with default security presets that don't match the standards an organization should employ. IT admins should examine devices and set them to company standards before install, with best practices such as changing default passwords and implementing network segmentation. Even with these precautions, more IoT devices and connections means more security exposure points and vulnerabilities. For example, in September and October 2016, botnets hijacked IoT devices, such as wireless cameras, to collectively attack networks.

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