The ability to connect everyday objects and devices to the enterprise network is becoming a requirement for many businesses, and the wireless network will play a large role in determining how successful the rollout of the Internet of Things and associated services will be.
As Internet of Things (IoT) services are pushed out to more people and endpoints -- which could be located in remote areas or subject to harsh environmental conditions -- enterprises must ensure their wireless LANs are bolstered with specialized networking equipment capable of handling the additional number of clients sending and receiving data. While there are different ways of deploying IoT services -- such as working with vendor, service providers or creating homegrown applications -- the wireless network will provide the plumbing that the IoT will need to be successful.
IoT services enabled by integrated Wi-Fi networks
Dundee Precious Metals Inc., an international mining company based in Toronto, began connecting devices, tools and employees to its network in 2009, before the hype around the IoT began. The company wanted to improve visibility, tracking and communications around its infrastructure, and to connect endpoints above and below the ground in real-time, said Mark Gelsomini, Dundee's corporate director of IT.
Gelsomini and his team deployed Cisco's wireless technology, as well as home-grown boxes and wireless antennas, to use in the company's mines. Dundee, Gelsomini said, wanted to keep better tabs on its employees from a safety perspective, and it also wanted better insight into its assets -- like knowing where vehicles were located and what jobs where being done with the equipment. Now, each employee who goes underground is equipped with a hard hat engineered with a homegrown sensor technology embedded in the cap lamp, which is integrated with the Dundee network.
Management of the Cisco-based wireless LAN, as well as the homegrown sensors that deliver IoT services, can all be managed from one centralized location, Gelsomini said. "It's completely seamless, and managed through one global command center, and we can manage [assets] on a micro, or macro, global level," he said. Cisco Prime, a network management system, is also part of Dundee's IoT management strategy. "Prime is managing our infrastructure globally," he said. "If anything happens in the underground with the tracking system, it will report to the maintenance team that the technology is having a problem and it can be repaired."
The applicability of IoT is no longer limited to just the manufacturing industry. The University of Miami, for example, was grappling with an influx of connected medical devices to its Uhealth Systems network, according to Brad Rohrer, the school's deputy CIO and associate vice president of infrastructure and operations. To accommodate that growth, the university is relying on 802.11ac technology from Aruba Networks Inc. The vendor's technology -- anchored by its ClearPass access management software -- supports both the life-saving medical devices within the 560-bed facility, as well as Internet access for patients and their families, Rohrer said.
ClearPass, he said, is helping the university provide resources to medical devices that have older or weak wireless cards, as well as newer, more demanding clients that patients or guests may be using. "Aruba's technology handles a lot of considerations for us, and we don't need additional infrastructure to service everything," he said.
IoT services need specialized equipment
Despite the growth of bare metal -- or white box -- switches, most enterprises won't be able to deploy just any wireless hardware and see success with their IoT strategies.
Enterprises deploying Wi-Fi-based IoT services will require more specialized networking hardware from their vendors that can integrate with IoT applications and services, said Andre Kindness, senior analyst for Forrester Research Inc.
"The IoT makes the whole white box trend nonsense. White box switches are designed for specific environments, but you can't take a white box switch or access point and do the same things as you push the network closer to the edge of the business with the IoT," Kindness said. "Businesses will need to meet regulations with their IoT services, and will need industry-specific hardware to do it."
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