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The Internet of Things will supposedly fuel enormous data center demand in the coming years, but that may not happen without common standards.
You've heard the analyst predictions about the 25 billion connected devices that the Internet of Things (IoT) will introduce by 2020, fueling a deluge of data into the data center. In a recent decision-maker survey from research firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass., 73% of respondents said they have already deployed IoT services or plan to deploy one in the next 12 months.
The survey, conducted in July and August 2015, included 2,350 respondents involved in IT and business decisions, with at least 50% of them familiar with the term IoT.
While the IoT hype cycle is in full swing, the greatest potential for IoT capabilities remain in the distance until common standards develop, according to members of a panel titled "The Future of the Connected World" during the Dell World conference last week.
"In the world of IoT, standards are not yet widely understood; it's a little bit of the wild, wild West out there," said Joyce Mullen, vice president and general manager for global OEM and Internet of Things Solutions at Dell.
Why IT needs IoT standards
The lack of common standards and platforms inhibits widespread, efficient IoT adoption, she said, noting common standards are still several years away.
Paul Rogerspresident and CEO of Wurldtech and general manager of industrial cyber security at General Electric
"Common standards by definition mean better security," said Paul Rogers, president and CEO of Wurldtech Security Technologies Inc., in Vancouver, British Columbia, and general manager of industrial cybersecurity at its parent company, General Electric. He noted that different standards, connectivity patterns and stages of maturity will allow IoT hackers to be successful.
"It gives them a multitude of attack vectors," Rogers said.
Security is a major challenge for enterprises adopting IoT, according to IDC's analysis, but now at the top of the list of challenges is the upfront and ongoing costs of IoT devices.
Processing data from IoT devices at the edge of the network is a requirement that will challenge many IoT architecture designs, according to IDC.
The current state of IoT reminds Geoff McGrath, chief innovation officer at McLaren Applied Technologies, of where the mobile Internet was in 1999, when the industry -- dominated by telecommunications vendors -- agreed on a standard.
"I don't see the same in the IoT. I'd like to see that level of interoperability accelerated because it would free up all the possibilities we are seeing," McGrath said.
IoT growth speeds past common standards
There are two competing standards in the works from the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) and AllSeen Alliance, each of which have their own vision of a single standard. Intel helped get the Open Interconnect Consortium off the ground and AllSeen was launched by Qualcomm. IBM is a member of both groups.
A standard is "absolutely critical" to create an app ecosystem that makes the best use of all the connected IoT devices, said Philip DesAutels, senior director of IoT at The Linux Foundation, which leads the AllSeen Alliance.
There is likely room for more than one standard, he said, noting the presence of two major mobile platforms and two major operating systems in the data center.
Common standards are important for users who want things to work out of the box. A common standard will also allow IoT devices to connect "safely, surely and seamlessly," DesAutels said.
At OIC, Executive Director Michael Richmond said he sees the current state of standards for IoT devices similar to where office networking was in the mid-1980s.
"There was a comparable amount of hand-wringing," he said. "But it worked out great."
Richmond doesn't expect a lack of standards to hold back IoT adoption. As more compelling uses emerge, it will gain steam.
"If you are looking for an excuse, you can say there aren't standards," he said.
Others agree that the IoT industry will take off faster than any standards can be implemented.
"The next five years will be interesting, with such an explosion coming in that area," said Brian Proffitt, IT help desk manager at Davenport and Co. LLC in Richmond, Va. "Technology is outrunning policy and legislation; they don't know what to do."
AllSeen Alliance has 125 million enabled things in the world today, and OIC's 1.0 specs were released last month and will soon be finalized.
Dell sees dollar signs in IoT
Dell is banking on the growth of IoT for its future success. There were about a dozen sessions at Dell World this year focused on the concept, with one Dell executive calling it the most significant technology trend of our era.
Some IT pros agree. Out of about 100 videos Dell posted from its conference this month, the IoT video is the most popular.
The interest could stem from the possibility that managing, storing and analyzing the data created by IoT could overwhelm an organization's data center.
Dell isn't the only major vendor making significant bets on the future importance of the IoT. IBM has invested billions in IoT, and it was a major focus at IBM's Insight conference this week.
"[IoT] is hard to overestimate, for a variety of reasons," said Michael Rogers, a practical futurist, in a Dell World session focused on the future demands on the data center.
Real world IoT applications
The Internet of Things was born within the last decade, with sensors that measure anything from humidity to blood pressure. Today, it is in use where sensors on the surface of a new bridge can detect ice, and sensors in "smart dumpsters" keep track of how full it is and its contents. Right now, four companies are competing for control of the "smart dumpster" market in Europe, Rogers said.
Cleverbridge, a online payment processing company based in Chicago, has just started to consider ways to use IoT, according to Nick Poulakos, senior systems administrator at the company. One of the possible uses he sees for IoT is billing for the use of machinery based on usage data collected from sensors.
"If you use it for an hour, we bill you for an hour," he said. "Equipment is going the [software as a service] route, where you pay a cheaper upfront cost, and then you pay as you use it."
He also sees a possible use for IoT to make billing in the healthcare industry more efficient.
There is tremendous potential to get value out of the data from IoT devices, and Gus Medina, IT manager of systems integration at Molina Healthcare Inc., based in Long Beach, Calif., hopes to see widespread implementation soon.
"IoT could allow us to keep patients in their homes," he said. "It's less expensive, and the patients are more comfortable."
The sharing of confidential patient health data using IoT raises questions about security standards and data management, said Dirk Sommerfeld, COO, CTO and founder of azeti Networks AG, a startup focused on remote monitoring and management software based in Berlin.
That is exactly what is holding back the development and wider IoT adoption, he said, in addition to concerns about the ability of enterprises to manage the data pileup that IoT creates.
"All people are looking for security standards because it is the biggest problem to bring assets to the Internet," he said. "It's an important issue to solve for any industry or sector."
Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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