The Zeitgeist of Internet-Connected Things

zeitgeist

The Consumer Electronics Show was in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago, and product announcements were steadily trickling out. It comes as no surprise that an entire slew of new smartphones, tablets, and laptops has been announced, but a growing trend is all the other intelligent, Wi-Fi connected devices being announced, such as Parrott’s Flower Power potted plant sensor or Canon’s PowerShot point-and-shoot camera.

Without a doubt, 2013 is the year of the network connected device, prompting Cisco to coin the term “Internet of Everything.”Some of you may have heard the term “Internet of Things” used sometime in the past 10 years. It was first coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, a pioneer in Radio Frequency Identifier (RFID) technology. Ashton’s vision was to extend the Internet into the world of physical things, through the use of RFID tags, bar codes, and 2D-codes. He wanted to allow objects to provide data dynamically, without human intervention, so the net result would be a more real-time view of the world around us. This evolution of connected devices started with a more passive and less real-time approach. RFID tags require devices called exciters to activate the tags and transfer data. The biggest caveat of this technology has been that the RFID tags have a limited range before an exciter would be able to read the tag’s data. This approach has worked well in the manufacturing industry, keeping track of various parts as they work through the assembly line, but is limited to verticals that don’t require real-time data to be fed back.

According to ABI Research, over 5 billion wireless (which includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, and ZigBee) chips will ship in 2013. By 2015, Wi-Fi enabled devices will pass the 10 billion mark. So what are the implications to businesses of all these new types of devices?

While it’s still early days, we’ve come up with 7 areas to start contemplating the future impact to your organization.

  1. Since it’s never been easier or more affordable for manufacturers to include 802.11 wireless radios in their products, innovations will happen faster than ever before. This is based on the idea that real-time feedback from a device to its manufacturer over the Internet will improve the manufacturer’s designs of the device. Since most users are used to the idea of providing anonymous usage statistics in the software that we use today, it won’t be a stretch to allow manufacturers to collect data about the devices we use in order to improve them.  There are a myriad of implications to organizations from enabling your own data collection from customers to predicting equipment failures. A case in point is Union Pacific‘s early work in implementing the Internet of Everything
  2. This will change our society just as much as the Internet itself did, and likely in ways that we haven’t even begun to fully grasp. Imagine leaving work on a cold January day, and opening the app for your home thermostat to make sure the heat is set to a nice comfortable temperature for when you get home. By the way, you can do this today with the Nest thermostat. We’ve reached a point that science fiction is becoming less fiction, all because these devices are connected to the Internet. How will your organizations offering or processes be impacted by the ability to communicate with devices?
  3. There is going to be more data to crunch, and therefore, we will need larger data centers. Well, maybe not physically larger, but at least more horsepower and storage to work through all the new bits and bytes coming from these wireless devices. The data center of the future will be more important than ever before, because there is going to be more data than ever before, so scalability will be of utmost concern. If you are building out a data center today, make sure that you do so with a vision to where your infrastructure will need to be in the future. No decision in the data center is a silo anymore – a scalable infrastructure that can be automated is the direction we see many of our customers going today.
  4. Some of you would no doubt have raised a major concern with the idea of all these devices connected to the Internet: what about security? The security of these devices is of paramount concern. Not only at the device level itself, but also at the Internet edge where these devices relay their data back to. If your company is interested in providing Internet connected devices to your customers, don’t forget to nail down your security strategy.
  5. IPv6 will become more imperative as more devices are connected. We have all but extinguished the pool of publicly available IPv4 addresses, yet practically everything on the Internet still requires IPv4. Most devices such as laptops, tablets, and phones support IPv6 today, but the challenge is getting the network they are connected to, to support the protocol. Imagine in New York if for every ten people, only one was allowed to own a vehicle. It would be downright difficult to load up ten people in a Chevy for your morning commute, unless you were a rolling clown car style.
  6. Regardless of if you agree with the above points, one thing is for sure:  there are more wireless devices connected to your access points than ever before, and that number is increasing. With client density growing, and more real-time traffic like voice and video being utilized, it’s important to make sure your wireless network is up to snuff. This could mean increasing access point density, or even upgrading radios and controllers in order to get newer features.
  7. With all these new devices being connected to your wireless infrastructure, you can bet that some will be able to connect to a modern collaboration solution. With standards based protocols such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), intelligent devices could launch an interactive chat session to a desktop chat client, or even place a voice or video call based on a rule-triggered event. When everything is connected to the network, we move from being able to not just collaborate with each other, but with the things around us.

This is not just a fad. Our devices are more connected today than they were even a year ago, and it will change our society for the better, allowing for possibilities that were only the thing of science fiction before.

As one of the 25 CCIE’s at Softchoice, I have been seeing this first hand with our customers and have assisted some customers with the points above. Please post any questions or comments below or continue the conversation with me on Twitter. If you’d like more detailed information on any of the above, would like help with planning around any one of these areas, or would like a demo,  please get in touch with your account manager.

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About Matthew Bynum

With over 10 years of professional IT experience working in all facets of the technology industry, Matthew has amassed a broad portfolio of technology, enterprise architecture, business and IT management expertise. He also has a solid and proven understanding of the technological and architectural foundational components that are necessary to support the business systems of a company. Matthew has worked for and provided consulting services to more than 100 North American and international companies that operate within a broad array of industry verticals. Matthew has been working on Cisco networking solutions for 10 years, and holds CCIE #21753.