Building enterprise network platforms for tomorrow

29 March-2016:  As organizations connect everything from cars to shipping containers to deliver new services and improve operational efficiency, network platforms need to keep pace. The complexity of Internet of Things (IoT) networking needs — in terms of device connectivity, data analysis and security and integration with existing IT systems — will present a significant challenge for most IT organizations.

 

Requirements of enterprise network platforms

The first networking challenge in an environment rich in connected devices is selecting the right wireless network. The selection criteria depend on whether the devices are geographically fixed or mobile, and whether they must resolve conflicting demands, such as power (battery life on the device), amount of data transmitted, cost of bandwidth, and latency. Existing machine-to-machine systems have generally relied on specialized (non-Internet connected) networks, while newer deployments trend toward Wi-Fi and 4G.

 

Organizations must also choose network platforms to collect device data, manage the devices, and, often — depending on latency requirements — locally analyze the data. Such a platform may involve a number of distributed gateway and more centralized network elements.

 

Large data collections — either from a number of devices or a heavy stream of real time data — quickly present a “big data” problem for organizations. They must build a data analysis engine (e.g., Hadoop) that meets current and future application requirements. Analytics allows organizations to leverage IoT information to improve their products/operations, deliver services, and better understand customer requirements.

 

Network platform challenges

IoT represents one of the most complex IT challenges, as it involves merging IT and physical operational systems. Security and device management requirements add further complications. IT will need the ability to customize horizontal network platforms to fit their unique business or vertical industry requirements. Standards are essential for interoperability of various IoT devices/systems, and the current lack of mature standards will hamper initial deployments.

 

Security

Connecting devices such as cars, medical equipment and utility meters to the Internet can obviously expose them to significant security risks. Data must be encrypted and the network should provide security from a wide range of potential attacks — including the impersonation of devices, data loss prevention and denial of service.

 

Management

The large numbers of distributed devices (many of them with limited, local intelligence) also present a significant management challenge. These devices may have long lifespans and will require monitoring, software updates and the ability to remotely diagnose any problems. Existing network management systems will have to be adapted for the scale and unique requirements of IoT.

 

Suppliers of network platforms

A wide range of suppliers provide network elements, software and systems integration expertise to help organizations build and manage their IoT network platforms. These include: Cisco (and Jasper Networks), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (Aruba), IBM, Dell, Aeris, Aylia, PTC and Ruckus.

Semiconductor suppliers — including Intel, ARM and NXP — are also highly involved in IoT technology devices, both for the devices and the platforms.

 

Recommendations for IT professionals

Over the next few years, the majority of IT organizations will be asked to evaluate and implement IoT systems/network platforms to help their businesses deliver new services or improve operational efficiency. The industry is in its very early stages of development and lacks clear, proven architectures — so there are unlikely to be detailed IoT “blueprints” to follow. Networking pros should start with small, discrete projects to gain IoT experience. Due to rapidly evolving technology and immature standards, the ability to “fail fast” will be an asset. Organizations should choose a trusted IT partner(s) to provide the expertise and professional services capabilities to integrate, secure and manage a number of network platform elements.

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