Adapting The Data Center To Handle The Internet Of Things

Mike Allen
March 25, 2014

"One of the predominant technology trends over the past few years has been the rise of connected devices. From smart toothbrushes and toilets to heavily sensor-equipped cars, more devices than ever have access to the Internet and are transmitting data to servers around the world. This pattern is only accelerating: Gartner anticipates that the universe of connected devices other than PCs, tablets and smartphones will grow to 26 billion units in 2020, up from 900 million in 2009. This nearly 30-fold increase is expected to contribute $1.9 trillion in added economic value globally. Other estimates are even more optimistic: Cisco projected the number of connected devices will hit 50 billion by 2020.
One Day Little Bots Like These Might Run the IoT
Powering this explosion of connected devices and handling the data they generate will be the world's data centers, which are going to have to adapt in anticipation of the flood of information. New security and privacy risks are going to emerge with more connected devices, and the data from these tools will also put new pressures on storage, network and server architectures.

""IoT deployments will generate large quantities of data that need to be processed and analyzed in real time,"" said Gartner research director Fabrizio Biscotti. ""Processing large quantities of IoT data in real time will increase as a proportion of workloads of data centers, leaving providers facing new security, capacity and analytics challenges.""

Among the challenges Gartner identified are security and privacy, data and storage management, and server and network technology hurdles. The Internet of Things places unprecedented demands on the data center, and each of these areas will see massive changes unfolding as companies look to meet their analytics and end user needs.

An Expanding Universe Of Devices
The Internet of Things is a broad term that encompasses literally billions of devices and sensors, and each comes with its own unique set of expectations. Applications can run from the mundane, such as new Bluetooth-equipped toothbrushes that track users' brushing habits, to things with more demonstrable value, such as sensors in cars, agriculture or industrial robotics. Gartner predicts that connectivity will be a standard feature in devices by 2020, even in cases where processors cost less than a dollar.

""This opens up the possibility of connecting just about anything, from the very simple to the very complex, to offer remote control, monitoring and sensing,"" said research director Peter Middleton. ""The fact is, that today, many categories of connected things in 2020 don't yet exist. As product designers dream up ways to exploit the inherent connectivity that will be offered in intelligent products, we expect the variety of devices offered to explode.""

Among the applications Gartner anticipates this new data facilitating are insurance that incorporates real-time driving data, expanded fitness devices, more intelligent energy use and innovations in the mobile banking and micropayment sectors. With such change on an application level, however, infrastructure will be expected to evolve as well.

""The data center, at whatever scale or scope or deployment, is the place where this is going to happen,"" Greg Huff, the CTO of storage networking chip maker LSI, said in an online seminar, according to SiliconANGLE. He added, ""To really get these interesting outcomes, you need nearly limitless depth and breadth of data. The more you have and the longer periods of time you have it for, the better answers you're going to get. You need scale, concurrent execution, billions of interactions. These things will have to be nearly real-time response for some of these online services.""

Meeting Storage and Real-Time Speed Expectations
One of the areas in which Internet of Things technologies shows the most promise is in the ability to make data-driven decisions on the fly - for instance, tracking building sensor data can help companies remotely adjust environmental settings to make facilities more energy efficient. Additionally, wearable devices such as Google Glass will result in more ways for consumers to make calls to servers than ever before. These demands introduce new potential for latency and pain points and place increased pressure on network and server infrastructure to respond quickly. Otherwise, the flood of data could threaten to overwhelm the existing infrastructure.

""For the benefits of IoT technology to be fully realized, we also need to ensure that our core infrastructure is equally advanced,"" Joy Gardham, regional director of EMEA West for networking firm Brocade, told ComputerWeekly in a recent article. ""We need to ensure that our core infrastructure is able to cope with the massive increase in traffic volumes that this increased connectivity will bring. It is vital that we do not just focus on software and applications without making sure we have the right networking foundations in place as well.""

To handle these bursts in activity, data centers will likely need more careful capacity management, Gartner analysts suggested. Technologies such as server virtualization and software-defined networking will be essential for managing loads as intelligently as possible. It may also be the case that some companies end up building more distributed data center infrastructures rather than following the current trend of centralization, as this will offer less of a concentrated strain on infrastructure resources.

In a recent Wired op-ed, Digital Realty CTO Jim Smith suggested that companies may also want to build data centers in more locations to increase proximity to customers as they look to decrease latency. Another issue related to latency is availability: As more devices depend on the data center, the cost and threat of data center downtime goes up. Companies may need to leverage a diverse blend of public cloud and enterprise data center solutions to meet their availability needs.

With billions of devices generating data, simply storing the information will present a growing challenge as well. Gartner noted that companies will have to address their storage capacity as they begin to harvest more data, and they may also have to be more discerning in terms of what data they gather as well as in terms of what data they automatically back up. Virtualization and tiered storage approaches - as well as simply adding data center capacity - will likely be essential in meeting evolving storage demands.

Managing Security And Privacy Concerns
The sheer diversity of connected devices means that the amount of sensitive data - both in terms of conventional financial or physical security and in terms of consumer privacy - being gathered is enormous. Public concern over privacy and security could also prove to be a major stumbling block in adoption of the technologies that promise so much economic value. As vendors roll out more connected devices, the need for security on the device level will grow, but stronger controls at the data center level will be essential as well. Companies will want to use state-of-the-art network security controls and approaches like end-to-end encryption to ensure they are not leaking private customer data from the myriad sensors being deployed.

""The benefits that these intelligent, connected devices bring to our lives are almost too numerous to count,"" Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at Lookout, told ComputerWeekly. ""However, when we gift these things with intelligence and senses, we also fundamentally change their very nature. Mundane objects, once familiar in appearance and completely unremarkable from a security perspective, suddenly become the guardians of sensitive data, ranging from sensitive financial information to detailed telemetry about personal aspects of our lives.""

Concurrent with the expansion of infrastructure needed to handle the tide of traffic and ballooning storage will be a need to strengthen security in the data center. Yet while improvements on each of these levels may seem daunting up front, the level of innovation and efficiency they are poised to unlock means that companies will either need to modernize their data centers accordingly or risk being left behind."



    Mike Allen

    "One of the predominant technology trends over the past few years has been the rise of connected devices. From smart toothbrushes and toilets to heavily sensor-equipped cars, more devices than ever have access to the Internet and are transmitting data to servers around the world. This pattern is only accelerating: ...

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