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A fridge that tells you when to buy milk?
Industry analysts have been discussing the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) since the phrase was first coined in 2009. However, most descriptions of the IoT jump ahead to a futuristic world in which every conceivable physical device is seamlessly connected, with refrigerators that track inventory and send a shopping list to our phones, retail stores that send text message deals based on what the customer is wearing, and vehicles that automatically schedule your next service appointment by integrating with your mobile calendar.
It’s fun to imagine such a connected world. But how much of that vision is based in reality? If we take a longer view of the Internet of Things and fit it among overall technology development, the picture starts to clarify.
Evolving from the concept of mobility to that of connectedness
Despite the enthusiasm for a connected world, the IoT has been slow in developing. Foundational technologies like telemetry, RFID, and smart meters have set the foundation. What’s missing now is a true infrastructure of connectivity.
Enterprises have been grappling with integrating more mobility across their organizations, along with more advanced networks that can handle mobile’s greater demands. Largely influenced from the growth of mobile devices and the ensuing consumer and employee demand for it, the idea of mobility itself has had to evolve from an additional capability that existing networks must now support, to a fundamental aspect that every enterprise must address to remain competitive.
As the mobile market becomes more saturated, organizations are better equipped to start focusing on the deeper elements of the IoT. However, it’s not simply a matter of putting sensors into everything. To thrive in a truly connected world, organizations face retooling their entire infrastructures to deal with the impact of the IoT, including network robustness, billing systems, and sales channels.
Three primary technologies must align
At its heart, the IoT is about connecting items in the physical world to a digital network so that they can be tracked, analyzed, managed, and so on. But before enabling that, organizations must master the following three aspects of technology.
- Operations support systems (OSS): Our networks need to be more robust throughout—from the core to the edge and beyond. They must support not just larger networks that stretch further, but also greater amounts of information flowing between systems. The onus is on telecommunications providers to ramp up their infrastructures to handle a connected world, because enterprise networks now extend beyond the borders, and even the official devices, of the infrastructure. In addition, enterprises need to tune their infrastructures to accommodate OSS and millions of devices.
- Fragmentation: As enterprises build out their infrastructures to enable more sophisticated connectivity, they’ll be dealing with more systems and service providers than ever before. With this comes inevitable fragmentation. Components like cloud enablement platforms, app stores, and specific services provided by third parties will be enabling components of the IoT—but enterprises need a way of pulling all of these disparate components together into something manageable. Systems management applications will likely serve as a foundational solution.
- Business intelligence: The lifeblood of the IoT will be data—acquiring the data from the outside world is really what it’s all about. So the need for systems that can capture, store, manage, and interpret that data into actionable intelligence will be the key to realizing value from the IoT. Some highly robust data management tools have already begun to emerge—but this is likely just the beginning.
On the path to the IoT
We’re still a long way off from refrigerators that forward our shopping lists and cars that book our service appointments, but elements of the IoT picture are becoming more concrete as organizations find new ways of fitting the components together to create actionable insights.
One such project is called Earth Insights, a collaboration between HP and Conservation International to apply HP’s Big Data capabilities to help scientists study, monitor, and manage biodiversity across the world’s tropical forests. Earth Insights is intended to serve as an early warning system to support conservation efforts.
Earth Insights combines HP’s Vertica Analytics Platform, a custom-built Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) Analytics System, a fleet of HP ElitePads deployed in forests to capture data, a cloud component to meet the project’s growing data needs, and HP ProLiant servers to power back-end data systems. Together, these components gather and interpret data collected from wildlife to allow scientists to take swifter action when regions or species are threatened.
This collaboration is still in its early stages, but it serves as a good example of how we’re now learning to make more connections between our physical and digital worlds by combining the right technologies with the right partnerships to enable real change.
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