Another disruptive trend, another set of headaches for IT.
The Internet of Things (IoT), spurred by the arrival of inexpensive storage and better chipsets for connectivity, promises a future where Internet smarts extend far beyond the familiar realm of smartphones and computers.
Familiar devices and things never before associated with having Internet intelligence – items like homes, railways, buildings and bridges – are now able to monitor, communicate and respond when their environment changes. And with more machines talking to each other through IoT connections, companies have a trove of new information at their disposal to analyze.
The potential is huge: The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that IoT may add between $2.7 trillion and $6.2 trillion to the world economy annually by 2025.
The success of this emerging IoT ecosystem will depend upon a robust cloud infrastructure managing all these new sensors, devices and data. As more companies seek to connect existing infrastructures to IoT-enabled devices, they will turn to public and hybrid clouds to help manage and scale their systems. The right cloud offering will let companies store and process the IoT data they collect and attach rules and structure to that information for later consumption.
However, IoT’s speed of adoption also presents myriad new security and platform issues that IT will need to navigate as more businesses make the transition to the cloud.
Indeed, the sheer scale of IoT is creating an "attack surface" of unprecedented size given the proliferation of connected assets and devices – a change that presents new potential headaches for IT because of the variety of platforms and protocols now involved.
Anything that is controlled by a computer can be maliciously controlled by somebody who has compromised that computer, or, in many cases, is simply able to interact with it. And it doesn't take much of a pessimist to imagine at least some of the ways that things could go wrong, either intentionally or deliberately. Vulnerabilities have already been identified (and widely publicized) for a relevant, representative class of devices, such as smart TVs, IV infusion pumps, pacemakers and the electronics systems of automobiles, just to name a few. With a trillion devices, the network becomes especially porous, so there is certainly plenty to worry about.
What’s more, the vast majority of devices that aren’t phones, laptops or tablets don’t receive updates automatically, and in many cases it isn’t even possible for end users to update device firmware themselves.
As always, the challenge for IT is to to figure out how to handle these security updates seamlessly. If past is prologue, these growing pains promise to be part of yet another transitional phase in the disruptive history of technology.