The Internet of Things (IoT) is a broad concept plotting to make vast amounts of the physical world interactive, IP-enabled, and ‘smart’, according to Forrester Research analyst Andrew Rose.

But as billions of chip-enabled devices connect to the internet, and exercise greater levels of autonomy, generating yet more data, it’s corporate IT that will bear the brunt of the changes.

However, many businesses are making strides towards supporting the IoT, because they have already adopted cloud services and upgraded their data centre servers and storage infrastructures to cope with Big Data. And on the management side, forward-thinking enterprises are evaluating next-generation storage and network management and ensuring they have a clear business intelligence strategy that can capitalise on vast quantities of real-time data.

Data centre virtualisation

The need for data centre virtualisation gets stronger each year, and the arguments are well known. The technology replaces and consolidates server and storage silos. It unifies the IT system and gives IT managers a clearer and broader picture of the organisation’s data so they can manage it more easily.

But virtualisation is also an important tool for managing the IoT. It provides OS-agnostic management, and this is important when considering the range of chip-enabled devices that are coming online.

Virtualisation enables interoperability between embedded (e.g. machine to machine (M2M) and mobile) and business application platforms, and it supports more powerful policy-based automation. Effective automation will become essential as IoT-generated data volumes continue to grow, to the point where manual data management can no longer cope.

Along with server virtualisation, storage virtualisation is also growing in popularity. One strength is that it can provide the scalability that is required by growing volumes of structured and unstructured data. Storage virtualisation products can also help to unify data by being platform and vendor-agnostic.

In addition, storage management is becoming increasingly sophisticated and automated, making powerful use of tiered storage, though good automation carries a high price tag at present. This means that information that needs to be immediately available to the business is stored on high-performance (and higher-cost) disk, whereas legacy or less valuable data is held on slower, cheaper media.

In an environment where the IoT is poised to bring huge business benefits from capitalising on multiple types and sources of information, tiered disk storage can also be helpful.

Formula 1 teams, for example, are using storage virtualisation at track side to retrieve large volumes of data quickly that have been created from chip-enabled car components. They then assemble data models that can be analysed and acted upon immediately to get an advantage in a actual race. This technology could equally be applied to manufacturing, retail or financial services.

However, the need for virtualisation won’t stop at the data centre, according to a recent IDC whitepaper. The analyst firm argues that mobile virtualisation will become a core technology enabling the IoT. This is because it will support the growing number of wirelessly-connected devices, including smart phones and tablets, sensors and machines.

IDC believes that by 2020, approximately 30 billion devices will be connected, each requiring cost-effective use of software, integration with legacy systems, enhanced security and faster time to market. Mobile virtualisation will play a significant role in solving these issues in the next generation of smart devices, says IDC, including lowering the bill of materials on mobile devices, ensuring security for employee-chosen devices and enabling the reuse of existing software assets.

Adding intelligence

Moving forward, it will be essential for companies to develop a clear business intelligence strategy that will protect them from being swamped by data but, instead, help them to harness it.

BI systems will need to access and integrate information from a wide variety of sources including M2M, mobile and consumer devices and enterprise applications. They will need to be able to handle and integrate data in near real-time to enhance decision-making, create sales opportunities and improve supply chain processes.

Businesses stand to benefit in profound ways from operating partially or fully-autonomous networks of connected devices, says Forrester’s Andrew Rose. “As industrial systems and workplaces become increasingly aware of their situations, they will be able to regulate their own usage. This will extend from smart buildings powering down unused areas to save energy, to industrial mechanisms avoiding wastage by tracking and ordering stock levels commensurate with their output.” Underpinning these new business efficiencies will be the sort of business intelligence that can organise and harness the data generated by the IoT.  

Security will also be paramount as the network grows to encompass larger numbers of devices, with many of them dealing with sensitive business and customer data. Virtualisation can offer an isolated execution environment to carry out activities related to particular devices, and this can keep devices safe from malware and external attack.

To achieve this, some processor manufacturers are incorporating security features at chip-level, which means that end-point devices can protect themselves from tampering or attack. One example of this is a smart meter whose chip can prevent a user from interfering with it to lower the energy reading.

Intel is one chip manufacturer that has developed embedded security technologies for processors that are used to power devices such as consumer electronics, in-vehicle infotainment, digital security surveillance, and factory automation.

Intel’s Trusted Platform Module is one well-known example of a secure encrypted space on the chipset that make it hard for malware to subvert the device or its operations. But other innovations are in development, as part of Intel’s Intelligent Systems Framework (ISF).

These include trusted boot technology (which uses Intel Trusted Execution Technology to verify the hardware), hardware-assisted anti-virus technology, and white listing (to allow only verified devices to communicate). All of these features are designed to make the network secure by protecting IoT devices.

Chip-level security has an important part to play in protecting sensitive data, but traditional security techniques - such as user authentication, data encryption, intrusion detection, and hypervisor security - will continue to be needed as the IoT develops over the next decade.

With the IoT, we are moving towards uncharted territory. This new, highly-automated computing model supports embedded computing and Big Data and capitalises on complex, real-time information. Now is the time to plan and prepare because things are about to change.