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Will the Internet of Things become the Internet of Broken Things?

J.D. Sartain | April 21, 2014
Fifty billion devices will connect to the Internet in the next few years. It's up to vendors to make sure they do, in fact, connect to the Internet -- and provide reliable data, security and customer experience. Otherwise, analysts warn, the future may bring an Internet of Broken Things.

Cisco Systems estimates that the number of devices connected to the Internet will reach 50 billion by 2020. This brings promise for users, corporations and vendors but also a major challenge: What happens if this Internet of Things (IoT), all 50 billion of them, morphs into the Internet of broken things?

In other words, how will vendors ensure that these devices are compatible? Who will be responsible for guaranteeing this compatibly? If a device breaks, who will fix it? And does everyone even want total connectivity in the first place?

Interop, Security Main Challenges Facing Internet of Things

"Overcoming these challenges to interoperability is somewhat of a double-edged sword," says Ryan Martin, associate analyst at Yankee Group. "On one hand, standardization could further market penetration, as well as the breadth and depth of IoT solutions. On the other, it means relinquishing control and, therefore, leverage over a given ecosystem.

As a result, Martin says, we'll more likely see mergers, acquisitions and partnership activity before we see the influence of cross-industry, technical standards.

Gartner Vice President Hung LeHong agrees, saying it'll be a long time before we reach universal compatibility — if ever. Today's marketplace "competition," he says, centers on delivering middleware, portal and gateway aggregators that can take in multiple types of connections.

A variety of vendors is involved, from telecommunications firms and cloud providers to retailers and hardware and software vendors. ( PTC's acquisition of ThingWorx stands as evidence that software vendors are interested in the Internet of Things.) "No one entity will win all areas," LeHong says.

Maciej Kranz, vice president of the corporate technology group at Cisco, points to security as a top concern as well, especially as assembly lines and oil fields are connected. Three years ago, the Stuxnet virus spread havoc in industrial environments, and cyberattacks on other areas of critical infrastructure are also on the rise.

The creation of "new paradigms," such as smart cars equipped with ethernet and federally mandated backup cameras, bring about a variety of concerns, Kranz says. These include preventing hacks, malware and DoS attacks on in-car operating systems, as well as verifying the source of vehicle-to-vehicle communication data.

Preventive maintenance also matters, Kranz says, especially when data analysis, remote data monitoring and management of devices, sensors and applications all takes place in real time. If an average oil rig generates 5TB of data per minute, how can vendors and corporations ensure that critical data is communicated to the appropriate device if, say, the temperature exceeds a critical threshold? It's also imperative to ensure that the policy and data flow can scale between, say, a fleet of 100,000 trucks.


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