IoT and enterprise: what, where and why?

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LESLIE FAUGHNAN finds that the Internet of Things will likely see a pattern of adoption much like the move from data centres to the cloud, with many similar benefits and pitfalls

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10 November 2016 | 0

After the involvement of personal and domestic Internet of Things devices, such as baby monitors and home routers in the Mirai-powered DDoS attack last month that brought down Twitter, Netflix and many other big name services in the USA, security issues have been pushed to the foreground again. Whether IoT devices working entirely on firmware/software are inherently riskier than devices used by humans is a moot point. Certainly, every connected endpoint adds to the sum of risk. Like the rest of them, from smart phones to servers to cloud services, we need to design in smart security to thwart the attackers.

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What we are working towards is a vision of systems that become an unobtrusive part of a person’s ambient living conditions yet are informed or controlled by very smart cognitive systems, Robert McCarthy, IBM

A part of the IoT risk is that so many devices will be or embedded or unattended with intermittent connections. What level of trust does a supposedly ‘dumb’ and simple sensor need? If we make IoT devices smarter and upgradable, does that actually increase the risk? Should all IoT devices connect through a smart gateway where security can be monitored and enhanced as needed? Many of the areas in which IoT devices are already widely deployed such as utilities, transportation, physical security and others could well be regarded as greater national risks than commercial web services, however widely used. These questions all suggest that IoT security will be as important (and as healthy a growth sector) as general ICT security already is.

Rapid progression
In the meantime, like the rest of the technology universe, we are progressing rapidly in the application of IoT connectivity in multiple practical ways in business and industry sectors and indeed in personal services. “We can now talk about the ‘Internet of the Body’ or some such term as personal wearables are combined into living or even life support systems,” IBM’s Robert McCarthy says. “We are already into an era of cognitive computing, with IBM’s Watson as a leading example. In health, for example, there is a massive global effort in cancer research, with massive amounts of oncology data and expertise aggregated in a single system. That is already assisting clinicians in real life.”

“But we can also envisage the rich potential of all of that cognitive power intersecting with IoT wearable and other devices and networks. We can now take that real world data and mash it up with cognitive technology services to create a new paradigm in healthcare. That’s a grandiose way of putting it, perhaps, but we are already using Watson in monitoring, researching and giving personal advice on Type 2 diabetes in partnership with Medtronic, one of the leading manufacturers of health monitoring technology. Currently the combination even includes a semi-automatic insulin pump and links to a smart phone app for diabetes patients.”

McCarthy points out that there are many health monitoring systems already in existence but they tend to be obtrusive and relatively unsophisticated. “What we are working towards is a vision of systems that become an unobtrusive part of a person’s ambient living conditions yet are informed or controlled by very smart cognitive systems.”

Automotive
Another interesting IoT project under way in IBM Ireland is in automotive systems, heading towards autonomous vehicles, in partnership with a number of European car manufacturers.

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Our way to address these issues is to architect an IoT ecosystem that aggregates, analyses and secures data at the edge through an optimised IoT gateway. We do not believe in one-size-fits-all architecture, especially in the IoT. Every use case and existing technology is different and customers need choice and flexibility in their gateways as everything else, Marc Flanagan, Dell EMC

“This is a unique project, marrying in-car sensors and data streams with external data such as from the growing range of smart city systems,” McCarthy explains. “In the car today you commonly have lane guidance systems and parking sensors, even full self-parking, plus other sensors that monitor the driver’s eye movements or steering behaviour or whatever. In smart cities there are copious amounts of external information that could give drivers a 360 degree ‘view’ of everything that might be relevant to safe progress. Let’s say it’s dark and there is an oil spill on the road ahead of you and you have most of your inessential systems turned off because you find those beeps annoying. But the car system will have built-in rules to alert you anyway to upcoming hazards, perhaps audiovisual signals or steering vibrations or whatever. That combination of in-vehicle and external smart systems is certainly the route to safer motoring in the future.”

The IoT will be almost entirely wireless and although there are major advances in low power, low data rate WANs, the immediate future is almost entirely based on mobile networks. In that context, an important partnership between Vodafone and Dell EMC saw a €2 million investment last year in the INFINITE (INternational Future INdustrial Internet Testbed) industrial connectivity platform in Cork. The project is centred on three data centres — Vodafone, Dell EMC and the Cork Internet eXchange (CIX), with experts involved from the partner companies and CIT. It is also one of a number of member testbeds of the Industrial Internet Consortium, the leading international organisation in the IoT field with over 250 members.

Practical innovation
Donagh Buckley of Dell EMC explains: “The objectives are innovation in a practical way, with multiple and specific use cases leading to greater understanding of reference architectures and frameworks to support successful solutions in a variety of industrial sectors. We are looking for mainstream adoption rather than academic research, although all learnings will be of value. Any SIM managed by Vodafone can be recognised and securely linked to the testbed. The results of our projects are generally shared with other IIC members, subject to client confidentiality where necessary.”

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