IoT: Don’t fret about the world of tomorrow

The Internet of Things is a big deal. But – as CIMI Corp. President Tom Nolle wrote in a recent blog post titled “My Thermostat Doesn’t Want to Talk to You” – it is probably not going to be a big deal for network management. 

We’ve heard all sorts of applications of smart technology, such as refrigerators that know when you’re running low on milk and can send a text to your smartphone when you’re in the vicinity of a supermarket; thermostats that know when you’re working late at the office so you don’t have to have the heat turned on exactly at 6pm, etc. Early adopters already have all these things. But other than the basic Internet connectivity needed to send these little pieces of data back and forth, network management – as an industry and as a profession – is probably going to be almost unaffected by it. 

Think about it. For many purposes, the Internet of Things provides the most value coordinating between different items in your home. 

In our “world’s fair house-of-the-future,” much of the information that goes back and forth is only a few bytes of data, and usually doesn’t even need to go farther than the home router. You could have a Smart Refrigerator and Smart Pantry – and they’ll communicate with each other to determine what kind of recipes you can make with the things you have, but that doesn’t need the Internet. Your lights and blinds need to coordinate with each other to produce the ambient level of lighting you prefer, or need to know to turn down the lights when using the television, sure, but none of that needs to go to the web. Indeed, integrating something that simple with the web seems a little gimmicky and invasive. 

(I Instagram every meal I eat because I want to. Having some software doing it for me automatically takes all the gosh-darned fun out of it.) 

There are other IoT applications that certainly do need the Internet (smart parking, structural health of bridges, traffic congestion, NFC payment processing, fleet tracking, etc.), but for the most part, these are not bandwidth or latency sensitive applications. Usually the data you need to make these applications work is just a few bytes. 

What is important, however, is availability and reliability. These are key, but making sure network performance is up to par has always been part of the job of the network manager. Network traffic engineering is all about giving the applications on your network the bandwidth they need – but compared to things like Big Data mining, teleconferencing, or mobile video, these new applications from the IoT should be relatively easy to monitor and manage, especially if you already have a workflow in place for doing that. 

According to Gartner, there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020. That may have seemed daunting back in 1999 when the IoT first became a mainstream idea in the field of information technology. Today however, we’ve more or less solved the problem of “a lot of devices” on the network with the smartphone/tablet revolution and the rise of SaaS bringing new applications onto existing networks. In a very real way, providing robust, reliable, well-performing networks is the only thing that matters. 

As for those 26 billion IP addresses, well, that’s why we all made the switchover to IPv6 back in 2012 and…

…wait a second.