Google’s announcement of its new self-driving car prototype reignited buzz about our future in an automated, Internet of Things world. But the discussion is not new. Internet-connected devices first outnumbered the human population in 2008, and have continued growing faster than we have. Gartner estimates that by 2020, there will be 26 billion installed Internet of Things devices. Including devices we have not yet even imagined.
Beyond the tremendous implications for us as individuals, here’s why this evolution of the Internet of Things matters: It will profoundly disrupt 20th century business models.
Internet of Things – What It Is
The Internet of Things (or IoT), as defined by the Pew Research Internet Project, is “A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment. Built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric.” The “things” that make up the IoT include:
- Wearable devices that monitor our location, health, fitness
- Home appliances that we can monitor and control from our smartphones
- Sensors embedded in public infrastructure (streets, water systems) to identify potential problems
- Readers embedded in factories and supply chains to make production processes more efficient
Automation – What It Is
“Devices” like Google’s self-driving car go a step beyond the monitoring and reporting that characterizes the Internet of Things, into a world of automation – which relies on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Automation is the ability of IoT devices to take action independent of human intervention.
Take the pulp and paper industry (an example cited by McKinsey). Embedded temperature sensors produce data that is then used to automatically adjust the kiln flame’s shape and intensity. That’s critical in an industry in which “the need for frequent manual temperature adjustments in kilns limits productivity gains.”
Automating the Internet of Things
By itself, the Internet of Things facilitates information gathering and analysis. It enables behavior tracking, enhanced situational awareness, and sensor-driven decision analytics.
It is with automation and control that the true potential of the IoT is revealed. McKinsey explains, “Making data the basis for automation and control means converting the data and analysis collected through the Internet of Things into instructions that feed back through the network to actuators that in turn modify processes.”
When automated, the Internet of Things makes many human interventions unnecessary. The implications are far-reaching, including enhancing productivity within the enterprise; improving our own longevity; and making this increasingly crowded world of ours a cleaner, safer, better place to live.
The Role of the Data Center
None of those benefits will be realized without change at the heart of the Internet of Things: the data center. TechRepublic explains it well, “In order to obtain the benefits from IoT technology, companies must be prepared for the blitz of unstructured data. Data centers will feel the brunt of this challenge, since it will be the location where IoT data resides, gets manipulated, and are made useable.”
Traditional data centers – Data Center 1.0 – are incapable of rising to the challenge.
Says Gartner, “The magnitude of network connections and data associated with the IoT will accelerate a distributed data center management approach that calls for providers to offer efficient system management platforms…Transferring the entirety of that data to a single location for processing will not be technically and economically viable…Organizations will be forced to aggregate data in multiple distributed mini data centers where initial processing can occur.”
In other words, the automated Internet of Things will require data center providers that offer optionality: cloud, colocation, on-premises, off-premises –essentially, any-premises data center deployments. And the data center operating system to monitor and manage it all. (Learn more about that here.)