How the IoT Will Create Major Challenges for Data Centers

NEWS ANALYSIS: One researcher says that by 2020 the Internet of things will include 26 billion units, and that data centers will have challenges handling all that data.

If we at eWEEK aren't writing about our usual-suspect IT topics—data security and privacy, application development, big data analytics, the cloud, data centers or mobile devices—we're examining the coming Internet of things. This is the next huge IT market, we're told, and we're not arguing that point.

However, in reality the IoT isn't "coming"—it's already here. The ramp-up has already begun.

Gartner Research, for one, has been doing some big data analytics of its own on this subject. The Stamford, Conn.-based researcher came out with a report March 19 that wasn't necessarily bold in its macro vision, which holds that the IoT will have a major transformational effect on the data center market, not to mention its customers, technology providers, technologies, and sales and marketing models. We already know that much.

It is the extent of the transformation that will be problematic. Gartner estimates that the IoT will include somewhere around 26 billion installed units by 2020; by that time, IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services. That's a lot of data—and money—to be made.

Connected Devices We Can't Imagine Today

We're talking not only about mobile phones, tablets, laptops and wearables, but specialized sensors on people, clothing, cars, animals, houses, weather stations, videocams, drone flying machines—you name it. We can't even imagine some of the connected devices we'll be using six or seven years from now.

With all those connected items creating data of myriad types, back-end receivers storing everything in the data center are going to be overwhelmed in no time. In fact, data centers are already filling to capacity much faster than anyone anticipated.

Real-time processing eventually will become the norm, putting additional burdens on CIOs and data center managers who have been able to do their jobs well in the past using slower and less-expensive batch processing. Competitive advantage, we keep being told, lies with those companies that become more agile in the marketplace.

The IoT will bring to the fore other data center challenges, Gartner said.

"IoT deployments will generate large quantities of data that need to be processed and analyzed in real time," Gartner Research Director Fabrizio Biscotti said. "Processing large quantities of IoT data in real time will increase as a proportion of workloads of data centers, leaving providers facing new security, capacity and analytics challenges."

Connecting Remote Assets

The IoT connects remote assets and provides a data stream between the asset and centralized management systems. Those assets can then be integrated into new and existing organizational processes to provide information on status, location, functionality and so on, Biscotti said.

Real-time information enables more accurate understanding of status, and it enhances utilization and productivity through optimized usage and more accurate decision support. Business and data analytics give insights into the business requirements data feed from the IoT environment and will help predict the fluctuations of IoT-enriched data and information, Biscotti said.

"The enormous number of devices, coupled with the sheer volume, velocity and structure of IoT data, creates challenges, particularly in the areas of security, data, storage management, servers and the data center network, as real-time business processes are at stake," said Gartner Distinguished Analyst and Vice President Joe Skorupa. "Data center managers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management in these areas to be able to proactively meet the business priorities associated with IoT."

Top Challenges List

Gartner analysts identified the following as the biggest potential challenges for CIOs, CTOs and data center managers:

--Security: The increasing digitization and automation of the multitudes of devices deployed across different areas of modern urban environments are set to create new security challenges to many industries—and not exclusively regulated industries.

--Enterprise: Significant security challenges will remain as the big data created as a result of the deployment of myriad devices will drastically increase security complexity. This, in turn, will have an impact on availability requirements, which are also expected to increase, putting real-time business processes and, potentially, personal safety at risk.

--Consumer Privacy: As is already the case with smart-metering equipment and increasingly digitized automobiles, there will be a vast amount of data providing information on users' personal use of devices that, if not secured, can give rise to breaches of privacy. This is particularly challenging as the information generated by the IoT is a key to bringing better services and the management of such devices.

--Data: The impact of the IoT on storage is two-pronged in types of data to be stored: personal data (consumer-driven) and big data (enterprise-driven). As consumers utilize apps and devices continue to learn about the user, significant data will be generated.

--Storage Management: The impact of the IoT on storage infrastructure is another factor contributing to the increasing demand for more storage capacity, and one that will have to be addressed as this data becomes more prevalent. The focus today must be on storage capacity, as well as whether or not the business can harvest and use IoT data in a cost-effective manner.

--Server IT: The impact of the IoT on the server market will be largely focused on increased investment in key vertical industries and organizations related to those industries where the IoT can be profitable or add significant value.

--Data Center Networking: Existing data center WAN links are sized for the moderate-bandwidth requirements generated by human interactions with applications. The IoT promises to dramatically change these patterns by transferring massive amounts of small message sensor data to the data center for processing, dramatically increasing inbound data center bandwidth requirements.

More details are available in the report "The Impact of the Internet of Things on Data Centers." The report is available here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...