The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing everything. For example, manufacturing is about to receive a huge boost in efficiency thanks to the rise of smart factories with millions of sensors and controllers that offer crucial real-time performance data.
If you’re thinking that having millions of independent smart devices sounds like a major logistics challenge — you’re right. Behind the IoT network, you need a robust IT infrastructure that can gather data from monitors, send instructions to controllers, perform sophisticated analytics and, most importantly, keep your network secure from hackers.
The cloud is by far the most cost-effective way to build this kind of infrastructure. Cloud services are scalable in terms of both computing power and price: you only pay for the resources you need, and you can increase your resource usage without having to pay for new servers. The cloud also addresses the main requirements of an IoT network.
Gathering and storing data
The primary challenge of IoT is dealing with the sheer volume of data generated. To get an idea of the scale: Clarion is launching a new connected car technology in which each vehicle uploads 25 gigabytes (GB) of data to the cloud every hour, or 600 GB per day. Scale that up to a network the size of a factory, and it’s clear that IoT will generate staggering volumes of data. The cost of getting customized servers to gather and store all of this data is beyond most IT budgets. Cloud services get around this by creating economies of scale: by building massive platforms, they can split the cost among users. This allows each customer to scale their usage, making the infrastructure affordable for organizations of all sizes.
The next challenge is interacting with each device on your IoT network. Whether it’s starting a complex process, or just telling an individual controller to switch on, you need a way to issue instructions. Cloud platforms make this easier to manage, especially with multi-site networks. As for how this is actually done, it is an emerging field with a number of services competing to become the standard. dweet and MQTT are two of the more popular messaging services that can send short commands to devices. They both have user-friendly dashboards that make it easy to manage IoT devices, even from a mobile device.
The data from an IoT network has a dizzying number of applications. The data allows you to study performance on a fine level, create sophisticated optimization strategies, anticipate where repairs will be needed before a failure occurs, trigger automatic procedures, and even identify suspicious activity within your network. Turning data into insight is not easy though. In one study, 44 percent of IoT project managers said that they already had too much data to analyze effectively. Analytic algorithms are extremely resource-hungry, and to be effective, they need to run continuously at high speeds. It’s another reason why most IoT projects are cloud-based, as only cloud service providers can offer that computing power at scale.
Recent high-profile IoT attacks have reminded us of how vulnerable these large networks are. There are two security issues to bear in mind: the security of the devices themselves, and the protection of the data they pass to the central servers. As ever, IT managers need to give serious thought to potential risk before implementing any new infrastructure. A cloud-based IoT infrastructure can help manage security in several ways. It can help to push out vital software updates — a failure to update devices is one of the key risks in IoT. It can also manage secure communication between devices, with encryption being one of the key features of most cloud services. Also, analytics can help to identify devices that are misbehaving, red-flagging unusual behavior and allowing for early intervention.
Cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) are already the go-to solutions for most large-scale industrial computing challenges. With the number of active IoT devices expected to hit at least 30 billion by the next decade, the pressure is now on cloud providers to be ready to meet customer demand.