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The Internet of Things and the Smart MSP

26 May 2015 by Howard M Cohen

While it is generally held that Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “Internet of Things” (IoT) while working at Proctor & Gamble in 1999, many observers have been busy pointing out that there really is no such thing.

In a ComputerWorld article, writer Mike Elgan suggests there will never be an Internet of Things, explaining that, “The ‘Internet of Things’ is a bad name because ‘things’ don’t have their own Internet. They use the regular Internet. There is no separate ‘Internet of Things.’”

In fact, it has been suggested that there have been more things than people connected to the Internet since 2008. One analyst suggests we call it all “Things on the Internet.” Yawn.

For those of you who depend upon selling and supporting infrastructure for your livelihood, those who will be most negatively impacted by the growth of cloud platform services like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Office 365, the hype-a-thon around the Internet of Things offers real opportunities.

The Real IoT Opportunity

The phrase “Internet of Things” really refers to the challenges facing hardware manufacturers, software developers, network engineers and others as more and more “things” are being attached to the Internet, from meshes of sensors to track everything to industrial controls to the lights, thermostats and door locks on homes.

If Rodney Dangerfield sat on the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), he would tell you “things don’t get no respect.” In fact, in 2011 the IETF approved a new dedicated routing protocol just for these IP Small Objects networks called RPL, which stands for Routing Protocol for LLNs, low-power, lossy networks. No respect.

If Low-Power & Lossy networks doesn’t sound bad enough, here’s how the IETF characterized the things that are being attached to them in their Request for Comment (RFC) 6550, issued in March 2012:

“Low-power and Lossy Networks (LLNs) consist largely of constrained nodes (with limited processing power, memory and sometimes energy when they are battery operated or energy scavenging).”

The actual networks themselves didn’t fare much better in this RFC:

“These routers are interconnected by lossy links, typically supporting only low data rates that are usually unstable with relatively low packet delivery rates. Another characteristic of such networks is that the traffic patterns are not simply point-to-point, but in many cases point-to-multipoint or multipoint-to-point. Furthermore, such networks may potentially comprise up to thousands of nodes.”

Your Role in IoT

Here’s where you come in. As you learn more about the kinds of “things” your customers want to attach to the Internet, you can become more adept at “tuning” parameters in your customers’ networks to better accommodate these low-powered, lossy devices and networks. Making the devices better becomes far too expensive far too fast at the scale we’re describing, so the only solution is better code at the transport layer.

This is your opportunity to take your TCP/IP skills to the next level where they can do some real good enabling real-world, high-value, high-relevance solutions for your customers.

Compensating for the impracticality of improving “things” as they are connected to the Internet by improving their code stack is just one example of a business relevant solution you can deliver going forward.

Putting IoT to Work for Your Customers

Cloud connectivity is the big enabler when applying IoT concepts to business. Your customer can connect to many things that run their business using cloud connectivity, and just about every one of those connected things either saves money by reducing costs or makes more money by delivering services more efficiently.

Already, many homeowners are installing “smart” thermostats they can control from anywhere using their smartphone. If they are unexpectedly called to be away from home for days, they can cancel the scheduled changes the thermostat would ordinarily make while they were home. Why heat or cool an empty house? The same can be said for offices, factories and other business facilities. Simple, easy-to-understand savings.

Similarly, those homeowners are replacing their light switches and electrical outlets with wireless versions that can be controlled either by a computer or by them again using a mobile device. Why not use computer intelligence to shut down appliances, lights and machinery that are not in use? Why not use the same computer intelligence to enhance premises security by reconfirming that doors and windows are locked, alarms set and movement within specific areas results in alarms being sent to law enforcement? These IoT techniques extend, expand and enhance premises security in many ways.

Companies operating fleets of vehicles can leverage IoT technology to monitor the current condition of each vehicle, perform vehicle diagnostics, alert when vehicles are outside their specified service area and much more.

Smart meters can give companies more control over consumption of electricity and other utility services.

IoT factory automation, robotics, supply chain management, sensor monitoring of product movement with real-time analytics and many other techniques can all contribute powerfully to your customer’s bottom line.

No Magic, Pragmatics!

Note there is no magic, no mystery, and no hype in any of this. This means there’s an easier path to customer “buy-in” for all of these concepts. IoT simply means you’re using cloud communications over the Internet to connect and control many different devices to monitor performance, control processes, and secure property, people and information — and much more.