How important is the IoT to the future of your business?

IoT

The internet of things (IoT) is being heralded as a breakthrough technology that will be instrumental in enabling other next-generation technologies, such as AI, driverless cars and robotics. So far, much of the hype has focused on consumer items like smart TVs and fridges that can order extra milk. But it’s in the business where the IoT is predicted to drive massive transformation.

How much transformation? A 2015 Accenture study predicts that the industrial internet of things (IIoT) could potentially increase GDP in 20 economies by a total of $10.6 trillion by 2030. So how can the IoT enable business growth? And what are the costs and potential risks?

Commercial uses of the IoT

The first wave of the IoT was mobility: the billions of handheld smart devices that have redefined how the internet is accessed and used. But whereas mobility was about connecting people, the IoT is about connecting machines and devices into a smart grid or ‘mesh’. Sensors embedded in these devices are used to relay real-world feedback to a central controller that can make decisions and initiate actions on behalf of the device and its owner.

Key areas where this is proving useful are:
  • Retail: The IoT can help automate inventory management in the warehouse or on store shelves. It can also be used to connect mobile point-of-sale devices, detect foot traffic in stores and interact with customers in real-time via their mobile phones.

 

  • Asset management: The IoT can help transport and warehousing companies better track their vehicle fleets and containers across the supply chain. IoT temperature or humidity sensors could facilitate better climate control for fragile assets, such as food or artwork.

 

  • Manufacturing: IoT sensors in industrial machines can help detect maintenance issues earlier, reducing repair costs and downtime. Other potential applications include improved parts tracking and better safety monitoring.

 

  • Healthcare: There are many areas in which IoT devices can contribute to better healthcare, including fall detection, health monitoring, medication management and remote diagnosis.

Potential uses of the IoT extend well beyond these examples, with Gartner predicting that more than half of “major business processes and systems” will use the IoT in some way by 2020.

How much does the IoT cost?

IoT devices are typically designed to be relatively inexpensive and easy to deploy. But they can also come with numerous additional costs – such as the software to run them, increased internet bills and the need to create new business processes. Such costs, however, need to be weighed against its potentially high ROI, which can range from improving productivity and automation to reducing waste and slashing energy costs.

IoT security concerns

Because every IoT device is a potential ‘back door’ for computer hackers, IoT users face significant challenges in keeping their IoT network secure. As an example, cybercriminals were able to shut down the heating in two buildings in Finland in 2016 after performing a denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on their heating controllers. To prevent such incidents, networks need to be frequently monitored for signs of suspicious activity, and security protocols (such as changing passwords on a regular basis) strictly followed.

Over the long run, the business benefits of the IoT will almost certainly outweigh its risks. Like any disruptive technology, early adoption is key. If you see a clear advantage to adding IoT tech to your business, don’t be afraid to take the plunge.

 

Finding a home for your data

Data
Options for enterprise data storage

Local data center, hybrid cloud or cloud? As an enterprise IT manager, you have an unprecedented amount of choice for your storage needs, but finding the best solution still requires a good deal of research.

Enterprise storage has been all the rage over the past few years as companies cope with vast amounts of data and vendors roll out innovative solutions designed to take vital factors such as power consumption, scalability, legal considerations, business processes, security and accessibility into account.

The first objective of your storage solution should be its ability to enable file sharing and collaboration among your staff. You can then worry about performance, reliability, availability and scalability of your solution.

In the end, your choices center on storing your data on-site, somewhere else (the cloud) or a combination of both (a hybrid solution).

On-site storage

The advantage of storing data on-site is that you retain full control of the hardware and data, which should also meet most of your security and compliance concerns if your backup and disaster recovery (DR) systems are up to date.

Deploying a storage network on-site usually involves a three-step process: setting up the physical hardware, migrating your data, and configuring and testing the system.

You’ll also need to select the appropriate storage media. Tapes, hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid state disks (SSDs) all have their pros and cons. Tape is generally inexpensive, but its performance makes it suitable mainly for backup and archive functions only. HDDs offer higher performance for primary, more accessible data, whereas SSDs generally provide the best performance and reliability. Most enterprises use a combination of all three.

Storage architecture is of paramount importance and includes direct-attached storage (DAS), storage area networks (SANs) or network-attached storage (NAS) devices. What you ultimately choose will depend on the collaboration capabilities you want between individual PCs and servers.

The type of storage architecture you choose will also affect the network protocols you use. For example, fibre channel and iSCSI are SAN protocols, while NAS is an IP storage protocol.

Enterprises deploying storage architecture in-house have tended to move away from traditional siloed NAS and SAN solutions to more integrated flash-technology based solutions.

Cloud-based storage

Cloud-based storage has been the talk of the global IT community for years now, with many of the biggest solutions pioneered by Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Cloud solutions have the advantage of saving space, simplifying management and generally lowering costs. They also provide on-demand capacity which is easily scalable for future needs.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of cloud storage solutions is that you’re relieved from making decisions about hardware and network architecture, because the cloud vendor takes care of that for you. Once you’ve found a solution you’re happy with, it’s relatively easy to configure it to work with your current IT infrastructure.

Hybrid solutions

The best storage solution for many enterprises tends to be a hybrid one containing in-house and cloud components.

This typically involves keeping essential data in-house and using cloud-based services for lower priority data. On-site data storage is also used for performance (latency and bandwidth, and security).

The enterprise storage sector is undergoing a continual evolution, with technologies such as storage virtualization, which promises superior archiving, backup and recovery administration coming to the fore.

Hybrid storage solutions are also being used to optimize application performance, while software-based systems are becoming more ubiquitous, offering end users a far greater range of storage and backup options.

 

Keep business laptops secure

secureWhen it comes to laptop and notebook computers, their greatest strength can often seem to be their most profound weakness. The very portability that makes them such useful tools for the mobile professional leaves them vulnerable to a host of catastrophes that never faced the average desktop machine. Fortunately for the IT manager, tools, and capabilities to keep mobile data safe have grown in strength to keep up with the demand—assuming, of course, that you choose and deploy them correctly.  Here are a few tips for keeping your laptop secure.

Strip out the value

The first and most important thing to do is make sure that any data on the system has no value to possible thieves.

The simplest way to do this is to encrypt everything on the disk—certainly everything that might possibly be sensitive. For encryption to be effective, of course, the information has to be available to the authorized user and garbled for everyone else. That’s why authentication is the powerful adjunct to encryption.

Check the hardware

The current generation of laptop CPUs has features that help secure the systems, eliminating possibilities for criminals to insert exploits that take effect before the security and anti-intrusion code is activated at boot time.

One of the keys for any manager putting laptops into the field is to make sure that the operating system and security software take advantage of the capabilities provided by the hardware—don’t lightly ignore the chance to be more secure.

Low tech works, too

One of the other frequently ignored security laptop features is one of the simplest: the laptop lock port. Sometimes called a Kensington lock port after a company that has made many products that work with the port, this is a small slot on either a side or the rear of the computer. The slot in the case is often matched by a slot in the chassis so that a locking mechanism and cable can be attached to the computer and the computer then attached to something solid and heavy to make physical theft more difficult.

Users can be losers

With the contents and physical package of the laptop protected by technology, your attention should turn to the users and the training they’ll receive on best practices for safe mobile computing. And when it comes to that training, there are four words that should be part of the course, no matter what other specifics you employ. The four words? “Do it every time”.

In too many cases of computer security failure, the employee through whose computer the attacker entered knew what to do, had the right tools at their disposal, but had cut corners “just this one time,” because they were in a hurry and only had a simple task to complete. That’s all it takes to bring evil into the halls of your organization, and it’s why your secure process must be followed every time, with no exceptions.

Keeping your laptops and their contents safe isn’t difficult with technology’s help, but it does require consistent application of the right tools. Teach your users well, and you raise the odds that you won’t be on the evening news for your massive data breach.