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With each passing day IoT becomes more of a reality than ever before. We all know the statistics behind IoT and the predicted further explosion of the number of devices to almost 25 billion by 2020 according to Gartner.

All these devices, their inter-connectedness, the intelligent insights and decisions that we believe they will be able to provide – all of these things require one very basic component that is often overlooked – the network that holds all of them together. Organizations looking to deploy Internet of Things solutions need to use IoT gateways and they need to make sure their networks have enough capacity and security to handle a wave of new devices.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what IoT is, and you’re trying to figure out in terms of the basic requirements, what you can do ahead of time to make sure your company is able to execute its IoT strategy. Or maybe you are that one of those rare people who sees the big picture and you know how important the support of a network is for IoT to be really efficient in an organization, either way, you’re at the right place – read on.

The challenge that IoT presents is amplified when it comes to the network that supports it. Imagine a country where you have people from a million different nationalities, speaking a million different languages, some of them don’t say much, others speak a lot and may not have anything of value to say. Can you imagine the chaos? An IoT gateway really makes all the difference.

What is an IoT gateway?

An IoT gateway is a translator, an integrator, someone who brings all these different people together so that they serve their end purpose of bringing value. An IoT gateway connects sensors, machines, tablets and all these other devices, allowing them to communicate seamlessly with each other and with the cloud. You could also think of it like a layer between the devices and sensors and the cloud.

iota_gateway_model_figaSource: TechTarget

A gateway has always performed these functions i.e. protocol translation and device management, but when it comes to IoT, we are talking of a whole different ball game, simply because of complexity of the kind of devices, the amount of information that’s being relayed and the fact that these gateways have to be “intelligent”. They have to be able to process and make sense of all that data.

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What should you look for in an IoT gateway?

An IoT gateway is the foundation and the strong backbone that is required for a good IoT system. When the IoT gateway comes crashing down, the entire system comes crashing down too. Basic requirements for an IoT gateway for enterprises include capacity, bandwidth, security, seamless information flow, storage and analysis of data and device management among other things.

When it comes to data, as the size of the data that is relayed is larger than enterprises have ever encountered before, the way an IoT gateway manages data has to be optimized even as the number of devices and the information flow will continue to grow.

One useful rule of thumb is to say that the larger the data that is collected, the better it is to analyze the data closer to the devices that collect the data. This is an excellent way to save bandwidth, and move computing closer to the devices collecting data. Imagine a few thousand sensors in Starbucks coffee machines all over the world designed to reduce downtimes in coffee machines so you can enjoy a steaming cup of coffee whenever you want. It would make more sense to simply transmit problems that require immediate attention to the cloud rather than relay thousands of signals about how the system is having a minor glitch. This saves a lot of time and network bandwidth by allowing companies to focus on the core problem areas.

At a time when everything that is connected to the web is susceptible to an attack, from ransom ware to DOS or Denial of Service attacks that can bring entire networks down in seconds, the emphasis on security cannot be stressed upon enough. For example, in the healthcare industry, having the security of a device implanted in a person, say a defibrillator, if compromised is too serious an attack to even imagine. In a more recent hack, there was a vast internet outage that was caused by a botnet attack of more than 100,000 internet-connected devices. The attack essentially tapped into devices that used their default passwords and used these as botnet slaves which brought the internet down for a huge chunk of the population. The statement released by the company said

“Not only has it highlighted vulnerabilities in the security of ‘Internet of Things’ (IOT) devices that need to be addressed, but it has also sparked further dialogue in the Internet infrastructure community about the future of the Internet,” Hilton said.

The number of different types of devices only complicates the issue of security. In another study that was conducted by applications security firm Veracode here, showed that most available gateways today are highly susceptible to attacks. This Citrix article suggests that one way to mitigate such a risk is to encrypt it in such a way that only the IoT device and the cloud can read the message while the gateway only acts as an illiterate messenger.

Finally, it is very important to bring the IT guys to the table early in discussions.

Often decisions are made without the IT department in the early stages, and it is much more expensive to fix a problem after a company encounters it. The better strategy is to plan ahead and mitigate these problems before they actually occur and a very important step in that direction is to involve IT early in the cycle. Have your IT department test the volume of data your network is currently able to handle and whether it can handle what the future will bring. This kind of information is useful in deciding what you need to do to be future proof.

Dell has an IoT gateway client called Eigen which uses IoT to help manufacturers optimize their production operations by using intelligent industrial vision systems. Eigens infrared sensors help detect problems in manufacturing and assembly operations. These are then transmitted to the Dell IoT gateway which applies some basic rules on the data it collects to determine what the problem means. The gateway can even suggest that the factory should be shut down depending on the scale of the problem that is transmitted by these sensors. Here is a system that depends on the gateways ability to intelligently understand information collected from the sensors on the shop floor, manage the several devices and sensors that are deployed and requires high bandwidth and capacity for optimal operation.

For your company to be truly ready for IoT, make sure your network is ready first. Cricket Liu summarizes it perfectly talking about how Network automation will become crucial in the near future.

“It’s encouraging that the majority of IT professionals recognize the demands the Internet of Things will make on their networks,” said Cricket Liu, chief infrastructure officer at Infoblox. “Network administrators have struggled in recent years to stay on top of the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend, and the IoT will create an increase in end points that is an order of magnitude greater. At the same time, many networks teams will have to respond to the IoT without significant increases in budgets or head count. Network automation will become crucial as IT departments confront this massive growth in network complexity.”

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