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We’re Only At the Tip of the IoT Iceberg- It’s Time We Readied Ourselves For the Avalanche


Attributed to Sumir Bhatia, President, Asia Pacific, Data Center Group, Lenovo

We often hear about the Internet of Things (IoT) in the form of connected devices – the ‘smart’ gadgets that are slowly making their way into our homes, from the humble coffee machine, to our TVs, lights, fridges, cars and more. Asking virtual assistants to check on the weather is almost second nature, and do we even remember watches that don’t count steps?

However, as much as we’re coming to enjoy these new conveniences, it’s widely acknowledged that the true value of IoT lies not in just making our personal lives easier. Combined with the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advances in connectivity, Smart IoT has enormous potential to drive business change that we’ve come to dub this era the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Sumir Bhatia, President, Asia Pacific, Data Center Group, Lenovo

Indeed, according to the experts at this year’s IoT World conference, we’re now entering the early mass adoption stage of IoT as businesses increasingly explore how the technology can help support their aspirations for the future.

However, the reality is that we’re only at the tip of the IoT iceberg – and as more of our physical environment becomes digitised, the centre of gravity for data will indefinitely shift. We’ve already seen a large migration of computing power and storage move from physical servers to the cloud. And now, in a landscape filled with billions of devices collecting and processing data in real time, we’re on the move again, only this time towards the Edge.

The Edge is the collection of compute, storage and network resources that sit between a device and the data centre or cloud. It’s where the ‘local’ work happens, like a half-way house for data where information is sorted and actions immediately relayed back to the device before it journeys on to its permanent home. According to Gartner, only 10 percent of global enterprise-generated data is currently created and processed outside a traditional centralised data centre or cloud. By 2022, this will be a staggering 75 percent.

To understand why this is important, let’s look at some of the challenges that the cloud currently faces.

Cloud – the problem child?

It’s easy to forget that data doesn’t travel instantaneously. It takes time to send data to the cloud, process it and send it back to derive actionable insights. And while that time may appear to be almost negligible, consider for example, a driverless car that needs to stop the instant it identifies a pedestrian crossing the road. It can’t afford even a moment’s delay – including the few seconds taken to transmit a notification to the cloud and back to the brakes. In such situations, we cannot afford any latency. Now multiply that by an entire city’s worth of autonomous vehicles, smart phones and other IoT infrastructure which would cover health, energy, security… the list goes on.

Smart Cities are no longer an abstract concept far in the future – Singapore is just a year away from its 2020 vision. As entire nations shift to smart architecture, the cloud may no longer be the best solution to help us cope with the massive amount of data, nor the time needed to process services. One solution is to shorten the distance data needs to travel, delivering a quicker response – and we can do so with edge computing, which relocates key data processing functions closer to end users.

Meanwhile, government regulations increasingly require data to be stored locally, and not in the cloud.  More countries are tightening their borders and implementing data privacy laws – such as the EU’s GDPR – restricting data flow across borders. Consequentially, edge computing will become an absolute necessity in technological progression.

That’s not to say that the cloud will become obsolete. Instead, the cloud will need to evolve from ‘core centric’ as it is today, to an ‘Edge to Core’ pathway, offering the availability and breadth of cloud services at the Edge of the network.

Giving the Edge meaning

All that said, the Edge is only part of the equation – the cogs of a clock are considerably more valuable when you add the face to tell the time. Enter AI.

Edge computing and AI exist in a symbiotic relationship. For AI to be effective, you need to feed it an enormous amount of data. That said, while IoT devices are capable of collecting large amounts of data, you need AI to make sense of it.

Eventually, once an AI system collects enough data to be trained to accurately determine what actions it should take in certain scenarios, it can act autonomously, while continuously reviewing its impact to find new efficiencies. The information goes both ways in a feedback loop that allows the device to constantly evolve.

Preparing for the Avalanche

This all sounds great – but how do we get there? How would a business go about implementing an IoT and Edge computing strategy? In a nutshell, at least right now, a lot of graft.

First, you’ll need a new kind of server – smaller, lighter and more rugged so that it can be deployed in the field where your connected devices are located. You’ll need to choose from the hundreds of IoT platforms that currently exist, and build and deploy a new infrastructure that creates a network between all of the various devices.

That takes skilled and expensive talent, so it’s best to start small. Look at how smart cities have implemented IoT to make street lighting more efficient. This generates cost savings in electricity, which in turn enables them to purchase additional equipment and scale. You don’t have to boil the ocean to start seeing the benefits of IoT. Start with just one aspect of your business or operations and see what efficiencies can be gained.

Then, it’s a waiting game. Because as the IoT industry matures and adoption becomes widespread, accessibility to the technology will improve. Remember when specialists were needed just to set up an email account? Now it takes the grand total of two minutes – and anyone can do it. IoT will be no different. In the near future, deploying and maintaining IoT infrastructures will be as easy as updating software on mobile phones – zero IT touch required.

It may sound daunting (and initially expensive), but there’s no doubt that every company in the world stands to win or lose based on their ability to collect, make sense of, and use the data they collect from the physical world. We will all have to drastically change the way IT operates and delivers value to enable intelligent transformation. Smart IoT is coming, so don’t bury your head in the sand. It doesn’t have to be perfect to begin with – the important thing is just to start somewhere.