The Internet of Things (IoT)
12 February 2016

The Internet of Things (IoT)

You may have heard a new buzzword recently. IoT, or Internet of Things, but what exactly is IoT and why are some companies getting very excited about it?

IoT describes the idea that the internet is becoming much more than just a network of computers. We are moving into an age where a far wider range of devices (or things) are connected to the internet. Buildings, cars, wearable technology, sound systems, kitchen appliances, central heating systems, home lighting systems, garage doors. We are getting to the stage where if something contains any electronics, someone somewhere will be trying to connect it to the internet.

There are obvious advantages for connecting a wider range of devices to the internet. You can control your central heating from your mobile phone, so you can turn it on as you leave the office. You can check if you left the lights after you leave the house, or switch one on in the evening to make it appear that someone is home. You can ask your fridge to alert you if it has been left open, or if you need to buy more milk. The applications are endless, and in many cases almost bewildering. 

There are of course some downsides to IoT which have to be addressed. The main downside is security. If a device can be connected to the internet then it can be hacked, or infected with a virus. If your home PC gets a computer virus that can be very annoying. If your car gets a computer virus that could end up being a lot more serious! Manufacturers have been working together on making sure that the underlying technology used to connect all these devices is as secure as it can be, but it's important to always be aware of the risks.

Another aspect of IoT is just how all these devices communicate with each other given the huge number of devices that could eventually be connect to the internet. In 2003 it was estimated there were approximately 500 million devices connected to the internet. By 2015 that number has increased to approximately 25 billion, and by 2020 it is expected to reach 50 billion of which more than 50% will be IoT devices rather than traditional computing devices (e.g. desktops/tablets/phones etc). 

There are many technical challenges in simply being able to provide unique addresses for all these devices (which is something IPv6 is intended to address), and how to orchestrate the messaging between so many devices. This is where another recent and growing trend comes in. Cloud computing. Dealing with the scale, and variation in demand, required to orchestrate so many devices would be prohibitively expensive using a traditional server architecture. But Cloud based computing is designed for scale, and designed to scale up and down as an application needs. It's the perfect platform on which to build IoT applications and services.

As more and more devices become internet connected it will open up new opportunities, not just for the major IT players but for smaller companies too. We are at the dawn of new age in what is possible using the internet, and how we think of the internet itself. Over the next 10 years it will become part of the background fabric of many of the activities which we currently don't associate with being "online" at all.


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