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AI World Conference & Expo · Boston, MA · December 11-13, 2017

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – WAN speak.

It’s my belief that we will look back at 2017 as a tipping point for the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT has certainly been something that most business and IT leaders talk about, but to date, deployments have been limited to key verticals that have been connecting things for years, although we called it machine-to-machine (M2M) before it became cool to say IoT.

I’ve long felt that one could tell when a technology tipping point is happening when it no longer seems like a big deal. Remember the early days of virtualization?  IT leaders had to explain why it was better to run workloads on VMs and had to prove it wouldn’t impair application performance. Today, no one thinks about these issues anymore because it’s now the norm. In the consumer world, people use to “ooh” and “ahh” when they saw an iPhone.  Now, no one bats an eye, as they are pervasive.

IoT Is Becoming Part of Life

What I’ve noticed with IoT recently is that companies that have initiatives underway often never use the term. For example, I recently toured the Bell Centre in Montreal, home of the NHL’s Canadiens, and the stadium has literally connected everything including metal detectors, digital signs, point-of-sale systems and almost anything else you can think of. The reason? Connectivity improves the fan experience. For example, connected metal detectors let the operation teams reboot and tune them centrally instead of having to delay thousands of fans while technicians are sent to address the issue at that location. When I interviewed the IT director at the rink, he never once uttered the words IoT. He just connected things because it was the right thing to do to ensure a great fan experience.

The rise of IoT also means that businesses need to rethink their WAN strategies. I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking “huh?” as the linkage between WAN architecture and IoT may not immediately seem obvious.

What’s the Link Between IoT and the WAN?

The first and most obvious tie-in is that IoT endpoints are often in remote locations where it would be cost-prohibitive to deploy any combination of an onsite network engineer resource, let alone a Cisco router, MPLS circuits, and a traditional backup link. An SD-WAN is designed to run over any type of network connectivity, including broadband, cellular, or even IoT-specific networks, such as Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) circuits. With an SD-WAN, devices, or even a single endpoint can be connected and then network services can be applied at a central regional hub (more on this in a future post). In addition, an SD-WAN makes it easy to build resiliency into the network without breaking the bank.

Another issue is that IoT deployments are typically three tier (devices/sensors, gateways, cloud) in nature, meaning all these components must be continuously connected for the IoT service to function properly. Other than cost, the biggest issue with legacy WANs is complexity.  However, if you think WANs are complicated today all I can do is quote Bachman Turner Overdrive – “B-b-b-baby, you ain’t seen n-n-nothin’ yet”.  All these new connections are going to drive complexity through the roof, to the point where businesses will find IoT simply can’t be accomplished with a legacy WAN architecture.

SD-WAN Helps Enable IoT Security

Lastly, when it comes to IoT, the elephant in the room is security, and here is where traditional WANs and IoT mix about as well as oil and water. There have been highly publicized breaches that have occurred because an IoT endpoint was compromised and created backdoor access to sensitive customer data, including credit card information.

Current WAN architectures have no way of easily creating secure zones where IoT endpoints can be isolated from other company endpoints. One of the low-hanging use cases of an SD-WAN is to use it to extend microsegmentation to the WAN, enabling organizations to create overlay networks that can be as coarse or fine-grained as required. For example, a hospital may want to create discrete segments for X-ray, MRI equipment, cardiac, and patient records, where a factory may be satisfied with all IoT endpoints being placed in the same zone. An SD-WAN can easily accommodate a broad range of use cases.

The IoT era is here and I strongly encourage business and IT leaders to consider how the business will evolve once everything is connected. However, before going down that path, take a step back and deploy an SD-WAN to simplify your WAN architecture, so your IoT initiatives can scale quickly and securely and in line with changing business requirements.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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