Thoughts: Preventing the IoT network shockwave


By Michael Segal, director of marketing at Netscout

With more and more organisations becoming reliant on the Internet of Things (IoT) to support mission critical systems, service provider networks are being configured to address the sheer number of connections generated by sensors, devices and machines.

Depending on what predictions you’ve read or discussed with colleagues, customer and partners, all research points toward an explosion in the use of IoT devices, applications and services over the next decade. This has been evidenced by IoT adoption across the energy and utilities sectors, smart building automation and the testing of driverless cars.

The wearables market is looking promising, particularly in the areas of fitness and healthcare. We are also now seeing wearables being adopted in the workplace as companies develop new training and production methods that use smart glasses and body-worn cameras.

Enterprise adoption of wearables is part of a major transformation taking place across different industrial sectors that are becoming more and more reliant on digital assets and services. From a service provider perspective, this represents huge volumes of data traffic, generated by billions of new connections, placing a new set of demands on network infrastructure that will have serious consequences for security and service delivery.

Digital transformation

IoT is playing a significant role in the digital transformation (DX) being experienced by companies and organisations globally. This has become a priority among major corporations with two thirds of CEOs of the Global 2000 enterprises stating DX is central to their corporate strategy.

The threat of being superseded by competitors that have already embraced DX strategies has become a genuine concern. Businesses that relied on physical assets have been swept aside by companies that made their fortunes by leveraging digital strategies, such as Amazon, Airbnb and Uber. These brands are more attuned to the opportunity the connected world we live in now offers.

Yet heavy industry is still largely dependent on manpower and machinery. Digitising paper processes is one thing, but industrial sectors need to utilise the latest in automation and robotics to really drive efficiencies, increase productivity and improve worker safety.

As a result, IoT has become integral to their DX strategies. The ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ (IIoT) is breathing new life into heavy industry, engineering and manufacturing. We are seeing the integration of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices and IoT, with components sharing data to function optimally. Data sharing will extend the life of machinery while enabling efficient energy usage. Greater product customisation is afforded by connecting and automating order processing with manufacturing. The impact on growth is considerable, with Accenture estimating IIoT will add $14.2 trillion to the global economy over the next decade.

Creating a digital divide

We’ve already seen the emergence of strong tech economies, driven by the rise of the internet brands that now dominate retail and entertainment sectors. They have created a digital divide between the nations that have the IT and network infrastructure to support growth and those that do not. The divide is set to become more apparent. Companies and nations that are in a position to leverage IoT and IIoT will rapidly overtake those that cannot. With so much at stake the importance of service assurance becomes abundantly clear. Disruptions in service delivery can grind a business to a halt.

To prevent this from happening and mitigate the impact of new and unknown threats, IT and engineering teams at service providers are now implementing service assurance and security techniques to support the DX strategies of this new breed of IoT-led organisation.

The impact of IoT will be felt across the entire network from the edge to the core and into the cloud, so it is imperative operators have the ability to monitor and analyse traffic across all of these locations to ensure the smooth running of the network and detect anomalies but also gather data that can be used for planning purposes.

The payload generated by IoT traffic is very different to that of regular communication services and applications, characterised by short and intense bursts of information on a huge scale. But with the right service assurance tools in place, operators will develop a better understanding of how IoT devices and connections interact with the network.

What’s more, many of these IoT connections generated by sensors, devices and machines will be supporting mission critical systems – everything from automated production lines to air conditioning and heating units – so monitoring and data analysis has to be conducted in real time. This is vital when you consider the need to identify IoT-based threats quickly in order to neutralise network incursions.

IoT devices can be just as vulnerable to a malicious attack as a smartphone or Wi-Fi router, but the network becomes more exposed to attack due to the sheer number of IoT connections. Continuous monitoring and real time analytics will allow operators to study the behaviour of malicious attacks and prevent them from spreading, causing untold damage to infrastructure.

Braced for the IoT future

Within the space of a few years, IoT and IIoT networks will become very large, complex IT infrastructures, supporting mission critical systems and billions of devices. Companies and their service providers cannot afford failures or incidents that will impact communications, processes, productivity or the security of workers. Having the right service assurance platform in place to quickly identify and trace the root cause of a performance problem will be essential to the success of IoT and IIoT.

IoT simply amplifies many of the network performance issues and security problems operators now face. By bracing themselves for the wave of IoT traffic about to engulf their networks, service providers are set to undergo their own digital transformation. Service assurance will provide operators with a holistic understanding of their network operations, ensuring business continuity and service delivery.

Netscout is a provider of real time service assurance and cyber security solutions for today’s most demanding service provider, enterprise and government networks.


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