The constant increase in the amount of digital data surrounding us is no surprise to anyone. Every one of us produces new data during the course of a single day, and not just from a professional perspective – one need only think of the amount of information we share on social networks, or of the instant messaging apps on our smartphones. But what if objects were capable of communicating with each other, just like people? What if this flow of data, transmitted through the Internet, allowed objects to exchange information? Let’s examine what the future has in store for us!
Introducing the Internet of Things (IoT)
The term Internet of Things may have sprung to fame only recently, but its origin dates back several years. Apparently, it was first used in 1999 at a research facility located at the famous American university MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But what exactly is the Internet of Things? Conceptually, the IoT is simple: it describes a reality where things are capable of exchanging information. To fully understand the IoT’s potential, imagine that a growing quantity of objects- not PCs, smartphones and tablets, but common everyday objects – become capable of communicating with one another, exchanging data collected from sensors, accelerometers and GPS systems to provide us with services and information based on these readings.
This type of communication among objects is generally referred to by the acronym M2M, representing the Machine to Machine communication that allows wireless and wired devices to converse.
But what are the possible applications for the Internet of Things?
Picture the IoT’s uses in the motor industry. Road signs could forward information to approaching cars regarding speed limits, or the presence of a stop or give way sign. Cars would then be able to adjust their speed according to the information received. A parking lot could update drivers about the precise number and location of available spaces, rather than simply indicating the presence of free spaces at the entrance.
Another example might be the healthcare sector: what would you say if your medication packaging reminded you to take that pill you were forgetting?
The IoT would also have a wide range of applications in home automation. A smart washing machine could select the washing programme based on the information received from the clothes themselves, and your fridge could notify you of the expiry date of a food item. Those of us without a green thumb will be pleased to know that, thanks to the IoT, the pot will inform the watering can directly when the plants are in need of water.
Chronic late risers would make good use of an alarm clock capable of adjusting the wake-up time based on traffic congestion on their route to work.
Gartner estimates that the average home will have over 500 objects connected by 2022!
The IoT’s applications will cover safety, healthcare, entertainment and every other aspect of our lives. Actually, we don’t even have to wait for it: the Internet of Things is already a reality, at least in its early stages. Take Wearables Technologies, for instance. The IDC research company estimates that by 2018, there will be over 112 million wearable items on the market.
There is already talk of Smart Cities, and in this particular field Cisco has established a collaboration with a number of cities on projects and platforms involving the IoT.
According to Gartner, the number of connections between objects today is already greater than that of traditional Internet connections. The research company estimates 25 billion objects will be constantly connected to the Internet by 2020, while other estimates suggest the 100 billion mark will be reached, as advocated in February at the Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona by Hans Vestberg, CEO of Ericsson.
IoT as a driver for Storage of Everything
Data generated by objects will have to be transmitted through wireless technologies, and the objects themselves will need to be clearly identifiable. RFID technology (Radio Frequency Identification) and NFC chips (Near Field Communication) already enable objects to have a unique ID and transmit certain kinds of information. In the same way, objects will need a unique IP address identifying them on the Internet. Therefore, the IoT will be fully achieved only upon transition from Internet Protocol v4 to Internet Protocol v6, as the standard IPv4 is inadequate to provide a sufficient number of IP addresses for the billions of objects requiring them.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addressing, providing approximately 232 addresses while IPv6 uses 128 bit addressing and can support a stunning total of 2128 addresses. In figures, this means IPv6 surpasses IPv4’s limit of 4.3 billion addresses by supporting approximately 340 trillion trillion trillion.
All data transmitted over the Internet can be collected in a central database and then monitored, analysed, processed. The Internet of Things will be the driver of a new era of digital storage, given the name Storage of Everything (SoE).
The collection, transmission and processing in real time of this enormous amount of data – the majority of which is unstructured since it is acquired from sensors, GPS and other detection systems – bring us back to the topic of Big Data and storage solutions able to support it. The applications of IoT and SoE must be capable not only of monitoring the state of devices, but of collecting the findings of thousands and thousands of objects connected in real time.
Many of the leading brands of data storage products have already made a move in this direction, designing systems that allow their clients to efficiently manage the Internet of Things and the Storage of Everything. Among these, mention must be made of IBM’s cloud solution, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, Dell’s Lab where customers can test IoT solutions and HP’s unveiling of the “HP Internet of Things Platform”.
We have before us enormous potential to be explored, provided by the IoT’s revolutionary promise. All around us will be billions of smart objects capable of communicating by exchanging data over the Internet, and soon our cities will be smart too. The IoT will require the use of a huge number of new IP addresses only attainable with the transition to standard IPv6, and will be a driver for new solutions of real-time digital storage and data analysis.
Cloud platforms seem to be the most suited to supporting the Internet of Things and the Storage of Everything, and many companies have already started the race to offer their customers scalable, efficient and reliable systems for the management of the big data generated by IoT.
There are 5 years left to 2020 and the potential 100 billion objects connected to the Internet, but those of us too impatient to wait can already take our first step toward the Internet of Things by putting on a wearable device.