More and more organizaitons are adopting Internet of Things solutions — and the network technology needed to make them work.
While the IoT relies on wireless network technology and there are a multittude of IoT connectivity standards, organizations sometimes need specialized equipment to make IoT deployments successful.
A New Kind of IoT Network Technology
Accompanying the arrival of IoT networking is a new technology: the IoT gateway. An IoT gateway differs from a typical, and relatively simple, IP router, in that it must route different types of traffic, aggregate data from varying communication interfaces and convert these streams to a common protocol for access across a wide area network.
“The gateway integrates technologies and protocols for networking, embedded control, enterprise-grade security and easy manageability on which application-specific software can run,” explains Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a technology research and advisory firm.
Enderle notes that IoT gateways should be complemented with compatible IoT components. “As you build out the solution, favor components that can communicate and be updated through the gateway so you can automate patching and updates,” he says. “While the gateway has a wide range of things it can control, the list of things it can update is far shorter and, if you choose it as your core technology, that will dictate what other solutions you buy to tie into it.”
Gateway adopters also face the choice of using proprietary or open-source software. In June 2016, VMware released Liota (“Little IoT Agent”) to the developer community. The vendor-neutral Liota framework aims to facilitate the development of applications that securely orchestrate gateway communication between IoT devices and cloud applications that analyze the input data stream and control remote devices.
Boosting Network Capacity
Facing the prospect of steadily rising traffic levels generated by IoT, bring-your-own-device programs and other devices, many organizations are upgrading their network infrastructures to maintain current performance levels and to prepare for future network demands. “I’ve never seen a network that starts off with a given capacity or throughput that didn’t get pushed to do more,” says David Sumi, senior vice president of marketing and product management for wireless network solutions provider Proxim Wireless.
A logical first step to launching an infrastructure upgrade is to update an enterprise’s network policy. This document should detail the organization’s operational needs and security requirements, along with the management of BYOD, IoT and other devices, which create unique security concerns. “When you have a guy out in the field, and he’s updating a sensor on every water pump in a large, multi-acre field, he’s adding a device to the network,” Sumi says. “There has to be a way to make sure that the device belongs on the network.”
Numerous factors influence the propagation of wireless network signals, and adding an IoT network further complicates the situation. Before an organization invests time and capital in building or upgrading a wireless network, it should commission a site survey. “A wireless survey is equally important for IT and IoT devices,” says Michael Tennefoss, vice president of strategic partnerships for Aruba Networks. “For example, IoT devices may operate at lower power and from battery, so you need to plan for more restricted radio frequency transmission distances.”
Establishing a system for managing user access that meets operational and security requirements is also important. “We generally suggest that anyone who wants to use a new device on an organization’s network get approval from IT,” Mathias says. “In other words, someone shouldn’t be able to just walk in and hook up any device they want.”
Ongoing testing and monitoring is important for ensuring the performance and security of IoT networks. Small configuration changes may have significant downstream security effects and expose an organization to a wide range of security risks. “Performance, capacity and vulnerability testing should occur on an on-going basis,” Tennefoss says. “The first two elements can be addressed, in part, by adding synthetic transaction monitoring to the system so that it’s constantly self-testing readiness for traffic. Vulnerability testing should ideally be done whenever a system change is made that could expose new IoT attack surfaces.”
The final step, Enderle says, is to operate secure IoT gateways. “As long as [attackers] can’t connect to a network directly, your worry about a security breach is mostly tied to the device itself,” he notes. “Without a secure gateway, if a device is compromised, so may your entire network.”
To learn more about how CDW’s solutions and services can improve your networking to support the IoT, visit CDW.com/networking.