IoT Service Assurance Must Be Built into the Network

Everyone’s excited about the Internet of Things (IoT) and it undoubtedly creates great opportunities for consumers and many different types of organisations but the IoT has to be considered from two perspectives – the IoT provider and the IoT user.


When it comes to IoT users I have heard the term the Internet of Me used to describe the coming of the IoT age. In this future we are dealing with an internet connected world of devices that share everything from the critical to the banal. In the category of useful we will have the ability for rooms to be tailored to our personal preferences including lighting,temperature, music, art, TV and window shades. With a wave of a hand people will have control of their environment up until the time they do not and that leads us to the provider perspective.

The providers of IoT solutions are very much focused on their own network of devices. They are thinking about the temperature in each room of the house, and just that house, and justthat user. They are not necessarily thinking about how this affects your personal Internet of Me and your lighting scene and they may not be thinking of what the entire network behaves like and where there may be weak links. When one link in the IoT network is broken there may be a sequential series of failures resulting in your Internet of Me being self-absorbed and unresponsive.

Vendors will need to think about the big picture and how they will fit together with other IoT networks, and what should happen if something should go wrong. Most importantly we do not want to find ourselves in a dark unlit room because our media player, thermostat and light switch were not getting along.

Lastly, we need to be careful not to demand that IoT users become programmers. IFTTT – If This Then That – is a programming model used to link together a multitude of little events. Currently it is how home automation enthusiasts link their lighting scene to their media player and their Jacuzzi heater to their physical location. It will take some time for a smart vendor to get all of these things to work the way that a butler would handle it.

There are therefore a series of challenges to consider when thinking about IoT. Aside from all of the typical everyday challenges we will have in a possibly over-automated environment, there are always ways to abuse IoT devices and networks. For example, a few months ago, Arbor Networks, the security division of NETSCOUT, received its first Denial of Service attack from a household appliance.

It seemed that an overzealous refrigerator continually hit the home server to inform it that the owner was out of milk. The repeated ping was due to an error but it happened just the same and did not cease. Imagine what would happen if every fridge, thermostat and door lock in the country were controlled to launch a scheduled DDoS attack. This would not be a good thing. IoT vendors need to think about not just their one-to-one relationship between device and server; they need to think about the entire network as well as the network of networks. To do this well they need to build service assurance into the network from day one.

One other aspect we should think about is that we are not just talking about teapots, light switches and dog doors. We are also talking about robots. In particular 4,000 pound robots that drive at 75mph. It is imperative that our automakers, our future robotic creators, incorporate robotic rules including human ethics into every vehicle they build.

It’s a tough question whether a service provider should be responsible. Where a service provider is a conduit for information I think the rules of today apply. Keep the bits moving, meet your service level agreement and continually expand the bandwidth, reliability and security of the network.

When the service provider becomes more of a direct operator of the IoT network, as in the AT&T connected car initiative, then I think there is a whole higher level of responsibility and accountability. Hacking into an auto network and allowing a criminal to control an occupied car is not something that can happen. This should be the shared responsibility of the network provider and the car manufacturer.

IoT is all about the conversation. When you are a teacher on a school recess field and you are able to listen to all of the conversations, you can quickly surmise where the trouble is going to start. NETSCOUT is that teacher, the observer. We have the ability to monitor all of the conversations, in aggregate, for the target network and a network of networks. We are able to trap the critical conversations in real-time to help communications service providers (CSPs) get in front of problems before they become problems.

In the connected world we are building and living in and depending on, it is incumbent on those who provide services to guarantee or guard those services. The stakes are getting higher in the age of ubiquitous connectivity and IoT, and only the vendors who deliver quality, safe and reliable services will be granted access to every corner of this emerging 200 billion device market.

IoT is happening now and it will be with us forever. Intel says we will have 200 billion connected devices by 2020 – who knows. What we do know is it is happening all around us. It is happening on the factory floor, in the hospital, on the sports field and in the home. There will be great and amazing uses for IoT technology and there will be billions wasted on fads and trends that will never survive. One thing we do know is that vendors will drive for automation and connectivity wherever they think it will move the market. There is no predicting what the IoT killer app will be, we just know it will happen and whenitdoes, expect the amount of data we are moving throughthe network today to be mere child’s play.