IT professionals in many industries are bracing for explosive growth from the Internet of Things (IoT). Six years ago, the number of people on the earth exceeded the number of devices connected to the Internet. That is no longer the case. And less than six years from now, experts predict, the Internet of Things will comprise 30 to 50 billion devices.
This explosion heralds a dramatic transformation for business. Everyday products such as thermostats, automobile tires, air conditioners, pacemakers, store displays, and vending machines will be intelligent devices that communicate with other devices to adjust energy consumption, replenish store inventories, revise manufacturing orders, alert physicians, and adjust insurance bills. This Industrial Internet is strategic to a growing class of enterprises because it will empower executives to collect more precise data from more sources to make better decisions faster.
The sensors that collect this data are typically embedded into the object. Although many of these things always have collected data, they are now connected to the Internet and transmit data directly to other machines that have the ability to take action without human intervention.
Access to this new treasure trove of data will provide businesses with insight to make more informed decisions, but Gartner predicts the IoT will significantly strain the data center.
IT professionals will face big challenges in provisioning, capacity planning, storage, and security. In particular, the IoT will make the Information Security manager’s job a lot tougher, with more access points, more data, and new workflows to secure. These challenges are the topic of much discussion, and rightly so. But the elephant in the room that has been mostly ignored is how to keep everything up and running.
Within the next few years, IoT will become part of the overall IT infrastructure that enables an organization to deliver a service. As a result, IoT will impact the dynamic, complex IT infrastructures that keep businesses operating.
IT Systems Already Under Strain
Right now, even without IoT, many IT Operations departments are stressed. They are responsible for ensuring 24/7 availability of an increasingly dynamic, virtualized infrastructure that changes by the minute. They also must respond to agile development practices that call for rapid application rollouts, including the “continuous delivery” model of DevOps.
What’s more, most IT Operations teams depend on outdated systems to keep the lights on. These legacy systems, known as Manager of Managers (MoMs), use technology that was invented more than 20 years ago, when networks and servers were physical (not virtual) and things didn’t change very often.
In the mid-1990s, during the “golden age” of first-generation MoMs, it was possible to diagram the dependencies of routers, switches, servers, databases, and applications and capture this information in a Configuration Management Database (CMDB). By using CMDB data, IT operations could write rules and filters for MoMs to automate the process of pinpointing the root cause of any outages that might occur. Filtering is important because, in large IT environments, interconnected devices and systems are capable of emitting millions of events and alerts each day. And that’s without IoT!
Today, IT infrastructure is no longer static. It is constantly changing due to the complex combination of software-defined networks and other virtualized technologies. Storage and compute is provisioned continually in the cloud, making it impossible to keep a CMDB up to date. In short, many of the filters and rules that helped work just fine 20 years ago have been rendered obsolete.
As a result, IT Operations have reverted back to using specialized managers for different “silos” of technology – one for the network, another for Windows servers, another for databases, another for VMware, etc. But this siloed approach is neither scalable nor efficient. According to a recent Gartner report, the fragmentation within infrastructure and operations is caused by several factors, including a legacy model that requires several specialists working on segments of a project.
If legacy Manager of Managers and processes already feel the strain, what will happen when IoT arrives?
Outline a Service Assurance Strategy for IoT
Business leaders and IT managers should begin to create a plan for keeping the lights on by investigating the next generation of Manager of Managers technology. These new systems should not assume static infrastructures or start with rules or filters. Instead, they should leverage adaptive machine learning to map the behavior of continually changing infrastructures and incorporate sophisticated mathematics that scale to handle high volumes of machine-generated data. Next-generation systems built to withstand the IoT data onslaught should include the following:
- The ability to process hundreds of millions of alert and event messages per day in near real time
- Sophisticated clustering algorithms that can determine which events indicate trouble and which do not
- Natural language processing for exposing contextual relationships of events by examining the content of messages as well as the algorithms that detect relationships in the timestamps of the messages
- The ability to group the patterns that indicate potential problems or outages in the infrastructure – problems that normally would not be noticed until business services were disrupted (such as a website crashing or an application becoming unavailable)
- Social collaboration tools that break down silos between IT and development experts to work proactively to fix problems and keep systems up and running
The next-generation Manager of Managers must be well suited for the diverse nature and assimilation of subsystems that collectively monitor IoT elements for continuous availability.
Here’s a glimpse of how this is beginning to play out.
RetailNext is transforming its business through the IoT and big data analytics in the retail vertical. The company provides retailers and manufacturers with real-time data on product consumption and shopping patterns to identify opportunities for growth. Its vision is to deliver to its customers – brick-and-mortar storefronts – the same level of sophisticated analytics now generated by the online shopping experience.
To do this, RetailNext tracks billions of shoppers by collecting data from more than 100,000 in-store sensors in 40 countries. That’s a lot of data, and a lot of subsystems to monitor.
“Our customers want to reap the benefit of IoT without owning the technology,” said Harry Manly, Head of Customer Support at RetailNext. “We bear that responsibility for them, and we do everything it takes to proactively make sure all systems are up and running.”
RetailNext is deploying a next-generation Manager of Managers across its global operations centers to process event and alert data from appliances, clouds, in-store sensors, and servers.
Prior to employing a MoMs solution, the IT operations group at RetailNext relied on multiple management consoles and manual processes. But the company is growing rapidly and needed a scalable, efficient way to operate.
“It doesn’t make business sense for us to double the size of our support team every time we double the number of stores we support,” Manley said. “I can save a lot of money by getting rid of the manual aspects. We were using many screens and many eyes to keep things running and we wanted to reduce the noise and the fingers, and assure service availability in real time.”
In the future, the capabilities of next-generation Manager of Managers may expand to solve the knotty issues of IoT security, provisioning, and capacity planning. Right now, the MoMs focus is on service assurance – spotting service availability problems as they unfold and assembling the right teams of experts to prevent system glitches from spinning out of control.
Rob Markovich is currently Chief Marketing Officer at Moogsoft. Rob’s 25-year career is all about building successful IT service assurance businesses. Prior to Moogsoft, he was SVP of Sales and Marketing at VSS Monitoring and later Danaher after its acquisition. Rob was also a co-founder of Visual Networks, which grew $0-100M in five years and had a successful IPO. He was CEO of Agito Networks (now Shoretel) and Network Chemistry (now Aruba), and also served in senior executive positions at Empirix and iBahn. Rob holds a BSEE degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
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