Symphony Out of the IoT Stampede

Aug 17, 2016
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by Harish Venkitaramanan, Office of the CXO, VMware

The Internet of Things (IoT) Drives a Fascinating Pace of Business Innovation

Internet of Things IoT architecture VMware

Companies across industries are using IoT to both differentiate their products and improve operations. For example, automakers are offering customers IoT-based enhancements to product safety and customer experience. Predictive maintenance enabled by sensor based analytics ensures that issues are caught well before highway failures. Over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates allow customers to enjoy the latest features without their cars ever leaving the garage. Manufacturing companies are rushing to develop IoT-based smart factories that increase yield. Real-time failure identification allows manufacturing to discard parts quickly without expending extra resources in their completion.

It is a small wonder that companies are rapidly embarking on this path. The value to consumers is too compelling—and the benefits to the businesses are equally convincing.

The Stampede of Innovation, However, Brings a Myriad of Challenges

The push for rapid implementation heavily affects those tasked with architecting and managing IoT deployments. Here, we focus on three challenges faced by both operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) architects and administrators:

1. Architecting and implementing an IoT deployment is extremely difficult.


The broad scope and fractured nature of the value chain makes integration a complex endeavor. After a business has clarity on short- and long-term goals, the architect must find the right type of IoT sensors for complementary data points. These sensors have to relay appropriate data to a system of aggregators (i.e. controllers, gateways, etc.) that transfer information to a data center. This usually involves edge computing to filter massive data streams. Next, the architect must store and transform relevant data into a usable infrastructure. This is all just foundational. After this, the architect has to determine the right analytics engines and models to gain insights. Then, front ends need to display insights in a consumable format. Finally, the architect has to leverage insights and take manual or automated action.

The trouble is that each of these distinct portions of the value chain are enabled by a variety of fractured & specialized industry players. This perfect storm of a problem forces OT architects to rely on systems integrators (SIs) to deliver a complete implementation.

2. Operationally, managing multiple deployments is equally as challenging.

After the OT architect implements a couple of deployments, the question of scale starts sinking in for the administrator. The work is truly gargantuan. The OT administrator needs to monitor and manage hundreds of thousands of components across different types and makes of sensors, controllers and gateways—across several sites.

In the current landscape, administrators often rely on a host of tools and consoles to track and control diverse deployments. This is problematic for two reasons. First, a continuation of business operations mandates that the whole management process be performed rapidly. Secondly, these resource-intensive processes distract OT teams from tackling strategic initiatives with routine tasks.

[Related: 5 Examples of IoT in Business]

3. Provisioning IoT workloads, including at the edge, can be disruptive.

IoT use cases are fairly new, and OT architects face uncertainty regarding long-term needs.
Architects tend to implement deployments in multiple stages and provision workload capacity iteratively. The above, combined with an SI-driven implementation model, often leads to a bypass of IT departments. Instead, OT administrators use readily available clouds, which bring policy challenges, subscription costs and, most importantly, concerns of data security.

IoT necessitates disruptive edge computing infrastructures. Here, small scale server rooms process data before pushing it upstream. These servers may not adhere to IT policies and optimal practices regarding storage capacity, redundancy, etc. Furthermore, highly disparate solutions create securing data a real challenge. Often, OT teams are not equipped with tools to mitigate this challenge effectively.

While companies ideally benefit from a well thought out approach to an IoT landscape, the reality is that business needs are not so patient. After all, how do you transform the company while waiting until the OT administrator can optimally provision workloads?

[Related: New VMware Podcast with Shawn Bass: Can IoT Live Up to the Hype?]

Administrator-Centric Approaches Simplify These Challenges


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In the IT space, an administrator-centric approach enables VMware to add tangible value to complex deployments. Whether with VMware vSphere virtualization or with VMware AirWatch enterprise mobility management (EMM), VMware helps simplify IT challenges. In the IoT space, the same admin-centric approach offers sustainability and scale to businesses. Admin-centric tools can help solve the three aforementioned challenges by:

1. Simplifying the Implementation of Complex Deployments

OT architects and admins benefit from simple heterogeneous tools to manage their IOT devices. OT admins should have the capability to onboard thousands of sensors, controllers and edge systems from a central console. This includes heterogeneously deploying device drivers and setting rules for device interactions based on simple identification mechanisms. These tools also should facilitate appropriate information transfer to appropriate locations. This includes connecting telemetry data paths from sensors to gateways and upstream to appropriate databases and various analytics engines.

2. Simplifying Operational Management

OT admins benefit from tools that provide simplified visibility into where issues and failure points lie. The issue identification processes should not be cumbersome (i.e. combing through tons of views and consoles to pick out failures). Automated, rules-based notifications and action systems can instead help streamline tasks.

After identification, admins can be empowered with the ability to resolve issues easily. Often, this is a very manual process. For example, teams on a factory floor must access hard-to-reach locations and decommission a device to perform updates. Administrators should have the capability to perform remote OTA updates, such as firmware pushes, across different device types with a few simple clicks.

[Related: Wall Street Journal CIO Voices: VMware’s Bask Iyer on Connected Cars, Internet of Things and His Tesla]

3. Simplifying Workload Provisioning On-Premises, Including at the Edge

OT architects and SIs benefit from tools that enable rapid and iterative implementation of IoT workloads. Software systems should make rapid compute, storage and network provisioning straightforward on edge hardware. IoT application enablement on edge computing systems should enable application onboarding and integration with diverse IoT architectures, databases and engines, on- or off-premises. Furthermore, OT architects should have tools to secure and encrypt data paths from sensors to applications.

Here, OT Architects and SIs can benefit from a close relationship with their IT counterparts. Many of the same challenges that IoT deployments bring are mitigated by IT teams. The same tools that enable rapid and iterative workload provisioning, such as server virtualization, can be extremely helpful in IoT deployments.

VMware Addresses these Challenges Head On

AirWatch EMM deployments provide single-point management capabilities for IoT use cases. The development of Little IoT Agent (LIOTA) empowers developers with an easy software development kit (SDK) for data orchestration. This enables architects to easily communicate with a variety of components. As edge computing increases demand for on-premises servers, VMware data center products help administrators rapidly provision workloads and secure network streams.

VMware continuously explores how to enable the initiatives undertaken by IT and OT admins worldwide. Our goal remains to channel the cacophonous, IoT innovation stampede into a symphony that delivers both sustainability and scale to the business orchestra.

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Harish Venkitaramanan leads marketing and strategy initiatives in VMware’s Office of the CXO. He is also pursuing his MBA in strategy and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

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