Cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) are two of the biggest technology stories of recent years. Open any IT or business-focused publication and you’ll likely find a story (or ten) referencing one or the other. But how do they fit together?
Understanding the differences
First, a quick primer on the two terms.
Cloud computing essentially refers to the delivery of computing resources over the internet. From applications to data centres, cloud services can cover almost any aspect of enterprise (or consumer) IT, and enable the organisation (or consumer) in question to access those services on a per-use basis, rather than paying upfront for the volume of service they think they will need.
There are, broadly speaking, three models of cloud computing that tend to be deployed by organisations. A private cloud is accessed only by the organisation in question (though it may be built and managed in-house, or outsourced to a third party). A public cloud shares its resources with other organisations, and uses a public or semi-public network like the internet to transfer applications and data from the cloud to the organisation. Hybrid clouds use a mixture of on premise private cloud and off premise public cloud components, according to which applications need more security, more scalability and so on.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to vast – and growing – networks of previously disparate devices which are now imbued with internet connectivity, from consumer devices like fridges and watches, through to specialist devices deployed as part of enterprise infrastructures, like components within manufacturing equipment, or sensors placed throughout utility grids. The devices within an IoT ecosystem typically capture data and transfer it back to a centralised analytics engine; they may also receive and execute instructions back from that same analytics engine.
Scale and complexity
The crucial factor to understand about the IoT in relation to cloud computing is that it places unprecedented pressure on organisations in terms of computing power. For a start, the IoT is proactively designed to help organisations capture data that previously went untapped -possibly from thousands of different sources – so the processing burden in terms of analysing, transmitting and storing that data is clearly enormous.
But the challenges don’t end there. Every IoT device is essentially a new endpoint within the enterprise network; that is, another potential point of entry for cybercriminals, and another device that needs protecting with a full arsenal of cybersecurity tools and processes. And, just like traditional computers, tablets and smartphones, every one of those devices needs to be identified and verified as it joins the network, and comprehensively deleted if it leaves the network – significant IT management tasks.
In short, then, organisations deploying IoT technology need to think very carefully about how to they are going to access a massive portion of computing power – power that will probably need to flex rapidly as new IoT devices are added to the network, or the IoT infrastructure experiences periods of peak demand.
Joining the dots
Now it’s simply a case of connecting the dots. If cloud computing is all about enabling organisations to consume computing resource as it is needed, without a hefty upfront hardware investment, or a process bottleneck when there is a sudden demand for more power, it is easy to see why the cloud is not just helpful for enterprise IoT deployments – it is crucial. Cloud computing is the engine for smoothly scalable IoT infrastructures; it is the powerhouse behind effective analysis and application of the data collected by the IoT. This might just be the most important new symbiotic relationship in enterprise IT.