News 2/21/17

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the ultimate blank slate; it really can be all things to all people. Depending on your outlook, its best use case could be as a way to finally connect a bunch of your old network devices to a TCP/IP stack. Or, it could be meant to serve as another perk in your kitchen — one that connects your fridge, toaster and oven to the Internet (hopefully not through a browser) — that could make it easier to keep your food fresh or ensure a better crisp on that bacon. Indeed, there may be a time when we end up wishing our home appliances couldn’t run Linux.

“The Internet of Things opens up a lot of new frontiers for IT.”

No matter which way you cut it (or fry it, or connect it), the IoT is set to be gigantic in just a few years. The market could total $1.7 trillion by 2020, according to IDC. If you were one of the 13 million souls who got their paws on a new iPhone 6s or 6s Plus over the launch weekend, consider that all the iPhones ever sold since 2007 (in any color!) could soon be only a tiny sliver of annual IoT sales.

No one’s lining up around the block for the latest and greatest stuff from the (sadly hypothetical) IoT Store, but by 2019 device shipments could be double the size of the smartphone, tablet, PC and wearable markets put together, according to a Business Insider Intelligence report from earlier this year.

IoT: More “things” and many challenges for monitoring tools to deal with

Of course, the IoT opens up a lot of new frontiers for IT. More devices, more connections, and MORE things — to state the obvious. And then there’s the issue of security, which looms over any foray into the IoT like the asteroid field from “The Empire Strikes Back” before the fleeing Millennium Falcon. Bring-your-own-device has fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how your implementation has worked out) given many shops a taste of what the IoT could bring to the table:

  • Unlicensed software, unsecured connections and malware are all ingredients for network admin heartburn, especially when you take into account the sheer size of the IoT (i.e., literally tens of billions of different devices with Internet connections).
  • IoT endpoints aren’t as easily patched and upgraded as Windows and company; the process for fixing their vulnerabilities has more in common with Scotty’s constant, painful wrangling with the warp drive in “Star Trek” than it does with going from Windows 8 to Windows 10.
  • The IoT is physical. That sounds trite, but it means that there is a ton of gear out there that is open to easy tinkering and meddling, for better or for worse. Exposed USB ports, debugging interfaces, you name it: There are lots of new attack surfaces.

So what’s the best way through the IoT woods? Free network monitoring software is a start. Now more than ever, having a consolidated view of everything that’s going on across your network — the elusive “single pane of glass,” often spoken of as if it were the actual Holy Grail — is too important to pass up. Network monitoring tools like Spiceworks Network Monitor are evolving to provide just that, whether you run Windows or Linux servers.

Monitoring is, of course. synonymous with servers and bandwidth, but it can and should expand naturally to cover a wider range of assets. Sure, you probably won’t need to be on the edge of your chair keeping tabs on the temperature of a Wi-Fi-enabled washing machine. Still, it will be key to know which devices are hogging your bandwidth, having trouble connecting, and/or causing your help desk software to fill up with a seemingly IoT-worthy number of tickets.

There is constant talk about the IoT’s problems, which is odd since so much of it hasn’t even been built yet. Hopefully, vendors will do everything they can to make IoT software and hardware as safe as possible. At the same time, it will also be up to IT to fill in the IoT’s blank slate with network monitoring best practices — one “thing” that shouldn’t be left out of this picture.

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