Is your campus IT ready for 26 billion new devices?

How the 'Internet of Things' is changing network management

The explosion of wireless devices on campus—part of the growth of the so-called Internet of Things—threatens to overwhelm campus networks, Campus Technology reports.

The "Internet of Things" is a growing ecosystem of "smart" products that promise to revolutionize everything from facilities management to the electricity grid.  They include devices like security cameras, light switches, and door locks—all connected to the Internet, so users can analyze data and manage devices remotely. 

Everyone wants to use the network for everything now

A study from Gartner published last year predicts the Internet of Things will grow to 26 billion devices by 2020. This would make it far larger than the regular Internet—which is predicted to include only 7.3 billion devices at the end of the decade. Joe Skorupa, a Gartner analyst, says the massive growth in devices will create new challenges in security, data storage, and network management—among other areas.

Fabrizio Biscotti, research director at Gartner, argues part of the problem is how to process such a large volume of data. Central processing locations would not be "technically and economically feasible," he says. Instead, organizations will need "mini data centers" to sift through all the raw data, which can then be partially synthesized and sent to central locations for further analysis.

Campus network administrators already face pressure from growing demands for wireless connectivity and increasingly complex networks. "Everyone wants to use the wireless network for everything now," says Mike Russell, assistant vice chancellor for enterprise services at the Virginia Community College System. He warns that "colleges haven't had to limit the usage of certain devices, but they may have to in the future."

On top of this, keeping up with the Internet of Things will present new and different challenges, says Deke Kassabian, senior information technology director, information systems and computing for the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). He explains that "the challenges in integrating these devices have more to do with granting them… access to networks, and limiting access by others, than concerns about bandwidth."

Security could pose a major problem

Penn officials recommend hardwiring new smart devices whenever possible and published guidelines for integrating devices into the campus network.

However, security remains a major area of concern. In a study this summer, Hewlett Packard found that 80% of network-connected smart devices lacked adequate password protections—and 70% did not use encryption.

Over the long term, Kassabian argues user names and passwords are ill-suited for managing the hundreds of potential smart devices—and may transition Penn to a security certificate system in the future.

Fortunately, however, the impending deluge of smart devices may not represent a similar deluge of connected devices. Gartner notes that the rise of smart devices has more to do with the falling cost of electronics than user demand for the technology—and millions of "ghost" devices may find their connecting functions unused (Vautravers, Campus Technology, 10/23). 

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