The statistics predicting what the Internet of Things (IoT) will look like and when it will take shape vary widely. Whether you believe there will be 25 billion or 50 billion Internet-enabled devices by 2050, there will certainly be far more devices than there are today. Forrester has predicted 82% of companies will be using Internet of Things (IoT) applications by 2017. But unless CIOs pay close attention to the economics of the datacentre, they will struggle to be successful. The sheer volume of data we expect to manage across these IoT infrastructures could paralyse companies and their investments in technology.
The Value of Information is Relative
ABI Research has calculated that there will be 16 Zettabytes of data by 2020. Consider this next to another industry estimate that there will be 44 Zettabytes by 2020. While others have said that humanity only produced 2.7 Zettabytes up to 2013. Bottom line: the exponential growth in data is huge.
The natural first instinct for any datacentre manager or CIO is to consider where he or she will put that data. Depending on the industry sector there are regulatory and legal requirements, which mean companies will have to be able to collect, process and analyse runaway amounts of data. By 2019 another estimate suggests that means processing 2 Zettabytes a month!
One way to react is to simply buy more hardware. From a database perspective the traditional approach would be to create more clusters in order to manage such huge stores of data. However, a critical element of IoT is that it’s based on low-cost technology, and although the individual pieces of data have a value, there is a limit to that value. For example, you do not need to be told every hour by your talking fridge that you need more milk or be informed by your smart heating system what the temperature is at home. While IoT will lead to smart devices everywhere, its value is relative to the actionable insight it offers.
A key element of the cost benefit equation that needs more consideration is the impact of investment requirements at the backend of an IoT data infrastructure. As the IoT is creating a world of smart devices distributed across networks CIOs have to make a decision about whether the collection, storage and analytics happens locally near the device or is driven to a centralised management system. There could be some logic to keeping the intelligence locally, depending on the application, because it could speed up the process of providing actionable insight. The company could use low-cost, commoditised devices to collect information but it will still become prohibitively expensive if the company has to buy vast numbers of costly database licenses to ensure the system performs efficiently – never mind the cost of integrating data from such a distributed architecture.
As a result, the Internet of Things represents a great opportunity for open source software thanks to the cost effectiveness of open source versus traditional database solutions. Today, open source-based databases have the functionality, scalability and reliability to cope with the explosion in data that comes with the IoT while transforming the economics of the datacentre. A point which Gartner’s recent Open Source Database Management report endorsed when it said: “Open source RDBMSs have matured and today can be considered by information leaders, DBAs and application development management as a standard infrastructure choice for a large majority of new enterprise applications.”
The Cost of Integrating Structured and Unstructured
There are other key considerations when calculating the economic impact of the IoT on the datacentre. The world of IoT will be made up of a wide variety of data, structured and unstructured. Already, the need for working with unstructured data has given rise to NoSQL-only niche solutions. The deployment of these types of databases, spurred on by the rise of Internet-based applications and their popularity with developers, is proliferating because they offer the affordability of open source. Yet, their use is leading to operational and integration headaches as data silos spring up all around the IT infrastructure due to limitations in these NoSQL-only solutions. In some cases, such as where ACID properties are required and robust DBA tools are available, it may be more efficient to use a relational database with NoSQL capabilities built in and get the best of both worlds rather than create yet another data silo. In other cases, such has for very high velocity data streams, keeping the data in these newer data stores and integrating them may be optimal.
A key priority for every CIO is integrating information as economically as possible so organizations can create a complete picture of its business and its customers. The Postgres community has been at the forefront of addressing this challenge with the creation of Foreign Data Wrappers (FDWs), which can integrate data from disparate sources, likes MongoDB, Hadoop and MySQL. FDWs link external data stores to Postgres databases so users access and manipulate data from foreign sources as if it were part of the native Postgres tables. Such simple, inexpensive solutions for connecting new data streams emerging along with the Internet of Everything will be critical to unlocking value from data.
The Internet of Things promises a great transformation in the ability of enterprises to holistically understand their business and customer environment in real time and deliver superior customer engagement. It is critical, though, that CIOs understand the economic impact on their datacentre investments. The IoT creates a number of new challenges, which can be addressed using the right technology strategy.