By the end of 2016, Gartner estimates there will be 6.4 billion devices connected to the Internet.
The overwhelming number will be consumer innovations—smartphones in particular. But a growing number will be “cross-industry” devices including light bulbs, HVAC machines and building management systems, and “vertical-specific” devices such as healthcare machines, location sensors and industrial appliances.
Come 2020, there will be more than 7 billion of these “things” connected to the Internet, or roughly one for every person on earth. Within a few years, there will be four-to-five industrial things connected to the Internet for every person.
The growing adoption of these devices is expected to provide MSPs, VARs and cloud service providers with billions of dollars worth of sales and service opportunities over the next decade.
“There will be opportunities to sell and install these devices, manage and monitor them, and then provide insights as to what the data they collect means,” says Carolyn April, senior director of industry research and analysis at CompTIA, the industry’s largest trade association. “In the near-term, the middle ground—managing and monitoring these devices—could provide the channel with its biggest opportunity.”
Many experts including April say leading Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) vendors are likely to become go-to providers of these IoT-focused solutions. But they point out that the IoT will present new challenges to RMM vendors and MSPs alike that must be overcome in key areas such as privacy, security and regulation.
Here’s a summary of what MSPs face in each of these areas:
Privacy: Ever read the iTunes store’s user terms and conditions agreement? It’s now one-third the length of several famous works of literature including Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” It’s long, in other words.
But at least it provides clear guidelines as to how accounts and devices associated to it should be managed. But what about the 5.5 millions “things” that are being connected to the Internet every day? Many will never present a user or remote manager a list of terms and conditions. The bus system that offers route information to anyone that texts a mobile number to it? What privacy considerations does it abide by? A consumer’s personal device? The private or public organization that provides the data? Or the carrier that connects the two together?
The RMM and MSP community will soon find itself burdened with an entire new set of questions. And ones that seemed settled a few years ago when smart devices such as phones and tablets were first added to the Internet will need to be revisited.
Is privacy a device-centric, app-centric or data-centric dilemma? Or a combination of all three? In the IoT world where traffic sensors, personal devices, municipal apparatuses and more are contributing to the information grid, these answers aren’t so clear.
The uncertainty will put pressure on RMM providers to develop comprehensive solutions that take into account privacy considerations that were unimaginable just a few years ago. And not just in one geography, but multiple. In the cloud era, service providers store and protect data in many locations around the world. Different locales operate under different privacy considerations.
Bottom line: monitoring and managing IoT devices will present partners and RMM developers with new opportunities. But the challenges will be as varied as they are difficult.
Security: In 2008, a variety of news sites including Wired warned of the hazards of digital devices tainted from the factory with malware. The devices infected included digital cameras, digital picture frames and even baby monitors. At the time, most did not connect directly to the Internet, meaning they posed a threat only when connected to the Internet. But today? A great deal of these devices connect directly to the Internet—many without human intervention. And so do billions of industrial sensors and pieces of machinery.
Many have no security. Some have no intelligence. And most have limited communications capability. Despite this, connect they will, just the same.
For those looking to remotely monitor and manage IoT devices, these inherent limitations will pose enormous challenges. How will upgrades, service cancelations, cyber intrusions or disruptions be handled?
It’s one thing to seek permission and then create the capability to disable a personal smart device that has been compromised or stolen. But a power meter that lacks two-way communications? A piece of railway rolling stock without built-in security or two-way communications?
These questions will challenge MSPs and RMM vendors in new ways. Get ready.
Regulation: If we’ve learned anything from early forays into “digitization,” it is this: when it comes to privacy and security, access and openness, honesty and fair-play, there are no simple answers to the Internet of Things.
What is the right way to think of handling key issues? It is a sensible framework of regulation. What does sensible mean? It means this: we must create a framework that protects individual rights to privacy and security while preserving the collective need to promote commerce and trade.
The balance of these values is not easy. And given that technology is advancing at a rate that is faster than ever, creating a sustainable framework is more difficult than before. This is especially difficult in a globalized economy where major trading partners have philosophical differences over key digital technologies.
Many MSPs monitor and manage devices located in many geographies. But how should they treat devices that are governed by different regulations? In Europe, the laws favor the right to be forgotten; in the U.S, the laws embrace the right to the freedom of information.
Only sensible regulation can accommodate the interests of those who prioritize personal liberties and those who promote economic growth above all else.
The bottom line for RMM developers and MSPs is this: the IoT presents enormous opportunity. But it compels further study and advocacy.
We’re here to help on both fronts.