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IoT Business Continues to Grow — and So Do Associated Growing Pains

CompTIA, TSIA, Gartner and others say the IoT is here.

Signs abound that IoT involvement and immersion continue to grow in the channel.

Take CompTIA’s recently released 7th State of the Channel Study, for example. This year, CompTIA research found that nearly half of all channel companies (48 percent) are experimenting or currently offering IoT software and/or managed services. Nearly as many (43 percent) are working with IoT hardware.

Of all the emerging technologies studied this year by CompTIA, IoT is the one that more channel companies are working with than any other.

There’s similar growth in the industrial sector, according to Gartner analyst Mark Hung, lead author of a new report entitled, “IoT Implementation and Management.” According to his research, many customers are pivoting from the possibilities to the actual implementation and management of IoT projects.

“ …[T]his is different for different industry verticals, specifically for much more established industries like manufacturing, oil and gas, [and] utilities. They’re definitely moving from the possible to the actual,” he surmised.

Mark Hung

All of this new activity is translating into big money. A study on IoT opportunities published by Bain & Company this summer concluded that “the combined markets of the Internet of Things will grow to about $520 billion in 2021, more than double the $235 billion spent in 2017.”

Fueling that growth is data-center spending and analytics, as well as systems-integration work, which is right up the channel’s alley. Between 2017 and 2021, demand for systems-integration services is expected to grow a whopping 40 percent.

“Cloud service providers have emerged as influential providers of IoT analytics and services, but their broad focus leaves opportunities for other providers to serve specific industries,” Bain researchers concluded.

For all the optimism around IoT, however, concerns have arisen.

“Customers are planning more proofs of concept, but many have tempered their expectations about the pace of adoption,” Bain found. Why? Three key reasons: security, integration and return on investment, said Bain.

Even someone as upbeat as Gartner’s Hung says security is a significant consideration among many industrial customers.

“By far the largest technical challenge that all these organizations are facing is security,” he said.

When it comes to the IoT, customers truly wonder if their traditional IT security can handle their IoT needs, including their data management, data security and other security demands.

One technology that could help overcome certain security considerations? Blockchain, Hung said. While not a security mechanism per se, its ability to validate and track transactions and interactions is being increasingly harnessed to help improve the security of IoT implementations.

A recent blog on the rise of IoT from the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) concluded similarly.

Using blockchain with IoT will reduce the risk of information being intercepted, or an entire system from being taken over, because the data sharing is anonymized and adds a layer of complexity to tracing or intercepting the information,” noted Sarah Swanson, a research analyst for the TSIA,  “Anyone can see that a transaction has occurred, but without the dedicated cipher for the encryption, they cannot see what was sent or where it was sent from.”

Progress aside, the IoT still presents some specific challenges to MSPs. Solarwinds MSP recently compared them to the challenges that BYOD first created for MSPs a few years ago. When BYOD started taking root inside customer organizations, MSPs were forced to balance user convenience with security and manageability. This was done through a combination of policies and technical controls. But the IoT presents a whole new set of network device-management problems, according to Solarwinds MSP.

This includes everything from dealing with a flood of new and often unsecure devices added to your network, managing devices that have no upgrade capacity or built-in management, and retrieving data from devices put in difficult use case situations.

“Devices may not always send their data back to headquarters. In some cases, it may not be possible to process data from an IoT sensor by submitting it for back-end processing because the latency requirements of the application won’t permit it,” said writer Danny Bradbury on behalf of SolarWinds MSP.   

Enjoy the new opportunities, in other words, but buckle up for a bumpy ride.

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