Infrastructure hurdle challenges success of Internet of Things

Just like all of the technological breakthroughs that came before it, the Internet of Things is rising in popularity and will eventually be the standard, but at least one major challenge stands in the way -- having enough network capability to support it.

That's the view of Anthony Robbins, vice president of federal for Brocade, a maker of networking products and solutions.

The Internet of Things – a network of objects with embedded sensors that communicate with one another – can generate unprecedented amounts of data that can feed a countless number of applications.

Benefits of the Internet of Things are already being reaped, but there are many other ways the government can utilize it. "We keep reminding everybody that all of that stuff is really interesting, but if we don’t fix the network, we won’t get to all of that,” Robbins said.

Anthony Robbins

Anthony Robbins, Brocade

“For sure in government, but it’s generally true that we just haven’t experienced modernization of network infrastructure in a manner that allows for things like [the Internet of Things],” he said. “And it has to do mostly with the complexity and the challenges associated with the network.”

There are four things that need to be addressed going forward. First is setting up an open, standard-spaced network infrastructure and getting rid of proprietary protocols that create roadblocks for network modernization, Robbins said.

History has proven this effective: Before working at Brocade, Robbins worked for Sun Microsystems, which he said had a large server footprint with the federal government, and each server had its own Unix operating system. Because of this, all of the software companies who dealt with these servers had to figure out which microprocessors and operating systems to support, and in the end, nothing functioned very well and a government audit found that the servers were less than 30 percent utilized.

Once the server environment migrated to standard-based microprocessors from companies like Intel, Robbins said, you then had a framework that was less proprietary, allowing for virtualization to take hold. The dynamics of the data center change and the framework for the cloud was created, he said.

“That same dynamic is about to take place in network infrastructure,” Robbins said.

The second thing that needs to be done is reduce the complexity of the government’s network. For example, Robbins said, the Defense Department has over 15,000 networks, many of which predate today's standards.

Third, the network infrastructure of tomorrow must be supported by multiple vendors, not a single vendor, Robbins said.

Finally, these changes will pave the way  for software-defined networking, which will create an opportunity for virtualization to have the same effect on network infrastructure as it did in data centers, Robbins said.

Brocade has been figuring out how its products work in heterogeneous environments since its inception, so it is no stranger to these issues. The company also has been a leader of developing standards for network infrastructures, Robbins said. I

To push for these changes, the company holds an annual federal forum where government customers and systems integrators can meet and talk to each other during breakout sessions or attend panels.

These forums have been successful, and Robbins said that their networking agenda is “gaining a lot of traction at the moment.”

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at mhoover@washingtontechnology.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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