Australia's grand vision for an Internet of Things revolution is about to hit a hard wall

Nutanix senior VP Matt Young – IoT needs flexible infrastructure. Picture: Supplied

It’s 2018 and we’re at a point where many of us are happy to talk to smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in our homes and task them with things like shopping lists, turning the lights on and off and much more.

But our growing comfort with talking to machines and letting them complete menial tasks for us is not what the long-anticipated Internet of Things or IoT is about – it’s a step further; machines talking to other machines in an increasingly connected world filled with smart cities.

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We’ve long been in the hype phase of IoT, but it’s finally starting to take some shape. In Australia, 52 projects have been green lit under the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, which demonstrate just some of the initiatives happening locally. Some are smart upgrades to technology we already use, such as seeing the number of available seats on a bus in real time through an app, not just when the bus is due to arrive.

Others are more ground-breaking and promise to have a direct positive impact on lives. In Darwin, for example, smart lighting and sound monitoring is being used to detect people in distress and notify police and other emergency services. This is only the beginning and the possibilities are virtually endless.

The proliferation of IoT also means huge opportunity for businesses. Earlier in the year, research from Forbes indicated 87 per cent of Australian and New Zealand organisations were operating IoT programs to generate incremental revenue, not just to cut costs or increase operational efficiencies.

But before we get a real sense of what our newly-connected world will look like and the full picture of the business opportunities IoT will create, we need to put the right resources in place to manage it.

With IoT comes data, more than we can realistically imagine, and we’re already creating more data than ever before.

Processing data is something usually left to ‘the IT person’, but it’s something we all – and particularly business leaders who want to be part of the IoT game – need to start thinking about. There are a number of ways to process data but they all link back to a data centre, that room or piece of equipment in your office, or the public data centre down the road. Most know it’s there but little else, other than it has something to do with data and computers.

Data centres are the less interesting but very essential tools in all things technology. They run the show, and without them we wouldn’t be able to do something as simple as send an email, let alone create an intricate system of connected devices that constantly communicate with each other.

Traditionally, data centres have been large, expensive and clunky machines, but everything in technology, they’ve modernised over the years and data centres are now smaller, more powerful and more practical, as they need to be to meet today’s digital demands.

Imagine real-time face scanning being used in a Grand Final or other similar-sized event. Let’s say there are 1,000 cameras in action, working in real time scanning tens of thousands of faces from different angles, creating data all along the way and integrating with other technology such as police radios and in-stadium services.

We don’t currently have the bandwidth to process all that through our traditional networks to work efficiently. You could run it through a large core or public data centre if it happened to be very close, but that’s not always going to be the case. Delays, or ‘latency and lag time’, are not an option in that scenario; it’s got to work in real time or not at all.

So what’s the solution? The answer is with edge computing where we bring computing closer to the devices. The edge refers to devices that communicate with each other. Think mobile devices, sensors, wearables, laptops, etc. – anything remote with a line to the web or other devices. Edge computing for the most part refers to smaller edge data centres that can process the data we need for things like large-scale facial recognition.

In this example, the edge data centre would be located right there in the stadium, processing the data in real time. It would, of course, also be connected to other resources such as a public or private cloud environment, but the ‘heavy lifting’ is done where the action is taking place.

Currently, we don’t have enough of these edge resources in place to match our grand IoT ambitions, and that is something that has to change if we’re to continue much further.

Edge computing won’t be the most exciting part of the IoT revolution, but perhaps the most necessary part if there is to be a revolution at all.

Matt Young is Senior Vice President and Head of Asia Pacific and Japan for enterprise cloud computing company Nutanix

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