Tag Archives: internet of things

Planning for the Wireless Future

A recent article in my local paper showcased a new solar powered phone charger and wi-fi hotspot built into a park bench. Apparently these are coming to cities such as Boston and New York, but they are already in a park in my own town. This got me thinking about the ubiquity of wireless connections and the expectations that there should be access almost everywhere. Vehicles are becoming personal internet access points, and I suspect that I could even turn my bicycle into a hot spot. With this expectation of widespread and growing wireless access, how is a network architect supposed to plan for the future? In this post I hope to synthesize best practices of corporate and campus planners to help you plan your own infrastructure.

 Greenfield or Incremental?

Unless you are moving into a brand new building you don’t have the luxury of the greenfield approach, or starting from scratch. The folks at Cisco and other network component providers recommend developing a master plan and then tackling the project in stages. A wireless network consists of routers and switches in the back end and access points at the front end. If you have not been performing periodic upgrades then the entire infrastructure may need to be replaced.

When replacing the system components, look to the future in terms of technology and capacity. There is still a lot of equipment running on the old 802.11b/g standard but 802.11n is a better solution. Even better is 802.11ac but there are not many current devices that can access this standard, although they are coming fast. When developing a plan, look out at least five years to estimate the wireless devices that will be accessing your network. Don’t forget about bring your own devices (BYOD) and Internet of Things (IoT) introducing devices that we may not even have thought of yet.

Appetite for Bandwidth

A December 2015 Educause survey found that 61% of undergraduates in a typical college or university are trying to connect at least two wireless devices to the network at the same time. Some are trying to connect up to four devices at once. University of Oregon enrolled 23,634 students for fall 2016 so using the average of two devices, that is over 47,000 devices potentially hitting the network. That is a lot of access points and switches that need to be working right. Particularly for colleges, but also for businesses, it is important to have the right mix of access, speed, and reliability.

In the article mentioned above, Michael Spande, director of Enterprise Services at Bethel University, says “People pick their colleges based on factors like how good the wireless network is. They share their experiences online, and we can either look good or have a big black eye.” Quality wireless access has become a competitive differentiator.

Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

Whether you are managing a university, corporate, or hospital network, it is important to keep refreshing the hardware and software to ensure high performance. It is hard to predict what the future will hold, so network architects need to be part seers and part engineers. Just like PCs, the technology changes so quickly that a planned refresh cycle is critical to keep up with demand and with newer devices trying to access the network. Some recommend replacing one-quarter of the components every year while others stretch that out to a five-to-six-year refresh cycle. It depends a lot on demand and requirements of the devices accessing the network.

Thoughts

I remember when we installed the first wireless access points, they truly were a novelty. We targeted conference rooms because all of the offices were already hard-wired so wi-fi in those areas would have been redundant. Times have changed and wireless access is the future. Whether sitting on a park bench or in a restaurant, or playing golf on the front nine, our “always on” society is quickly adjusting to internet access anytime, anywhere. Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Technology Trends: 2016 Year In Review

Image of a butterfly on a robot's finger.This blog post is a review of 2016 technology trends and their impact on how we will work and live in the future. Many of the advances are continuations of work from years past, but we are getting ever closer to a different world.

Communication Technologies

MIT Technology Review publishes a Top 10 Technologies list and this year it included research from the University of Washington on passive wi-fi devices. The UW team has developed breakthrough ultra-low power devices that reflect the signal or backscatter from a nearby connected wi-fi transmitter. This is important because it will allow Internet of Things devices to be embedded in areas that can’t always rely on a traditional wireless signal. MIT suggests that this will be commercialized in two or three years and will help spread the popularity of small, connected devices.

Another emerging communication technology is the conversational or natural language interface. With the introduction of Amazon Echo, Google Home and other devices, it is common to have a spoken interface as opposed to typed instructions. We are finally moving away from text input thanks to innovations in speech recognition. In a recent report in the MIT Sloan Management Review, vendors are taking this one step further and capturing chat or speech conversations via bots in order to offer associated services. For example, your next pizza order could be through natural language input to an app while conversing with a bot recording your instructions. Surely with your pizza and bread sticks you must need a salad or soda that just happens to be on sale right now. The bot processes information from the context of the conversation and makes decisions and offers on the fly.

Cognitive Computing

Artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning is a technology that data scientists have been developing for many years and will continue to develop. Cognitive computing combines AI, natural language processing, speech, vision, and advanced data processing. These systems take input and match it to massive databases to form responses and learn new pathways. By learning and creating new algorithms, the system and applications are better able to serve you in the future. Examples of cognitive computing are IBM Watson and Google DeepMind. In the case of the pizza order above, cognitive computing is an example of how a computer can learn preferences and build responses appropriately.

Autonomous Technologies

Robotic and autonomous technologies have made strides this year as they move closer to mainstream adoption. Robots have been used for some time in industrial and assembly applications where consistency and precision is important. They also play a big role in areas where there are life and safety threats, such as search and rescue or in an area contaminated with toxic chemicals. We don’t have the same regard for the “life” of a robot as we do for humans. In that sense, they are very much welcome into our ecosystem.

Autonomous automotive technologies also made progress in 2016. Automakers are introducing applications like steering assist or autonomous steering and adaptive cruise control. New vehicles are slowly being equipped with technology that will eventually render them completely self-driving. Makers such as Volvo and Mercedes are testing more autonomous vehicles on public roads. Self-driving vehicles require advanced vision and learning systems provided by improvements in cognitive computing mentioned above.

Thoughts

Advanced communications, cognitive and autonomous technologies have all been in play in 2016. These are all interrelated advancements that often benefit each other. While exciting, these developments also bring worries, including economic and safety concerns with robotics and privacy concerns with learning systems and communications. It is important that we march into the future with a balanced perspective.

What do you see as the upcoming technologies in 2017? Will we see any breakthroughs? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Risk and Security of Connected Healthcare Devices

Photo of a pile of pills and medical devices.A recent Forrester Research report highlighted the security risks of connected healthcare devices and some of the implications of lax policies of manufacturers and care providers. This brings to mind for me all kinds of doomsday scenarios so I want to highlight some of the best practices in the report. These apply to the healthcare industry and other businesses.

Internet of Things

Part of the allure of the internet of things (IoT) is that many devices can be connected, including medical devices. In a recent article, author Yash Mehta highlighted some connected and potentially connected devices. On the list are monitoring devices which allow patients to be at home instead of a hospital. He also mentions companies that are developing edible IoT “smart” pills that will help monitor health issues and medication. This is an area where I would want the tightest security.

Steps for Security Planning

Start from the inside when thinking about security. Is everyone in your organization following best practices? Are you requiring passwords be changed regularly? Is everyone following this requirement or have they developed a workaround? Are there any shared accounts with a shared password? One of the biggest security holes has to do with social engineering. A hacker will pretend to be someone trustworthy to secure passwords or entrance into secure systems, then launch a widespread attack. Make sure everyone in your organization is educated and prepared for such an attempt.

Verify that the new devices have security built in from the manufacturer. This applies to health care IoT and other connected devices. It is hard to build security with no foundation. Push manufacturers to install a minimum level of threat protection in every device.

It is necessary to separate device information from actual customer details. In the case of health care, that means storing data collected from the connected device in a separate data structure than the patient data. In a retail establishment this means storing credit card information away from personally identifiable information such as customer name and address. The two can be linked via a separate ID but it should be difficult for a hacker to connect the two sources of information.

Thoughts

It is exciting to think of all of the possibilities with IoT devices but it is sobering to contemplate the security risks. All of us must consider and mitigate the risks, either as consumers or as part of an IT team building the tightest security possible. IoT devices are coming. Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

All Things Health

Male hand holding stethoscope emerges from a laptop screen.I have blogged in the past on the Internet of Things (IoT) and also on health and technology. Today’s post is about the intersection of those two areas. It is about how the Internet of Things can keep us potentially safe and healthy.

Tracking Your Health

With the introduction of the Apple Watch yesterday, Apple also introduced ResearchKit, a follow on to HealthKit that was introduced last year. This allows you to participate in research studies through your iPhone. Hardware on the iPhone such as voice recorders or motion sensors can help you track steps taken or voice patterns that may detect the onset of Parkinson’s disease. This data can then be shared, with your permission, with researchers so they get a much larger global sampling for their studies. Of course, the data is also available to you as well so that you can monitor and be an advocate for your own health. Perhaps, you are not getting as much exercise as you need or perhaps there are early warning signs of a chronic disease that you need to pay attention to. It would be great to have a device that would detect the early signs of a stroke and alert you and others to the possibility—early detection and intervention is critical in this case.

Smart Health

In a recent article by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, she highlights some devices in the intersection of Internet of Things and health monitoring. Among the devices she mentions are these:

  • Scales that monitor not only your weight but also your body composition. This is a great way to closely track your health day to day and over a long period.
  • Beds that monitor your heart rate, respiration rate, motion, and “bed presence” or how long you have been in bed can help you track your health through nonintrusive means. These measures can give you early warning signs of health issues.
  • Toilets that can monitor your weight, BMI, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. This is important to help you understand when you are becoming pre-diabetic and need to change your diet or exercise routine.
  • Motion monitors such as FitBit or the new Apple Watch which remind us through a chime or haptic feedback when we have been sitting too long or have not completed our 10,000 steps for the day yet.
  • Smart lamps designed to change light intensity depending on the time of day and also monitor your sleep (or lack thereof) and remind you when it is time to retire by a friendly blink. These are connected to your home network and can be controlled through your smartphone.

Thoughts

Where some see opportunity and peace of mind, others see intrusiveness and privacy issues. We can now monitor very detailed health information and share that with our doctor or in the case of ResearchKit, researchers trying to develop a breakthrough to eradicate, or at least control common health issues. A blessing for some, a potential health information breach for others. I think that, by combining health monitoring and the Internet of Things, we can enjoy unobtrusive devices that let us be in charge of our own wellness and health. Let me know what you think. Do you use health monitoring devices? Do they work for you? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Internet of Things: How Will They Communicate?

Smart home concept sketchI have talked before about the coming Internet of Things and the changes it will bring. The Internet of Things or IoT is a term coined by Cisco to describe the interconnected nature of devices that are linked to each other and to the Internet or an intranet. Imagine a future where your car communicates with your refrigerator and your oven and your home heating, security, and entertainment systems. On your way home from work your car automatically detects your intended destination and communicates with your refrigerator to release your dinner to the oven. By the time you arrive home the lights are on, your security system has unlocked the door, and dinner is on the table, with soft music playing to soothe you after your hectic day. This is all well and good but it will require a lot of work in the background to embed all of these things with devices and to build the infrastructure to be able to connect everything. This is no trivial task and provides opportunities for both entrepreneurial and tech minds.

IPv4 vs. IPv6

If you think about how many items are produced every day worldwide and then consider that if even a small portion of those items are connected to the Internet you realize that adds up to a lot of unique Internet identifiers or addresses. In the early days of the Internet, a system was developed which provided for unique Internet protocol or IP addresses for every computer. Currently, version 4 or IPv4 allows for a maximum of 232 or 2.4 trillion addresses. IANA, the world body assigned to distribute those addresses, reported that the last block had been given out in February 2011 and the remaining addresses are now in the hands of five regional distributors.

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) allows for a maximum of 2128 unique addresses. In theory, it should be enough to cover all computers, tablets, smart devices, and “things” for the foreseeable future. Even though IPv6 was introduced in 1995, it is not yet widely used because of the complexity of conversion and the manpower needed for the task. This provides a huge opportunity for  individuals who understand the conversion process and implementation procedures of the new addressing scheme. However, much work needs to be done, and it is not just a matter of flipping a switch.

Embedded devices

There are ample opportunities for entrepreneurs who can not only come up with a way to embed devices in everyday things but also those who can develop the interconnection between devices and who can do a deep dive in to the data to create meaning. There are three important steps that need to take place to make the Internet of Things a reality:

  1. Devices need to collect various data points such as a manufacturing process or a patient status or the geospatial position of a package.
  2. Those data points need to be collected, probably in the cloud, and/or shared with other devices, smart or otherwise.
  3. The collected data needs to be analyzed to affect improvements to the whole cycle. Without this deep analysis, the data will be useless to decision makers.

In all three of these areas, I see opportunities for enterprising minds that already have these skills or are willing to develop them to be out in front of the Internet of Things.

Thoughts

Do you have ideas for everyday things that you wish could communicate, such as your car keys when they are lost, or your car in the mall parking lot during the Christmas shopping season? Some of these are already becoming a reality. It’s your turn to develop the next connected device or help develop the back end infrastructure that will collect and process all of the new data points to improve our work and our lives.

About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program . He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Internet of Things: Is Your Refrigerator on the Internet?

I have been thinking lately about “The Internet of Things.” This is really more a concept than a tangible device or product. It is kind of like the cloud. The theory is that physical objects will each have their own identity and will be connected to the Internet and be able to communicate with other physical devices also on the Internet. This is all possible today but here is the thing that concerns me: if each device creates and broadcasts data such as its location and condition, how do we process all of that information? We are already drowning in man-made data as it is.

Definition

According to Techopedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a computing concept that describes a future where everyday physical objects will be connected to the Internet and will be able to identify themselves to other devices.”

Current State

According to TechTarget, “The technologies for an Internet of Things are already in place. Things, in this context, can be people, animals, servers, applications, shampoo bottles, cars, steering wheels, coffee machines, park benches, or just about any other random item that comes to mind.” Can you think of physical objects that you would like to be connected? Can you think of objects that you hope never become connected?

All That Data

With all of the data pouring in from all of these physical objects, how are we going to be able to process everything? How are we going to be able to make sense of everything and characterize all of this data into a form that we can understand? Can this all be boiled down to a visualization? Does it need to be? Am I thinking too humancentric?

Thoughts

I believe that it is no accident that “Big Data” and “The Internet of Things” are being discussed in the same space and time. It is almost as if they are meant for each other. The Internet of Things will create Big Data, but we need to look beyond our human construct. We need to work on ways to automate the extraction and filtering of data as well as the decision making based on that filtered data. If we think beyond the notion that we as humans have to touch and understand and make every decision, then we free ourselves to apply our unique capabilities to the intractable problems of the world. Physical objects can make rational decisions that benefit themselves. For example, could your coffeemaker consult your calendar to determine the likelihood of your presence? Could your calendar broadcast to other devices as well? Consider the efficiencies gained by stepping out of that decision-making process. We are cognitive beings that can better spend our time on real problems.

Do you take a utopian or dystopian view of this future? Are we headed toward the Jetsons or toward 1984’s Big Brother? Can we really figure out what to do with all of the data that is coming? Let me know your thoughts.

 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.