The Future of Data Centers and the Internet of Things: Part I

Hey, take a look over there in the distance. No, no, not quite that far into the distance. Back it up a little bit, but still keep it just over the horizon. Yeah, that’s the spot. Do you see it? Do you know what it is? It’s the (not-so-distant) future of the data center (DC) industry. Now, we know it may initially look intimidating to some. It may not be the future everyone once imagined. It may not even be the future everyone is imagining right now. But it is indeed the future, which means that it is coming whether you like it or not. Since this is the tech industry we’re talking about here, then you’re probably excited for it. After all, anyone in this business who isn’t always looking towards the future is in the wrong line of work.

Anyways, let’s get back to the actual future of data centers. It’s probably going to involve things. Lots and lots of things. Does that sound like a terrible joke? It’s not. It’s not a good joke, either. In fact, it’s not a joke at all. The Internet of Things (IoT) is likely going to play a major role in the future of the DC biz. How so? Well, some believe that IoT could spell DC systems that sense, relocate and act upon information wirelessly – without the need for human input. If that doesn’t sound like the future, then we’re not really sure what does.

But let’s turn down the DC chillers and back up for one hot minute. Before we can look through our magical future-showing crystal balls to see data center managers kicking back and relaxing while the “things” do all of the heavy lifting over the internet, let’s look at the now. Let’s look at what the Internet of Things is exactly and where it is right now before we examine why it might be poised to transform the DC industry down the road a bit.

What Is the Internet of Things?

The IoT concept is a world in which normal objects (things, if you will) are all connected to the internet and have the ability to identify themselves to all of the other things with internet connections floating around out there. That’s pretty neat, right?

Think about it – when objects have digital representations of themselves they morph into something more than just things, something better than just things. Objects that are part of the IoT need not be relevant only to those who can physically reach out and touch them using their hands in the real world. Objects that make up the IoT are said to have what is called “ambient intelligence,” which means that they are connected to other objects and have access to database data. By sending and receiving data from data centers and other things, they gain the ability to autonomously act in unison with one another.

So that’s how the whole thing (no pun intended) theoretically works. As for an exact IoT definition, there are many. Wikipedia, for instance, says the term “refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an internet-like structure.”

The Gartner IT Glossary calls it “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.”

IBM meanwhile, says that the Internet of Things should be viewed as “an evolution in which objects are capable of interacting with other objects.”

The concept has been formally kicked around since the early 1990s (although the first-recorded internet-connected “thing” was an early-1980s Carnegie Melon University Coca-Cola machine that could tell researchers over the internet whether or not it was stocked with cold sugar water), but it was MIT’s Kevin Ashton who first gave a name to it in a 1999 presentation made to Procter & Gamble.

“Today computers — and, therefore, the Internet — are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information,” Ashton said back at the turn of the century. “Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes (a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes) of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a bar code.

“The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy — all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things — using data they gathered without any help from us — we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

What Can These Internet Things Be?

The things that make up the IoT can be extremely diverse. They can be anything man decides to put a computer chip into and connect to the internet. They don’t even have to be things; they can actually be people or animals as well: a motorcycle that has onboard sensors designed to measure tire pressure and alert the rider as to when it’s too high or low; a person that has a heart monitor capable of automatically notifying medical personnel when the person is suffering from heart difficulties; or even a family pet that has a biochip transponder inside of it capable of notifying owners when the pet runs away and helping them to locate it when it does.

All of these things help to make up the IoT. To be a part of the IoT, a natural or man-made item or living creature need only be assigned an IP address and be provided with the means with which to transfer data across a network.

Where Is It All Headed?

The IoT is a break from the earliest and most obvious use for the internet (dedicated computing devices). Its upward growth comes as first hundreds and then thousands and then millions and very soon billions of everyday items become connected and start doing things on their own. As explained in the examples above, those things don’t need to mean the elimination of human jobs. On the contrary, just as with the future of robotics, the IoT will supplement the human workforce, freeing men and women up to focus on more important tasks by handling menial work. In addition, they can provide humans with the crucial data they need to complete complex jobs as effectively as possible.

As for its growth, IoT is predicted to explode in the years ahead. Business Insider reports that 9 billion devices will make up the IoT by 2018, an exponential increase from the 1.9 billion that it consists of today. That 2018 figure means that in just four short years existing IoT devices will be approximately equal to the number of desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, wearables and smart TVs out there – combined.

Now that we’ve established the basics of what the IoT is, what it’s made up of and where it’s headed, we’re ready to discuss in detail what it will mean for data centers in the future. Check back with us soon when we cover that in the second part of this blog series.

Image Source: Comsoc

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