Not so long ago, alarmists fretted about running out of Internet Protocol domain space. Then IPv6 opened up plenty of addresses for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the much-hyped Internet of Things. The challenge now becomes making sense of all the sensor data that will stream from our myriad connected devices to the cloud. And the opportunity becomes crafting the applications that address society’s problems today and anticipate the unforeseen needs of tomorrow.
The Internet addressing system conceived in 1977 at the U.S. Department of Defense by Vint Cerf, today chief Internet evangelist at Google, used 32-bit Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to connect people to people, providing more than 4.3 billion unique hosts for trusted user accounts. As the Internet began to be dominated by M2M connections, a revised, 128-bit scheme (IPv6) was adopted to allow for 18 billion billion hosts, accommodating more than 300 trillion trillion trillion secure devices.
Now there is more than enough address space, along with Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), to accommodate the universe of cloud-ready devices that IBM Corp. last year predicted would surpass 1 trillion nodes by 2015.
With its Smarter Planet Initiative, IBM anticipates the endgame for the Internet of Things (IoT). Its researchers envision a global electronic nervous system, with trillions of individual sensors monitoring the status of everything of interest to humans and streaming the resultant exabytes of data to cloud-based cluster supercomputers that extract the ultimate value from the data using analytics software modeled on the human mind.
Picture the Watson AI that last year beat human champions at “Jeopardy,” but on a planetary scale.
“The emergence of the Internet of Things has created such a flood of data that only state-of-the-art information technology can gather, filter, order and interrogate the resulting, massive data set, generically called Big Data, “ said Bernie Meyerson, an IBM fellow and vice president of innovation at IBM Research. “The ability to then employ analytics on Big Data in a given field—be that health care, transportation, energy or other Smarter Planet endeavors—promises new insights and routes to optimization benefiting everyone.”
Past technological revolutions have been based on timely innovations; the invention of the steam engine, for example, fueled the Industrial Revolution. But the Internet of Things isn’t based on a breakthrough technology; rather, it leverages micro- and nanoscale versions of established devices.
The engineering hurdles to the IoT center on solving the tough problems in security, standardization, network integration, ultralow-power devices, energy harvesting and, perhaps most important of all, perceived network reliability, so that people will rest assured the planet’s emerging electronic nervous system has their best interests at heart.
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