IoT: Intelligence and Innovation at the Edge

By Andrew F. Nelson, CDCT Principal Architect
12/7/2020

When it comes to processing, storing, and securing data, most people immediately think of data centers or the cloud. As enterprises increasingly rely on IoT devices, however, more actual computing is occurring at the edge. 

Recently, Jason Rader, John O’Shaughnessy, and I spent some time talking about IoT at the edge. This blog post will explore IoT at the edge, emerging applications for the technology, key security considerations, and the importance of planning before deploying edge devices.

It could be in an office building, or it could be in a tin shack in the middle of nowhere.  

In the simplest terms, IoT at the edge refers to devices, communication, and infrastructure that are not contained in a data center or the cloud. The computing could take place in an office building, or it could be in a tin shack in the middle of nowhere. It could be in the Gulf of Mexico on an oil rig. All those locations are considered “the edge.”

When many people think of IoT, they think of cameras and sensors that have computing capabilities embedded, such as a thermometer or a door lock. Simple IoT devices such as these don’t capture data that requires much processing. 

But as the technology has evolved to take more detailed measurements, like facial recognition, video data, or heat map tracking, it becomes less efficient to transport the growing volume of data to a data center for processing. Instead, the data needs to be cleaned up, processed, analyzed, and even displayed locally. 

Emerging use applications for IoT at the edge 

Self-driving vehicles are the ultimate IoT devices. Equipped with multiple cameras and sensors, these vehicles must process the data and make low latency decisions in real time to avoid catastrophe. So, sending the data away for processing just doesn’t make sense. 

Once self-driving vehicles have the capacity to process large amounts of sophisticated data locally, the possibility for increased efficiency and productivity opens. For instance, CDCT helped a company increase its warehouse productivity and safety by helping its automated forklifts communicate, allowing them to be routed much closer together on the floor.  

The retail industry is also using IoT edge computing to get an advantage. For instance, by analyzing heat mapping to track foot traffic patterns within a store, and then strategically moving merchandise around to gain more visibility or attention, retailers see profits go up. 

Hospitals and clinics have begun to use Bluetooth or RFID tracking to monitor the locations of high-value technology like ultrasound machines or radiology equipment. Some organizations have even integrated RFID tracking into employee badges to track personnel movements throughout the building and target paging to specific locations as opposed to paging overhead throughout the whole facility.  

Security and privacy concerns for IoT at the edge 

The use of facial recognition and people tracking does bring up important privacy and security concerns, however. For every beneficial application, there’s also the possibility of exploitation. 

Securing IoT at the edge doesn’t take special alien technology, though. Security at the edge is the same as security at the data center. It requires establishing rules and governance and relies on many of the same tools, workload mapping, and governance and monitoring strategies. It also requires embedding some amount of security functionality into the IoT devices themselves. 

Operational technology also plays a critical role in effectively securing and managing data from IoT edge devices. If an organization relies on thousands of interconnected sensors, there must be infrastructure in place to manage the sensors and make sure that they are communicating with each other.

Which brings us to a final consideration for deploying IoT at the edge: the importance of planning.  

The importance of planning   

Unlike traditional IT gear that goes through frequent refreshing or upgrades, IoT devices are by nature designed to last much longer in the field. So careful planning and evaluation is an important first step before deploying any edge computing devices. A misstep with IoT technology can turn the whole organization off the idea or delay the benefit of any return on investment.  

IoT at the edge also tends to quickly double or triple, so it’s important to design the security and operational efficiency before you rush out to buy products and plug them in. Without planning, organizations can end up with many more IoT devices than necessary or budgeted.  

If you’re interested in learning how IoT at the edge could benefit your organization and would like the help of a trusted partner, CDCT has experts to help. From evaluation to design to implementation, we can help create an effective and secure roadmap for deploying IoT edge computing for your enterprise.