Next to the universal expression “the cloud” to refer to mass digital data storage, the term “Internet of Things” is right up there in its degree of ambiguity. This is despite the fact that the “Internet of Things” (or “IoT” for those in the still uber-small know that includes data center or network managers) has been kicked around for nearly a generation. Next to the universal expression “the cloud” to refer to mass digital data storage, the term “Internet of Things” is right up there in its degree of ambiguity. This is despite the fact that the “Internet of Things” (or “IoT” for those in the still uber-small know that includes data center or network managers) has been kicked around for nearly a generation.

You read that right. In 1999, a young Kevin Ashton, the British technology leader, coined IoT when he was working at P&G. Ashton was tasked with developing an electronic tagging system to better track the distribution and location of a certain brand of lipstick. IoT refers to the increasing number of devices that can be connected to the Internet. By doing so, these devices or “things” (i.e. lipstick, HVAC systems, vehicles, your Fitbit, refrigerators, and even clothing), can send and receive information in real-time to companies who can act on the user’s behalf to their benefit.

Data and Product Deluge

Today, as evidenced by the above list, nearly any device or product you can think of can in theory, join the IoT. Gartner estimates that the total number of connected devices will exceed an amazing 26 billion by 2020 – a figure several times greater than the number of people on Earth. It is this two-way data explosion that is in turn having a ripple effect across the data storage industry.

The critical questions are:

  1. How are data centers preparing for an even greater onslaught of connected devices?
  2. And what are the challenges data centers face?

Perhaps the greatest change coming is that of data center size and geography. The need to send and receive information in real time without common hiccups like buffering on a service like Netflix, will require data center decentralization. Instead of behemoth data warehouses, the near future will see smaller more mobile data centers distributed across networks, often at the “edge” of service areas. For the old schooler, think about it like a branch library versus a city’s main downtown library. Why compel residents to travel further to access the same information as doing so increases the risks that the consumer will not acquire the information they seek in the most efficient manner?

Data centers will also have to become much more flexible receiving many more terabytes of collective information than they do today. Likewise, there will also have to be far greater internal connectivity so that insights gathered from this massive data collection exercise can be actioned effectively. The data deluge will of course mean that existing data warehouses will exhaust their storage capacity faster than anticipated. Here too, data centers must anticipate these needs and aggressively increase their size.

Is IoT a Data Center Disruptor?

To answer our own question, yes and no. And, maybe the title of this blog is a bit aggressive. Should data centers and data center managers be alarmed at the pace of change and question their ability to adapt? Yes; however, this isn’t a datapocalypse either. Actually, while 25-30 billion connected devices sounds impressive (which it is), other reports place the number of connected devices at 100 billion by 2025.

So, it’s important to remember that as much as the Internet of things is changing the way brands do business, how they interact with their employees and how they use and share data, there’s still plenty of time to make these adjustments. After all, despite the fact the term IoT has been around for 18 years, a recent survey from Accenture found that 87% of people still had no idea what it means.

Even “those in the know” seem to struggle with this coming of age term. Last year, for instance, The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) declared 2016 “the Year of the Internet of Things.” And while that might sound like a great marketing slogan, it’s important to recall that the CES made the same declaration in 2014 and 2015, too.

Re-Boot Re-Think

Our point? Data centers haven’t run out of history – or storage capacity – just yet.

Consider this piece a conversation starter on a topic that while profoundly important for the future of commerce and human-to-human, human-to-computer and computer-to-computer communications, remains in its technological infancy.

And the Internet of Things is a term – and way of thinking – that continues to evolve just like the products and devices connected to it.