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Testing the Internet of Things

The precise definition of the Internet of Things varies according to the beholder, but in general constitutes a broad array of sensors, actuators, devices that communicate with their creators, users and other devices. More technically, any IP-addressable thing with a digital brain qualifies, although the smartest devices, i.e. PCs and smartphones, are typically not considered members of the IoT club on par with smart home devices, smart kitchen appliances, smart cars, smart cities, etc. Your kid’s teddy bear should be joining the IoT shortly, however.

Why IoT Testing is Different

Testers embedded in the world of PCs, servers and mobile apps will readily detect a substantial difference in IoT’s input/output model. Keyboards, displays, touchscreens and audio are decidedly minimal for IoT devices, if they exist at all. These devices might interact via motion or thermal detectors, cameras, and by monitoring and recording our behaviors such as when we open and close the refrigerator door. In fact, many IoT devices never interact directly with humans, which requires that their “correctness” is evaluated indirectly based on interactions within a system context that may include other IoT devices.

Less complex I/O and compute power of embedded devices reduces the number of functional and non-functional test cases when they are sitting on the workbench. However, a core concept of IoT is extreme connectivity, with interactions among a web of devices. This introduces a brittleness that may be outside the realm of many testers’ experiences.

Conformance, Interop and Security Testing Is Critical

To even come close to the heightened expectations for IoT, well-developed standards for interoperability and communication are vital. Otherwise, for example, communications protocol breakdowns between even a few IoT device types could create an enormous ripple effect depending on the roles of those devices and to how many other devices they are connected. Conformance and security testing in the IoT world is even more crucial than it is in the mobile device world today.

IoT Brings UX Testing to a New Level

The user experience for IoT-based services is potentially broad, subtle and complex. UI testing for a single device may be inconsequential, but IoT UX testing must encompass a larger context of intuitiveness, interactions, effects, expectations and satisfaction regarding the service in which the single device may play a small, but integral part. Today’s UX testing for PCs and mobile devices could appear trivial in comparison.

It is not difficult to imagine other non-critical side effects that are possible, even likely, when dealing with highly distributed interacting “things” with limited compute/storage/power resources, subject to asynchronous configuration changes or data delays going in or out of the device. Not the least of these are the possibilities for hacks and the release of private data.

For example, Philips IoT-enabled, LED lighting API allows Netflix to dynamically change ambient lighting in response to the brightness and color of an in-progress movie. Depending on a home’s layout, what other occupants are engaged in, etc., automatic lighting adjustments could be annoying or even disruptive. Such side-effect situations are within the domain of IoT UX testing.

It is easy to envision an in-home, elderly care medical monitoring service composed of IoT devices from disparate manufacturers, such as the Proteus ingestible pill sensor, a Metria™ wearable health monitor and a SmartThings home automation system going awry because one or more components silently failed an update or a communication protocol was subtly modified. Consequently, unintentional alerts to doctors or family members could disturb doctors and family and generate significant expense.

The Evolution of IoT Testing

Today’s IoT devices are easier to test due to their singularity of purpose, minimal connectivity and tentative expectations from human users. That situation is changing rapidly, however. IoT stakeholders, including test professionals, must raise awareness of the critical importance of standards and conformance if an IoT network effect is ever to get off the ground. In parallel, innovation in testing methodologies and tools must also sustain a sharp pace.

Fortunately, this is not altogether unfamiliar territory. Such complexity challenges have faced testers at every technology inflection point. The Internet evolved from static data repositories to an extremely dynamic, highly distributed, asynchronous system upon which “mashups” of complex services reside today. Improved standards, better tools, sophisticated testing methodologies and roll-up-your-sleeves innovation enabled test teams to keep up.

Highly connected, embedded IoT devices are consuming and generating data at an enormous rate. Harnessing and acting upon this information will create an array of new services heretofore unimaginable. To maintain the pace, test/QA teams must match this IoT innovation wave, especially with regard to evaluating human experiences in a context of services built upon countless devices with unprecedented connectivity.

How IoT Will Drive Big Data Adoption

According to Internet of Things true believers, the time is just around the corner when our cars, homes, appliances, TVs, PCs, phones and any other electronic or mechanical device in our lives will be spewing out data in all directions. That makes some sense, since IoT devices – at least those now envisaged – are designed for data spewing as they have minimal compute capacity presently.

Cisco estimates that already nearly 15 million connected devices comprise the nascent IoT, which will grow to 50 million by 2020. That sounds impressive until you realize it is less than 3 percent of the “things” on our planet potentially able to participate in IoT. Unfamiliar numerical terms such as zettabytes must enter our lexicon to describe the volume of data to be generated, consumed and analyzed.

What the IoT Data Wave Means for Big Data

The processing of the rivers of big data coming from today’s embedded sensors, telemetry, RFID chips, PCs, mobile devices, wearables, etc. already leaves 90 percent of these data in the dustbin. That is primarily because current big data hardware and software stacks are inadequate to manipulate it all let alone comprehend it.

Big data compute, storage and networking capabilities improve daily. However, even those enterprises on big data’s bleeding edge are today ill-equipped to handle the expected data flood gushing from the IoT let alone the larger Internet of Everything that Cisco tracks.

Even if IoT is realized in twice or thrice the time of most projections, then big data enterprises are going to be perennially behind the curve for the foreseeable future. The constant running to catch up will be the prime driver of the big data ecosystem beyond the next decade. If that does not kill big data, it will only make it stronger. Enterprises large and small will join the data mining gold rush if real-time analytics improve and a big data meta-architecture, as hinted at by Hadoop, emerges.

The Obstacles to a Happy Marriage between IoT and Big Data

Lack of Standards

Having to figuratively invent the wheel over and over again is the bane of any competitive industry. Without standards, IoT will struggle to reach escape velocity due to technology fragmentation. Standards must be in place for efficient access to “things”, consistent API interfaces, machine-to-machine communication, addressing privacy and security issues and lowering entry barriers to smaller, innovated players.

Closed or Inefficient Architectures

IoT is a game changer for big data architecture. All stakeholders are just now starting to recognize that dealing with IoT will require as much collaboration as competition.

The sheer magnitude of IoT data volumes dictate a layered hardware/software stack that is too gigantic, geographically dispersed and complex for a single enterprise or cloud providers. It begs for an ultra-distributed meta-architecture that step by step digests, absorbs and disperses unstructured data as it is collected, cleaned, normalized, correlated with other data, stored when necessary, deeply analyzed and presented. Along the way, vendors who today specialize in each of these processing layers will contribute via enormous arrays of small-scale data centers.

Analytics Capability Growth Rate

Above all else, business intelligence processing is the critical bottleneck to realizing the full potential of big data. The rate at which supporting analytics can improve is questionable without significant breakthroughs, but the search for data gold represents an immeasurable incentive. The deluge of IoT real-time data headed down the analytic pipeline will create even more pressure but is likely to engender even more opportunities for value extraction.

 

The Internet of Things is not an invention but a logical consequence of highly available, low-power, low-cost sensor technology and improvements in wireless connectivity penetration. Related technology improvements and cost-reductions in compute, storage and network hardware will complement the growth of IoT and make it something useful and valuable. And, finally, IPV6 is going to receive the appreciation it justly deserves.

All this power to generate, gather and process new, real-time micro-data is for naught, however, if it must be set aside awaiting analysis capabilities to catch up. Fortunately, although big data infrastructure and software are likely to be overwhelmed initially, that and analytic capabilities seem to have a bit of a head start. Increased collaboration among stakeholders, an effective, shared processing architecture and the inevitable analytical breakthroughs may just carry the day in the end.

Opportunities for the Internet of Things in Enterprise

An October 2013 forecast by IDC predicts that by 2020, the Internet of Things will consist of 200 billion devices in a market worth $9 trillion dollars. A May 2013 McKinsey Global Institute whitepaper forecasts several tens of trillions of economic activity around IoT by 2025. Even if they are mostly wrong, it seems appropriate for enterprise to start making sense of the business opportunities just around the corner.

The IoT Is Underway, Full Steam Ahead

Today, the nascent IoT includes industrial sensors, mobile phones, wearable devices, PCs, servers and all the networking equipment tying them together. The universe of new sensors, smart devices and the multitude of ways in which they will communicate with us and other machines, however, is far larger than contemporary experience. We are on the brink of phenomenal growth in both the number and variety of industrial and consumer-level devices that will pop into existence over the next five years.

The obstacles in the way of IoT’s growth are substantial but so are the opportunities. Besides working hard to stumble across the “next big thing” in IoT, here are four ways in which enterprises can take advantage of the expected exponential growth instigated by IoT.

Improvements to Business Efficiency

IoT adds another dimension to companies’ quest for complete business digitization. Embedded smart devices will sharpen the assessment of assets’ value to business operations. Distributed throughout a business’ supply chain, for instance, IoT will measure supplier and production efficiency and responsiveness in the face of market fluctuations. Retailers will stretch thin margins further with IoT data, including multimedia that predict buyer behavior and detect new trends.

Big Data Bigger Than Ever

The IoT is about to unleash a tsunami of data. In the storage, management, preprocessing and analysis of these data lie revenue growth opportunities for Internet infrastructure companies and software services that assist customers in extracting its latent value.

Surveys indicate that a small fraction of companies consider themselves competent at identifying and acting upon key data in current data streams, and over 90 percent of smart device data is currently discarded. The monetary potential for companies that can help other companies deconstruct, digest and deploy decision-making solutions based on this biggest of Big Data seems unbounded.

Security

The consumer-based IoT brings an even broader diversity of devices and communication protocols than the mobile device explosion underway now. This will bring exponential growth in connectivity also. These aspects plus a larger attack surface mean the potential for digital mayhem in our personal lives is a real concern. Threats to our personal security and privacy are opportunities begging for companies who supply effective means to detect and neutralize the perils.

Standards

Some see standards as quelling innovation, but that potential is muted when there is widespread participation by stakeholders. In the case of IoT, such participation will necessarily be cross-industry if the market disruption of IoT is ever to come to fruition as many hope and some fear.

The standards opportunity for enterprises that participate early and often is that competitors will not gain unfair advantage and to ensure that one’s own technology can be accommodated. Standards are vital to end users who want assurances of device interoperability and products that adhere to policies and regulation pertaining to privacy and security.

 

Anyone who claims to know what IoT is all about and where it is going should be regarded with intense suspicion. Few question that it will lead to greater productivity and economic activity, but where the highest value products lie is open to interpretation. In the face of uncertainty, however, there are path for enterprises to following in seeking value from IoT:

  • By inward contemplation of how IoT can create operating efficiencies in their own business including pilot programs to verify value
  • Devising or revising their Big Data strategy as the IoT wave builds, regardless of whether the organization is a producer or consumer of Business Intelligence analysis
  • Examining security and privacy issues closely that may affect enterprise operations, IoT product designs and customer relations
  • Committed participation in IoT standards efforts in order to influence their direction and details and to engender closer collaboration with other key players

The companies that make an earnest effort to understand IoT and what it means for their operations and revenues will likely find opportunities knocking on their door. In any case, they will be in the best position to respond effectively when IoT takes sudden swerves as is inevitable with any technological disruption.

Top Internet of Things (IoT) Trends in 2015

Just as cloud computing and Big Data were the up and coming trends at the start of this decade, the Internet of Things is now in the limelight. While the Cloud and Big Data are well underway in terms of enterprise adoption, the IoT is just starting to gain serious traction. The hype is still in full swing, but innovation and implementation are also being realized that will lead to a ubiquitous and varied world of connectivity and data sources. Here then are 10 key trends for which you should be on the lookout in 2015 regarding IoT.

New Devices

Up to now, the penetration of IoT has been shallow. As these devices get smaller, smarter and less expensive, watch for them to broaden and deepen their application reach from health monitoring to smart homes, smart cars, medical devices, energy systems and everyday machines such as parking meters and hair curlers.

New Applications

Without applications to control these devices and process their data, they will never reach full potential. Already IoT-targeted development platforms are being created to interface the things of IoT with end users and analytical backend services in support of enterprise marketing and decision-making.

Standards Development

Supporting the expected wave of applications and services springing out of IoT, 2015 will see proprietary and open standards breakthroughs aimed at a reduction in re-inventing IoT infrastructure so that companies and individuals concentrate more effort on true innovations.

Raised Expectations

Now that the IoT hype has penetrated down to the consumer level, and even though consumers are more than a bit fuzzy as to what it all means, their expectations for seeing more products with embedded sensors, logic and connectivity have never been higher. Everyone will realize, some too late, that 2015 is the year that businesses can most effectively grab the early adopters of IoT-enabled machines.

Multi-Sensor Support

This year, IoT appliances will incorporate multiple sensors that increase the accuracy of calculations, provide redundancy and simply do more stuff via data sharing. Multiple sensors will require off-loading hubs that allow sensors to connect to one another directly and bypass the main processor.

M2M Automation

Improved communication capabilities and multi-sensor hubs will also contribute this year towards IoT machines talking to one another. Taken a step further, the possibilities of machines pooling data and automatically making decisions without human involvement will soon be realized.

Vertical IoT Services

Cloud computing is a mature trend and one of its most fruitful applications is Big Data processing. Thus, since IoT is a natural contributor of Big Data, watch for tailor-made IoT cloud services for acquiring, digesting and analyzing this growing treasure trove of information.

Privacy and Security Concerns Take Center Stage

With the onslaught of IoT devices soon to come, 2015 has and will continue to be the year in which the obvious concerns about what it all means for individual privacy and data safety come to the fore. It is none too soon, since as with all previous technology waves there will be many unforeseen side effects.

Strategic Partnerships

In preparation for a full-on IoT environment, watch for IT vendors, telecoms, semiconductor manufacturers, Big Data software vendors and IoT platform providers to make big moves to make acquisitions or strategic partnerships that will position them to best advantage against competitors.

Tales of Success

As 2015 wears on, IoT customer case studies are providing a sure sign that vendors are successfully applying the technology and acquiring the experience necessary to sell the benefits to enterprises in multiple industries. This trend will be evident also by growing numbers of training programs, seminars and industry showcase events.

 

The trends above are clear indicators that the hype around the Internet of Things is in a validation phase leading to increased product adoption and growth of the supporting ecosystem necessary to carry it forward. For those organizations waiting to see what will happen, they may underestimate the amount of disruption to their markets and business processes that the IoT brings. They are best advised to gauge the impact of IoT trends to their own goals.

‘Internet of Things’ Security and Privacy Concerns

A 2014 consumer consolidation survey by the Acquity Group contains a telling statistic. Nearly 90 percent of consumers have no clear concept of what the so-called “Internet of Things” is. That should not be a total surprise. Even though the IoT has been discussed for years and companies are rapidly implementing IoT components, its definition is nothing more than a loose architectural vision that varies vastly depending on who is describing it.

The reality of IoT today is a collection of discrete devices such as smartwatches, phones, appliances, health monitors and home environmental systems that interact and from which data is collected. Visionaries imagine a world in which thousands of such invisible, embedded devices permeate where we work, sleep and play. These will include medical devices, home energy systems, transportation systems, geolocation sensors, parking meters, vending machines and even toothbrushes.

Implications to Personal Privacy and Security

Just as no one was able to predict how the advent of the PC and the Internet changed how we worked and communicated with one another, so the IoT is suffused with unforeseen significance regarding our personal privacy and safety. In the context of advanced abilities to collect, correlate and analyze huge data streams, the side effects of IoT data acquisition are impossible to predict. The availability of massive amounts of personal information could easily mean that everyone loses some control over their life.

The potential for increased, detailed surveillance of individuals cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the ubiquity of IoT devices broadens our personal security attack surface to those who may have nefarious purposes. Such devices could provide a gateway to other connected devices containing sensitive information. Even if such data collection were intrinsically benign, would you want to live in a world where your personal habits and activities are continually quantified sold to third parties?

The Incentives to Diminished Security

Despite such real concerns, the history of technology adoption by consumers demonstrates that most people are willing to sell out their privacy to one degree or another. Just like the data collected on us via our web browser, the data coming from the IoT has value beyond a device’s primary application to those able to analyze it. These data have monetary value that could allow manufacturers to practically give them away with the expectation of reaping the value of these data. Additionally, since most IoT capabilities will be built-in as secondary components to larger appliances, cars or environmental systems, most consumers will have scant choice but to accept their presence.

Methods to Protect IoT Privacy and Security

Privacy Preferences

End users should have control over which data are collected and how they are shared directly or indirectly. For instance, they should be permitted to define groups such as family, friends and professionals with specific sharing policies. To be truly effective, this step requires preference standards to be applied across all devices. Such standards could be outlined by government regulatory bodies and implemented in detail by industry groups.

Data Minimization

IoT device makers should adhere to a policy of data minimization aimed at collecting the smallest amount of information required for device operation. Such a policy must include spatial and temporal minimization as well that dictates where and for how long such information is stored.

Transparency

Consumers must be made aware of which data are collected, transmitted and stored by embedded IoT devices. This information should include specific data formats, communication protocols and which other devices are capable of communicating with the device. The usage and sharing policies of anyone acquiring these data must be disclosed.

The degree to which technology containing IoT devices meets the above protections could be represented by standard, condensed privacy or security ratings. Not only does this provide consumers insight into how a device potentially impacts their privacy but manufacturers could use such “seals of approval” to competitive advantage.

 

The advent of the Internet of Things poses potential hazards to every individual’s privacy if guidelines, policies and designs do not mitigate these threats. Past experience is rife with unforeseen privacy threats resulting from technology advances. The obvious complexity and data collection capabilities arising from the IoT should give consumers and device makers equal pause to consider how to build in safeguards starting now. To not do so now will assuredly have a negative impact on the IoT’s usefulness and potential for growth.