Monday, August 22, 2016

Internet-of-Things (IoT) at Gartner Catalyst

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I was out at Gartner Catalyst in San Diego last week and I’ve been trying to mentally sort through what might serve as interesting observations from the event. It covers a broad range of topics relevant to technical professionals, so it’s been a bit hard for me to distill the sampling of sessions that I attended into a single storyline. However, an unrelated piece on IoT that I read this morning—and the graphic that graces this page—got me thinking about some themes both specific to IoT and applicable to emerging technologies more broadly.

Accelerating pace

At one level, the fact that IoT was prominently on display in a keynote, as well as in a variety of breakouts, is certainly not surprising. There was plenty on containers and container orchestration too. Gartner VP Eric Knipp even highlighted open source as a “cool forever” technology. Well, duh, you may be thinking. Do any of the cool kids not talk non-stop about topics such as these?

Here’s the thing though. How shall I put this nicely? The cool kids tended not to go to Gartner conferences or be Gartner clients historically, Indeed, for many shades of cool, that’s still the case. This isn’t predominantly a startup hub place.

Many of those conservative banks and manufacturing companies and logistics vendors now care about the latest technologies as well. They have to; digital transformation is a thing and the cost of doing nothing is higher than ever. They may adopt new IT approaches slower and more methodically than the Silicon Valley company setting VC dollars on fire. But they’re at least interested in learning about projects, products, and tech that may have not have even existed a couple of years ago. It’s a big change from the days when a lot of these folks weren’t especially interested in anything that wasn’t already in production at a hundred of other sites in their industry.

IoT: The Bad

Scenario from the keynote. Car window gets broken by a thief. The police are automatically summoned. The owner’s insurance company is informed. Repair quotes and automatically generated and a repair is quickly scheduled in time for that evening’s anniversary dinner plans.

Heartwarming. Efficient. A marvel of modern networked communications.

Skip over for the moment all the automagical seamless interaction of communication systems, document formats, and workflows designed to “just work.” At the risk of being a luddite, this degree of autonomous interaction with and between third-parties sets off my creep-meter. 

Perhaps I’m overreacting in this specific scenario. But I think it’s hard to argue with the fact that we’re being bombarded with more and more IoT examples in which it seems that someone stopped at the “can it be done stage” without much if any thought given to the “should it be done" question. Whether because it’s creepy. Or even just solves a problem that no one has.

IoT: The Good

Yet, the same keynote also featured an IoT use case from Duke Power that was exemplary on a couple of fronts.

For one thing, it was a joint presentation featuring leaders from both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) within the company. Driving cooperation between IT and OT was a key theme both in this session and woven throughout the conference as a whole. Reporting from the event, Craig Powers writes:

 “At Duke, OT and IT have been apart for many years—we barely touched,” says Shawn Lackey, director of strategy and architecture at Duke Energy. “OT was mainly analog; IT was moving towards digital—we needed to start bringing the two together.”

Lackey was speaking Monday during the opening keynote of industry analyst firm Gartner’s Catalyst Conference in San Diego.
But connecting OT and IT wasn’t necessarily easy, just ask Lackey’s colleague Jason Handley, director of smart grid technology and operations at Duke, who also spoke during the Gartner Catalyst keynote.

“I did not want to talk to IT to begin with,” Handley jokes. “But my attitude has changed. Legacy operations for OT were based on protection and control and nothing else is going to trump that—but now we need to move digital data, and that is only happening by partnering with the IT folks.”

It’s also just a good example of building toward an integrated system that meets genuine business and customer needs. The video goes into more detail but the basic idea is that, using real-time sensor and metering information, the grid will be able to quickly route around certain types of physical damage.


 IoT: The Ugly

The keynote didn’t have much to say about IoT security but breakouts dove into considerable detail. For example, Gartner’s Erik Wahlstrom covered “Securing Digital Access in IoT Solutions” while his colleague Erik T. Heidt spoke on “Securing IoT from Edge to Platform and Beyond."

A couple of common themes were lifecycle management and dealing with the diversity of edge devices.

For example, Wahlstrom noted that “sneaker net” is still a common way to provision identity in IoT; the problem is that when things are done this way, there’s no automatic way to provide updates and otherwise manage the device over time.

There is a lot of work going on with IoT security and identity management, including the development of new standards. For example, Enrollment over Secure Transport (EST), is "a new standard (RFC7030) designed to improve the lifecycle management of digital certificates, a key element for secure communications.” However, standards have to cover many different areas—this presentation by James Fedders of Intel gives a sense of just how many—as well as many different classes of edge device: small/smaller, connected always/sometimes, plugged in/low power, etc. For example, the aforementioned EST requires HTTP to work and therefore isn’t a fit for the most contained edge devices.

I’d sum up the security (using the term broadly) conversation is that there’s a general recognition that it’s important. And work is going on. But there’s a huge amount left to be done and, if security is valued in principle, I see far less evidence that it’s universally valued in practice. 

[1] Graphic by

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