Data: Lifeblood of the Internet of Things

The dramatic growth of real-time data will change the type of digital storage needed in the future

Much has been written about the rise of autonomous vehicles with testing being conducted globally and the increasing number of consumers who are already enjoying the benefits.  One of my colleagues, who juggles his time between our office in Cupertino and the vineyard and olive orchard he runs in Sonoma County (Trattore Farms), tells me he’s taken full advantage of his Tesla’s autopilot feature for his drives.

It’s not just the hands off driving potential that impresses him though; it’s the way that his car, as part of a network of cloud-connected vehicles, is learning as the car documents data points and uploads them to the cloud in real time. So for example, if several Teslas log information at the same GPS point where their driver taps the brakes if their car approaches a dip in the road too fast, the algorithm directing autopilot through that location will automatically update and all the Teslas using autopilot at that location will automatically slow down.  It’s a fascinating example of the power of the Internet of Things.  

I’ve not had the chance to experience the Tesla autopilot for myself but I’m also seeing the power of data sharing and the IoT with my drone flying.  While it’s early days, it’s quite amazing to see what’s possible when machine learning meets the Internet of Things and it’s fueled by real-time data.

We often think of IoT in terms of smart cities, with initiatives such as that from City of Sydney which has installed IoT technology in garbage bins so that the city knows which are full, or not, and schedules pick-up services accordingly, saving time and taxpayer dollars. In Singapore, the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) is working on data-driven traffic modeling and mobility management, for optimal efficiency of traffic control management in public transit systems, on the road and at large-scale events.

But IoT is reaching far beyond cities.

Take for example the use of IoT in agriculture. In Cupertino, USA, Trattore Farms uses sensor technology to help ensure they’re being good stewards of water resources while growing the best possible fruit.  Closer to home, IoT connected farms are taking shape in Australia with the recent announcement of a nationwide Rural Internet of Things (RIoT) network which will cover one million acres in NSW, analysing data about soil moisture and rainfall to help farmers make decisions about irrigation, planting and harvesting.

IoT era means a new kind of big data

At the heart of all these deployments is data. Indeed it’s accurate to describe data as the lifeblood of the Internet of Things, increasingly enabling a new generation of powerful, connected devices that will dramatically impact our world.

According to IDC, the total amount of all data created, captured, and replicated globally last year was 16.1 zettabytes. By 2025, IDC forecasts that amount will skyrocket to 163 zettabytes with most of the growth, and 20 percent of the total, coming from IoT.

For context, the Library of Congress in the United States is the world’s largest library with 838 miles of bookshelves, holding almost every book ever printed in the United States.  It’s the equivalent of an estimated 208 terabytes of data (Lyman & Varian, 2000). So to reach the 2025 forecast of 163 zettabytes, we will add the equivalent of 784 million Libraries of Congress worth of data, per year, every year. That’s certainly “big” data.

Data moves into mission-critical applications

As IoT matures and we gain more confidence in the technology, we will increasingly use it on more critical applications – like self-driving cars— where errors could lead to serious injury or disruption. This requires us to ensure critical and hypercritical data is prioritised – and in turn it will drive an enormous shift in how systems capture, manage, store, secure, and process information. Analytics, for instance, will increasingly need to happen in real-time and superior analytics will become a competitive advantage.  

IDC estimates that by 2025, about 20 percent of all data will be critical—meaning necessary for the continuity of daily life--and nearly 10 percent of that will be hypercritical, or directly impacting the health and wellbeing of users. Not all data is equally important, but the amount of hypercritical data generated by IoT is accelerating dramatically. We will need to distinguish between types of data or face potentially dire consequences. 

The dramatic growth of real-time data will also cause a change in the type of digital storage needed in the future. Real-time data means we’ll need to cache a segment of the data close to where it is used, while the bulk of it is stored and protected in ever-larger cloud data centres. This illustrates the continued pressing role for innovation and investment in high-capacity storage.  

Data makes it real

Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

As the data we collect both as consumers and organisations shifts from life-enhancing to life-critical, the ideas we measure, analyse, and act on are changing, too. This transition demands concurrent advances in technologies and software. Big Data and metadata (data about data) will eventually touch nearly every aspect of our lives—with profound consequences. 

I’m excited by the fact that data-driven digital experiences are now limited only by our imagination and that these emerging applications are increasingly about things that are really important in our lives.  Time will tell how we adapt and shift. 

In the meantime though I’m going to enjoy flying my drone for fun and leave the more advanced IoT applications of drone flying for surveillance and security to the experts. And my friend in the US with his Tesla?  After being side-swiped by another driver on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco last month, he’s come to the view he should have probably left his autopilot on and left the driving to his car.

BS Teh is senior vice-president of global sales, Seagate Technology.

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