The phrase “internet of things” (IoT) is said to have been coined by a tech entrepreneur by the name of Kevin Ashton during a business presentation in the late 1990s, and has since been defined by the International Telecommunication Union as “a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.” Predictions indicate that there will be billions of interconnected “things” by as soon as 2020, which raises the question of how their potentially vast communication networks will be accommodated.

While the cloud has established a growing presence in the business space, there are many concerns associated with its security and costs (among other things) that have prevented it from quickly becoming the premier general consumer data solution that it seems destined to be. The cloud’s centralized nature inspires an understandable hesitation in consumers and businesses alike. And although resources may become cheaper and more scalable with the cloud than earlier storage models, there is a significant personnel cost factor to consider in labor resources that tend to scale up with increased cloud usage. (To learn more about IoT trends, see The Impact Internet of Things (IoT) is Having on Different Industries.)

A “killer app” is a piece of software that is so useful that its wide proliferation normalizes its contextual technology (a common example is a video game that is so popular that it sells consumers on the console or hardware that hosts it). The scope of IoT networking is so great that it can only be hosted in massive and highly scalable network environments. When it is finally implemented, IoT is sure to cause a massive technological shift that will have profound effects on virtual data. Here are a few signs that IoT is on the brink of becoming a reality, with the cloud as its host.

Fog Computing

Cloud technology’s potential for mass data centralization makes it a particularly attractive target for hackers and security breaches. Threats to the cloud include denial of service (DoS) attacks, advanced persistent threats (APTs) and countless others due largely to its potential size, scope and influence over everything from business to government and beyond. And aside from the security implications, there have been concerns of efficiency that have intimidated prospective cloud users as well.

This has led to the development of “fog” computing, which seeks to mitigate cloud inefficiency and insecurity in IoT by allocating cloud data hierarchically and in accordance with device-data proximity. The term “fog” might usefully be compared with “cloud” metaphorically; as the former is situated closer to the data recipient than the latter, just as condensed water in the form of fog sits closer to the Earth than a cloud does.

The cloud models of today are not optimized for IoT’s scale, variety and potential. Fog computing would in theory minimize latency between stored data and network-enabled “things” – or “fog nodes,” as they have come to be known – thereby improving IoT reliability, while also improving its convenience (and marketability, by extension).

IoT as a Service

Everything as a service (sometimes called “XaaS”) refers to products that extend cloud functionality to users in a variety of iterations. It is defined by its accessibility, as products featuring the “as a service” suffix are remotely accessible, device independent and relatively cost-efficient. Three of the earliest implementations of this model are SaaS (software as a service, which consists of cloud-hosted software applications), PaaS (platform as a service, which consists of cloud-hosted software environments) and IaaS (infrastructure as a service, which operates closely with the physical computing power that directly underlies virtual data).

In the forthcoming IoT marketplace, physical products would need to be instantly upgradable in order to sustain their value over the long term. IoT will require flexibility, scalability, efficiency and sufficient responsiveness to time-sensitive requests, all of which could likely be efficiently managed within the scope of the XaaS model.

IoT as a service is a concept that is being developed by the European Alliance for Innovation – an international nonprofit organization that facilitates conferences and collaboration for the advancement of information technology. IoTaaS is still in a gestation period, but the EAI has been working to attract funding and personnel (in research and engineering capacity) in order to enmesh IoT technology with the objectives and operations of XaaS.

IoT Security

IT security is quickly becoming one of today’s most pressing issues, and IoT is sure to ramp up public anxiety surrounding hacks, data breaches and general information technology protocol. A recent survey conducted by Tripwire (an American IT solutions company) found that only 30 percent of respondents feel prepared for IoT security threats, while only 34 percent feel that they can accurately track their current networked devices. (For more on proper handling of IoT data, see How Can We Handle Internet of Things (IoT) Generated Data Ethically?)

Nevertheless, industry analysts predict that billions of devices will populate IoT by the year 2020. With the current economic woes that plague the Western world (stagnant wages, higher living costs, underemployment, etc.), the IoT security crisis could conceivably present a great deal of economic opportunity. There is an obvious need for IT security personnel in the private and public sectors, and the internet of things will amplify that need exponentially.

It goes without saying that millennials are a hyper-connected generation. And, unfortunately, it also goes without saying that millennials (particularly those with advanced academic degrees) are shouldering tremendous economic burdens. But they are a considerably hard-working group. And IT security training companies (like Cisco) are focusing increasingly on IoT, in anticipation of its expected near-future growth. Whenever technology begins to disrupt industries and displace or supplant members of the workforce, people often get caught up in the idea that the machines are coming to replace us, when they might actually be creating new and different opportunities.

Conclusion

The cloud is already looming on the horizon, but it is going to take a killer app in order for it to be fully normalized among consumers and businesses. Although we already live in a very interconnected world, the internet of things will likely make virtual data tangible to the masses, as it propagates network sensitivity throughout our physical environment.