The Internet of Things wants to connect you to the future

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This feature first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Certification Magazine.

The term Internet of Things, or IoT, was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton. Ashton, a British technologist who co-founded the RFID-pioneering (radio frequency identification) Auto-ID Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), used the term to envision a world where the internet would be connected to everyday objects via sensors.

The Internet of Things is changing the face of IT. What does that mean for your tech career?Today, objects can and do collect, receive and send information, both to users and other connected objects. Over 100 million vending machines, vehicles, smoke alarms and more are sharing information. Market analysts at Berg Insight expect this number to rise to 360 million by 2016.

An M2M (Machine-to-Machine) device can assist with inventory control, or alert a technician to broken equipment. Take photocopiers, for example: An M2M chip can order fresh toner and paper automatically. When the photocopier goes down (a monthly occurrence in many offices), the M2M chip can alert a repair technician, and even tell him which parts to bring.

Manufacturers of products are climbing onto the IoT bandwagon as end-users clamor for this embedded technology to help businesses thrive, or improve quality of live. Many homes, for instance, depend on a sump pump to remove ground water from basements or crawl spaces. When the sump goes out, water damage can occur quickly. Now imagine that the same vital pump is equipped with a chip that relays operating information to an app on the homeowner’s phone. Near instantaneous notification of an impending failure could save the homeowner thousands of dollars.

The future holds countless opportunities for software and hardware engineers to bring the IoT to more devices. The device itself needs a hardware engineer, while the app on the phone requires a software engineer. Networking, however, is what brings them together to drive the bottom line.

In an advertisement titled “Create the Internet of Your Things,” Microsoft encourages business owners to “empower your business and gain a competitive edge by connecting data from devices and sensors with the cloud and business intelligence tools. Small things have the potential for big impact. The Internet of Things promises vast opportunities, but it also poses challenges for businesses that seek to take action and realize tangible results as it can seem overwhelming, complicated, and expensive.” Using an elevator company to demonstrate its message, Microsoft has posted a short video to illustrate how IoT technology can help businesses.

As new technologies are born, new certifications are needed to validate a candidate’s grasp of that new subject. Existing certification exams are frequently modified to accommodate technology trends. CompTIA’s A+ certification has evolved through the years, once requiring that candidates understand how floppy disks function, or the proper procedure for installing EISA (Extended Industry Standard Architecture) cards. These questions have been removed from the A+ exam in favor of the more relevant SSD (solid state drive) and the ubiquitous USB drive.

The basis of all data communication, however, comes down to a candidate’s knowledge of networking. Back in 1999, candidates seeking the coveted MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) credential had to pass an entire exam on TCP/IP alone. This was a grueling exam that required the candidate to configure CIDR (classless inter-domain routing) and VLSM (variable length subnet mask) without a calculator. Today, there is no TCP/ IP exam, since that subject is embedded within almost every computer certification exam.

In 1996, Bill Gates said, “There might as well be an electricity division at Microsoft: The Internet will be everywhere, in everything we make.” Like electricity, TCP/ IP is in everything now, and TCP/IP means networking. Remember IPv4, the standard for assigning a unique 32-bit address to every device on the internet? “Remember it,” you say, “I’m still using it!” Not for long: With IPv4 limited to a mere 4,294,967,296 addresses, the IoT will demand a thorough conversion to IPv6.

In 1994, a Band-Aid called NAT (network address translation) added some years to the life of IPv4, thanks to the clever people at the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). IPv6, on the other hand, can accommodate 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 unique addresses. That’s a big number, so allow me to restate it this way: IPv6 can provide many trillions of addresses to each human on the planet.

Here’s another way to get your head around the immensity of that number: Draw a box on a piece of paper that measures 1.6 inches square. Put all of the IPv4 addresses into that box. Using the same scale, you would need to draw a box the size of our solar system to fit all of the IPv6 addresses. Game over; IPv6 wins.

A certification candidate’s mastery of networking concepts is crucial, and IoT is making it even more so. The term “Internet of Things” intimates that tangible things are involved, but this may be a misnomer. Cisco prefers the term IoE, or the Internet of Everything.

According to Cisco, “More than 99 percent of our world remains unconnected. Tomorrow, we will be connected to almost everything. Thirty-seven billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, from trees to water to cars; the organic and the digital will work together for a more intelligent and connected world. If traffic, transportation, networking, and space exploration depend on digital information sharing, how will that information be identified from its source to its destination?”

Are you prepared for IoT? Do you want to have a hand in connectivity that extends from orchards to space shuttles? Networking certification can punch your ticket to the future of IT. Get started today!

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April Miller Cripliver


April Miller Cripliver holds a doctorate in Management Information Systems and has earned more than 25 computer certifications in networking, security, hardware and operating systems. She is a Subject Matter Expert for CompTIA and owns USER FRIENDLY CONNECTIONS, a computer consulting firm in northwest Indiana. Contact Dr. Cripliver at Info (at) UserFriendlyConnections (dot) com.

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