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What will the Internet of Things mean for big data?

One of the biggest trends that's set to shake up the technology world in the next few years is the Internet of Things (IoT). Essentially, this involves placing sensors in a huge variety of items – not just traditional computers and mobile devices – in order to generate information about people's activities. 

Gartner has forecast that by 2020, there will be around 26 billion IoT devices in use around the world – a 30-fold increase from the 0.9 billion in 2009. Naturally, these gadgets will generate a huge amount of data that companies will be able to use to derive insight, so it will be increasingly important for firms across all sectors to have a strong big data analytics solution in place to cope with this.

So what will IoT mean in real terms for businesses? In many cases, it will mean enterprises can be more productive, and spend less time on issues such as maintenance. For instance, Jim Davis, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at SAS, explained to Enterprise Apps Today that in the oil and gas industries, IoT-enabled sensors on an oil rig can generate eight terabytes of data a day. 

By placing sensors on rigs and monitoring them, it is possible to better understand what’s happening and conduct preventative maintenance that keeps the equipment running, rather than waiting for breakdowns to occur to be first alerted to a problem.

The utilities sector is also one that can greatly benefit from IoT sensors, provided they have the right data analytics tools in place. The technology is an integral part of the 'smart grid' concept, where instead of power plants generating the electricity they think will be needed, smart meters will enable users to program their own consumption. 

This can help them avoid peak pricing rates, prevent certain devices operating at specific times, and provide the grid operator with far more data so they can more closely anticipate demand.

Traffic systems are another area in which big data and IoT can combine to improve efficiency. While initially, the data gathered may be used to predict traffic patterns and make changes in order to boost the flow of vehicles, it will be when used in conjunction with technologies such as automated vehicles where there is real potential.

Andreas Mai, director of Smart Connected Vehicles at Cisco Systems, said: "Having autonomous cars which drive themselves would eliminate 80 per cent of crash scenarios." 

He added: "Big data is the fuel of the connected vehicle. It is analytics which gives you the true value."

However, in order to make the most of IoT data, it will be important for companies to plan their solutions carefully and make sure they have the right supporting infrastructure in place. With so much data being sent remotely to their servers from a huge variety of devices, existing wireless communications networks will struggle to cope.

Mr Mai observed today's mobile networks are already being overwhelmed by the amount of data being sent around the world, so it will take a concerted effort from the industry to respond to this need and put in place futureproofed solutions that can handle the ever-growing amount of information.

"Every enterprise needs to factor in how the Internet of Things is going to affect them and their business, and must respond by establishing the right infrastructure to support this level of big data and analytics," said Mr Mai. "If they don't, they will fall behind."