Is it IoT or IxT?

This cryptic question came to me as I was thinking more about what it really means the future of the Internet of Things. In short, area we talking about the Internet of Things, or the Internet versus Things?

The Internet of Things is the future, where billions of devices will be connected to the Internet, exchanging information and interacting with us in real time.

The problem is, the Internet is not ready for this number of devices. Not even with IPv6 deployed everywhere. The problem is not just addressing, because there’s a much bigger problem waiting to be solved, which is probably the next big opportunity not only in networking but in the technology business as a whole.

The Internet was built of the premise of point to point communications: that is, knowing the address, any point in the Internet can potentially communicate with any other given point. That was a great enabler for all applications that made the Internet what it is today, because the endpoints were essentially us, the users.

This is changing fast, right now. The IoT is tightly related to the M2M (machine to machine) concept: sensors and ‘things’ will connect not only to us, but also talk between themselves — a lot. And that opens a whole can of worms in terms of scale and security.

Given the potential scale of the Internet of Things, it’s impossible to guarantee the security of the communications of any network where any billion of things can talk to the others. The math simply doesn’t work. Traffic patterns will become impossible to manage. That’s what IxT means: it’s not the Internet of Things, its the Internet versus Things, in a battle of scale — and the things will win over today’s Internet.

It’s not simply a scaling problem Making the Internet faster, or allowing it to address more endpoints with IPv6 doesn’t solve the complexity problem — it only makes it worse.

The solution for this kind of complexity problem is relatively simple in conceptual terms. We’ll end up doing what we always did: building a new layer of abstraction on top of the existing one.

My prediction is that we will see the birth of a big overlay on top of the Internet, allowing for massive VPNs to be deployed. Networks of sensors, some bigger than today’s Internet, will talk securely between themselves over this virtual layer. These VPNs of the future will be way more advanced that today’s VPNs are, and not always in obvious ways. They will be self organizing, and offer levels of security and control way better than what is possible today with standard networking & firewalling techniques. All of this will be built step by step over the existing Internet infrastructure over the next decade.

The IxT war means opportunity for innovation in networking on a scale never seen before. New technologies will be created. New players will show up. Some stablished vendors may fall out of the way. That’s the way of progress, and that how things always play. Let’s see what happens over the next few years.