Data: Lifeblood of the Internet of Things

As computing power becomes increasingly distributed into the devices and infrastructure around us, the data generated by those devices will invariably play a larger role in our businesses and everyday lives.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

May 24, 2017

4 Min Read
Tim Bucher, Seagate

Between my role at Seagate in Cupertino and the vineyard and olive orchard I run in Sonoma County (Trattore Farms), I spend a fair amount of time driving. Or, rather, riding, taking advantage of my Tesla’s autopilot feature. I’ve been continually impressed by the way my Tesla, as part of a network of cloud-connected vehicles, learns through real-time data every day.

If the car approaches a dip in the road too fast, I tap the brakes. The system documents that data and uploads it to the cloud. If more vehicles log similar information at that same GPS point, the algorithm directing autopilot through that spot will change, and my car -- and all Teslas -- will slow down there.  That’s what happens when machine learning meets the Internet of Things. And it’s all fueled by real-time data.

IoT era means a new kind of big data

Data is the lifeblood of the Internet of Things (IoT). It animates a new generation of powerful, connected devices that have already begun to dramatically impact our world, and self-driving cars are only one example. The city of Columbus, Ohio is working with the federal government, venture capitalists, and tech firms to install smart, connected streetlights for the city that will increase illumination but save dollars and energy. Sydney, Australia has installed IoT technology in garbage bins so that the city knows which are full, or not, and schedules pick-up service accordingly, saving time and taxpayer dollars. Sensor technology at Trattore Farms helps ensure we’re being good stewards of water resources while growing the best possible fruit. Heck, even my dog is IoT-enabled!

As computing power becomes increasingly distributed into the devices and infrastructure around us, the data generated by those devices will invariably play a larger role in our everyday lives. How much larger? With IoT, a magnitude more.

In fact, the total amount of all data created, captured, and replicated on the planet last year was estimated at 16.1 zettabytes. By 2025, IDC forecasts, that amount will skyrocket to 163 zettabytes with most of the growth, and 20 % of the total, coming from IoT.

For context, the Library of Congress is the world’s largest library with 838 miles of bookshelves. It holds almost every book ever printed in the United States, an estimated 208 terabytes of data. So, 163 zettabytes means that by 2025 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 can lead to serious injury or disruption.

IDC estimates that by 2025, about 20% of all data will be critical -- meaning necessary for the continuity of daily life -- and nearly 10% 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 need to prioritize critical and hypercritical data 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.  

The dramatic growth of real-time data will cause a change in the type of digital storage needed in the future, as well. 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 centers. 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.”

Our hard drives used to be filled with movies, music, and other entertainment. But today that has changed; most storage contains data related to improving the productivity of our lives and work. As the data we collect shifts from life-enhancing to life-critical, the ideas we measure, analyze, 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. As an entrepreneur, I’m excited by the fact that data-driven digital experiences are now limited only by our imagination. Moreover, these emerging applications are increasingly about things that are really important in our lives.

I recently got in an accident in my Tesla when a car side-swiped me on the Golden Gate Bridge. The lanes on the bridge are narrow so I habitually turn off autopilot. It probably would have been safer to leave the driving to the machine. 

Tim Bucher is Senior Vice President, Consumer Solutions Group, for Seagate Technology.

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