Discussions abound these days about The Internet of Things—this interconnection of all our gadgets, appliances and computing devices that can share information. Those conversations, though, usually have to do with consumer privacy and business security issues or future marketing opportunities associated with this information technology.
But what about the impact on the networking professionals responsible for supporting such network-connected devices in the workplace? They’re stuck in the middle. They must contend with employees’ expectations as well as the needs of security experts responsible for ensuring information security in the enterprise.
The Internet of Things is certainly on the mind of Jim Gogan, Interim Director of Communication Technologies at Information Technology Services.
The Internet of Things vexes networking
“One of the biggest challenges for anybody in networking in a large institution these days,” Gogan said, “is the commoditization of network appliances and network devices—this whole Internet of Everything or The Internet of Things you hear about, and the development of more and more stuff that is network connected in the homes, and then folks trying to bring that stuff into an enterprise environment.”
“In a home you may have one switch, one wireless access point, a couple of computers, one TV,” he said. For that consumer environment, it’s very easy for a company like Google with Chromecast or Apple with Apple TV or Sonos with its wireless speakers, to promise that “your computer can see these speakers no matter where you go in the house or these speakers can talk to all the other speakers in your house,” he said.
Managing expectations is challenging
A university setting, though, is a different story. “Then somebody brings that stuff onto campus,” Gogan said, “and 60,000 computers are seeing their speakers and their speakers are one pair of 15,000 other speakers and they complain to us it doesn’t work like it does at home, to which my response is ‘Duh.’”
“The management of expectations in terms of why things that are designed for the home market really don’t work in a university with 60,000 computing devices and 4,000 network switches and 5,000 access points—it just doesn’t scale,” he said.
Networking professionals get frustrated with vendors for not developing scalable products for the enterprise. And users are frustrated because what they enjoy at home doesn’t measure up in the workplace.
“It’s tough,” Gogan said. Here on the Carolina campus, he said, “it’s tough for students in the residence halls too. Because for all intents and purposes, that is their home. So we have the challenge, of OK, how do we make things designed for the home market work in a student’s home when it’s not an isolated network like it would be in a real home.”
ResNET is a valuable partner
ITS Communication Technologies has a strong partner with which to meet this challenge of serving students’ needs. That partner is ResNET, which provides on-site IT support, education and the technology infrastructure for the UNC-Chapel Hill residential communities.
The staff members at ResNET “are extraordinarily valuable in so many ways” in addressing the issues that arise in this Internet of Things era, Gogan said. “I’ve seen them help manage expectations with students in a very professional manner as to what can and can’t work and why; do decades (sometimes in one weekend!) of research on Google looking for ideas from other campuses or workarounds for some of these devices; help students update software or drivers for their systems; and even provide them patch cables (yes, CABLES!!!!), as a last resort, to connect their recalcitrant device up to Ethernet.”
“Fortunately,” he added, “Chris Williams and the ResNET folks are just phenomenal. I love them. They do phenomenal work.”