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Advent of IoT cloud services to fuel embrace of HTTP

The evolution of IoT means the birth of IoT cloud services, and that means IT administrators will have to view their networks in new ways.

I've written a time or two about what the Internet of Things (IoT) will mean for our networks, businesses large and small, and the consumer. But after building my first somewhat workable IoT application, some assumptions need to be revisited. As an old DevOps engineer, I'd been thinking primarily about IoT backend and its protocols, interconnected services and network infrastructure. But the reality is we don't really need to worry about that. IoT will be all about cloud and the future of IoT cloud services.

Enough about cloud already

If there's one thing to take away from 2015, it's that cloud isn't a "thing" anymore. It's now just a thing. Like virtualization, software as a service (SaaS) and dozens of other big-hype technologies before it, cloud is descending the hype-curve and here for real. Based on conversations with admins at Amazon re:Invent, Microsoft Ignite, VMware VMworld and on-site in their data centers, business is no longer experimenting with cloud. They get it, they're in. In 2016, they're hitting the gas on moving as much infrastructure as possible off-site. They're also doing something more interesting; they're learning about microservices and how to manage IoT cloud services.

For IT, less to manage has always been better for business. When servers were virtualized, physical data centers became smaller and less complex. When virtual machines go to the cloud, data centers almost disappear, and services are more available. But the next leap will be truly revolutionary, because it will deconstruct the very heart of IT -- those tenacious, entrenched operating systems and packaged applications that now underpin today's operations. And IoT is a great example of how we'll be evolving our networks into HTTP super-conduits.

But HTTP is a mess

For IT, less to manage has always been better for business.

To outsiders, HTTP is as straightforward as it can be. You just put http:// in a browser and go. However, for admins attempting to assess the notion of IoT cloud services, it's network-unfriendly in several ways, especially in comparison to relatively efficient binary traffic like database and file services. Even VoIP in all its jittery, executive-displeasing glory is relatively tight on the wire, because it has to be. Dropped streaming packets are noticed. But good old HTTP will happily create lots of sockets and blast verbose, line-terminated headers that span multiple packets. It will also happily maintain those sockets, much to the chagrin of your firewall.

As admins, we know this because we monitor the wire with NetFlow and deep packet inspection, keeping an eye on the application protocol mix so we can solve for quality of experience. So what will this look like if 10,000 IoT devices push 14,400,000 updates to the cloud every day? And, if they're frequent updaters like lighting controls, what happens when those devices push a quarter billion per day?

Certainly SPDY's successor standard HTTPS/2 will help by converting the inflated text-based HTTP/1 protocol into a binary TCP transaction. It also extends the single connection pipelining of HTTP/1.1 with actual multiplexing, with compressed headers bringing order to a cornucopia of keep-alive, heartbeat polling and other HTTP/1.x workarounds to support server push. Because HTTP/2 is designed specifically to improve end users' perception of speed via lower latency, device manufacturers will find competitive advantage in adopting the protocol. But with inexpensive IoT devices from manufacturers, there are no guarantees.

Re-rise of the LAN

With increasing availability of relatively inexpensive high speed LAN and WLAN, admins have not exactly forgotten about LAN optimization, but there's usually enough bandwidth to turn attention elsewhere, like putting out fires in highly converged data center networks. But soon, those systems will be off-site and interconnectivity will be someone else's problem. Concurrently, that migration will increasingly hammer our gateways, campus switching and wireless with dramatically increased Web traffic for our now SaaS-y application interfaces. Throw in growing IoT traffic of every variety; high frequency updates; WebSockets; long polling and simultaneous HTTP/1, 1.x, 1.1, 2 traffic, and we'll be dusting off our protocol optimization tricks. Admins tasked with IoT cloud services will have to rely on a wide range of systems to achieve their IoT deployment.

With SDN focused on the data center, at least in the short term, it will be up to admins to monitor and manage the protocol mix on the LAN. Users have ever-higher expectations for endpoint performance and IT teams are measured against technology experiences, sometimes even more than cost. And that's a good thing, because perhaps the LAN guru won't be expendable after all. 

Next Steps

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This was last published in November 2015

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