Putting the Internet in the Internet of Things

Putting the Internet in the Internet of Things

Nominet CEO Russell Haworth says that we’re a critical point in the history of the Internet of Things– but add that deployments can be made easier through its toolkit.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has great potential to transform our lives, but uncertainty around how solutions should be developed is holding it back.

There are two main issues at play: a lack of interoperability between separate IoT projects, and ensuring that the data they transmit is secure.

Currently, anyone looking to build an IoT application is faced with a confusing mix of technologies that may or may not be compatible. It’s likely that technologies will have been sourced from a single provider, but with no guarantee that they will be compatible with different systems in the future. Our vision is that the IoT should be easy, interoperable and predictable, so that it should be as simple to build an IoT application as is it to create a website.

We’re at a critical point with the Internet of Things today. We need to move from trials and prototypes to full commercial deployments at scale.

Nominet’s R&D team has worked on a number of IoT applications, the most well-known of which is the Flood Network. As reported by IoB, it is a real-time, sensor-based system that looks at improving flood response time in the UK. Through the team’s experiences on this and other projects, we have developed an IoT “toolkit” that can be applied to any IoT application. For example, we’re also using our toolkit to create a smart parking system.

The toolkit is designed to address the common issues facing developers and make it easy for them to build and manage secure, future-proof IoT applications. I’ve highlighted three of these areas that the IoT tools aim to address.

Future-proofing IoT deployments

One of the current inhibitors when deploying an IoT project is the risk that once deployed, the hardware and potentially the software will become obsolete due to advancements in hardware technology and use of as yet unknown software standards.

To mitigate against this, one of the tools in the kit provides an abstraction layer which allows either hardware or software to be replaced without impacting the other, giving confidence to organisations that their projects won’t be left with obsolete technology.

Securely managing resource constrained devices

Despite a dramatic reduction in hardware costs, it is unlikely that the majority of sensors deployed as part of an Internet of Things project will provide the horsepower to handle full digital certificates.

To solve this, we use the existing DNSSEC standard to provide a lightweight but effective way of creating a chain of trust down to devices deployed in the field. It also has the added benefit of being based on an existing internet standard, adding a layer of credibility and familiarity for users.

Improving interoperability between devices and services

We have created a universal directory – the IoT Registry – that allows all IoT devices to connect to services. Reusing existing internet standards that are scalable and established means we are not reinventing the wheel; the system is based on the internet Domain Name System (DNS) to identify and connect devices and data streams.

The way it works is that each service or device is identified by a DNS name, and has customisable metadata fields associated with it to help with deployment management. The universal language enables users to re-direct services and break down IoT silos that might otherwise exist.

Another benefit of the IoT registry is that it gives users the option to work alongside other technology that relies on the DNS. Network analytic tools like our latest product, turing, help to monitor network traffic and flag any anomalies, by measuring and analysing internet activity through the DNS. In this way, DNS analysis can provide a unique, real-time picture of the traffic on IoT networks, and quickly identify issues such as security breaches or system misconfigurations.

…It’s a new era

A standards-based approach and streamlining the process of developing for, deploying, managing and deriving value from the Internet of Things will propel this sector into its next phase of growth. We’re very excited to see what comes next – be it through developing new technologies, or deploying our existing IoT applications through collaboration with external partners.

In the meantime, we will continue to work on real-world projects to test our IoT tools in different situations such as the Oxford Flood Network and Smart Cities solutions.

Russell Haworth, CEO, Nominet

You might like to read: How this Oxford start-up is improving flood protection with the Internet of Things