Brace yourselves ... the Internet of Things is NOT coming. It's here.

If you're a network administrator, your discussions of the IoT are probably held in future tense, but the reality is that many networks are already experiencing the stresses induced by these everything-connected devices, and the situation is only going to escalate over the coming years.

It is estimated that there are already billions of IoT devices in play on various networks across the world, although there's really no way to pinpoint it exactly. By 2020, there will be about 200 billion such connected devices in use around the globe. Lots of connected devices aren't really classified as IoT, such as many of the devices used in the commercial sector.

Where they are in use, many network administrators have yet to figure out exactly what to do with them. They often wind up being stuck on a guest network or similar backwaters of the network infrastructure. The problems are many, but the solutions are, as well. Here's what you need to know about the IoT.

1. Network Administrators Need a Say in Planning for the IoT

The IoT is here ... What can you do to prepare and protect your network?

While this discussion is anything but new, as companies depend more on networks to enable a plethora of connected devices, network administrators and other IT professionals need to be a part of the planning and implementation process before the point at which it's time to hook said devices to the network. It's impossible for those outside the networking profession to understand what's required to deploy and support these devices.

2. IoT Devices Aren't Your Average Smart Devices

In fact, IoT devices are typically quite dumb. Often designed with no UI at all, these devices might lack any security features and can be programmed in odd languages and formats. Even a network administrator with good coding abilities might have no knowledge or understanding of how these devices work. That fact makes it significantly harder to deploy and manage IoT devices across a network than it is to add the same numbers of smartphones, tablets, and other smart devices.

3. There are a LOT of IoT Devices

There are many potential opportunities in the IoT, but there are also many potential pitfalls, particularly in the areas of security, traffic monitoring, and performance optimization.

Another comparison to smartphones, tablets, and typical mobile devices is in terms of numbers. Most network administrators have been challenged to provide adequate bandwidth for all the users who need network access for their iPhones and Androids. When a company takes on IoT devices, there could be many, many times more than there are traditional mobile devices. The flipside of this is that IoT devices are typically a lot leaner in terms of bandwidth use and data capacity. So, while there may be 100 times more IoT devices on the network, they won't be streaming YouTube videos or posting to Facebook.

4. It's Time to Migrate to IPv6

It's becoming much harder to get enough IPv4 addresses for your other devices. When you take on the IoT, you will likely need access via the internet or some third-party network. Without switching to IPv6, the lack of routable IP addresses could hinder your ability to implement the IoT on your network. Similarly, you'll need to be able to support 802.1X, DHCP, and SNMP. In other words, if you've been holding out on upgrading your networking equipment and infrastructure, the IoT is going to force the issue.

5. So Much Data

One of the most significant challenges with the IoT is the sheer volume of data that these devices create, all of which has to cross your network. Not only will the devices be streaming data into your data stores, users and applications will be fishing it out. The smart network administrator will focus on reliability, security, and network performance optimization. The payback is significant gains in business intelligence, which should be enough to buy you that much-deserved seat at the planning table.

6. The IoT Includes Both Wired & Wireless Connectivity

The IoT is largely associated with wireless networks, and it is true that most commercial grade IoT devices are wireless. But there are also significant numbers of wired devices that will require access points. Adopting the IoT will also require much more in terms of traffic flow management, network switches, and improved security.

7. Security is the Elephant in the IoT Room

Nobody wants to talk about the lack of security these devices come with, but it's going to be up to the network administrator to provide that security until IoT manufacturers step up their game.

Speaking of security, cyber attacks on these devices have already begun, and are expected to escalate considerably before the manufacturers start addressing the situation. Network administrators will need to handle these devices like unknown or insecure devices. Your options include upgrading to switches that include Deep Packet inspection, better application monitoring and network monitoring solutions, and innovations like application fingerprinting. These technologies give the network administrator better visibility in order to improve security, but also serve to help them optimize network performance.

8. IoT Solutions Need to be Scalable

Along with the challenges, the IoT brings enormous opportunities, primarily in the realms of business intelligence, operational intelligence, supply chain management, and customer service. That means that companies typically adopt one set of IoT devices, but soon add many more as these devices improve the company's ability to generate an ROI. So, when you're planning for the new network, the network administrator shouldn't be thinking in terms of just adding these devices -- you should be considering what network upgrades you need to take your company well into the future. The old adage, "too much is never enough," certainly applies here.

9. The IoT will Advance the Cause of the Network Administrator

We've discussed the opportunities the IoT brings to the business, but it's also noteworthy how these devices advance the position of the network administrator. The more the business depends on connectivity, the more indispensable the network administrator becomes. While the advancement of software-defined networking, DevOps, and other changes put the network administrator's future in question, the critical nature of connectivity in general assures that, no matter what technological innovations the future holds, the network administrator will be a crucial part of it.

Download Digital IT and Transformation: A Global View of Trends and Requirement now and stay on top of the IoT and your networking career.