Surge of health gadgets results in Big Data

Mobile networks need to be optimised if wearable healthcare devices and the Big Data they provide are to take off. SDN, NFV and the Cloud will help provide the right solutions by making networks more agile and to move capacity to where it is required, argues Nick Ilyadis, Broadcom CTO, Infrastructure & Networking Group

Surge of health gadgets results in Big Data

The Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon continues to ramp at an astonishing rate, notably in healthcare where wearable fitness and medical sensor devices are gaining momentum. The Sony Smartwatch3 and coming Apple Watch represent just the latest entries in the fast-growing market for wearable devices capable of monitoring biometric indicators to more effectively manage our health and fitness.

While the possibilities of IoT-based medical devices are clearly promising, the technology creates challenges for service providers that are transporting the data and the firms that are collecting and analysing that data. They need to consider how to improve the performance of their networks and data centres to crunch that data as quickly and efficiently as possible – especially as the capabilities and numbers of IoT devices continue to grow.

IoT is also sparking new innovations on the provider side of the doctor-patient relationship as the introduction of products such as Google Glass spark further innovation in healthcare. A doctor could call up a patient’s medical records on his Glass screen while treating a patient. Doctors in an emergency room can use the technology to more quickly triage a patient, displaying their vital signs, lab results and other pertinent information.

Extracting value from the data
Forecasts from the Ericsson Mobility Report and ABI Research estimate a jaw-dropping 30 billion wirelessly connected devices by 2019. Our bodies, as well as our behaviours, generate a wealth of data for wearable healthcare devices. The sheer quantity of that data constantly being tracked and collected will be staggering.

Further complicating matters, the raw data will need to be processed and analysed based on additional contextual information for it to have any real value. For example, a clinician looking at raw data from a patient showing a significant jump in heart rate might come to a very different conclusion if he knew the patient was sleeping versus running a 5K.

As more things connect to the Internet and to each other, today’s data management tools and traditional applications will fall short of the precise analytics needed for the ever-growing, massive, complex data sets called Big Data. Managing Big Data will be critical to ensuring consumers and healthcare professionals alike reap the greatest benefit from wearable healthcare devices.

Importance of the network
It’s hard to underestimate the importance to the enterprise of its network as key to managing and analyzing these gigantic volumes of data coming from all those health and fitness devices. It needs to look at updating its network to take advantage of recent innovations such as Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and cloud computing that, working together, will allow networks to capture, curate, manage, and process Big Data—all within a reasonable amount of time.

The emerging architecture of SDN separates the network control from forwarding function, enabling administrators to directly programme network control and abstract the underlying infrastructure for applications and network services. SDN software programmes make it possible to quickly configure, manage, secure and optimise the network, adjusting traffic flow around changing needs.

This “centralised intelligence” provides a global network view and appears as a single, logical switch to applications and policy engines. Cost-effective SDN can be open-standards based and vendor neutral, simplifying network design while improving manageability, coordination and control. Programmable, low latency, high-performing Ethernet switches are ideally suited to SDN, serving as the very fabric of Internet and data centres.

Virtualisation technologies
Enabled by SDN solutions, NFV is a new way to design, deploy, and manage networking services. NFV decouples entire classes of network functions from proprietary hardware appliances like routers or switches so they can run in software. Using standard IT virtualisation technologies, NFV “virtualises” these functions into building blocks that can be linked to create communication services.

Applicable to any data plane processing or control plane function in wired and wireless network infrastructures, NFV makes Ethernet networks even more scalable, agile, and efficient. SDN is an enabler to manage these NFV based networks, providing the ability to provision and monitor them in a more efficient manner.

The virtualisation of networks, storage, and servers is reshaping the way organisations use IT. Cloud computing plays an essential role in this process, providing Internet access to complex applications and massive computing resources. “The cloud” delivers the additional capacity required to satisfy growing demand to an enterprise or small business from a third party, giving organisations a way to crank up capacity without investing in a new IT structure.

Being able to host processing and data in the cloud frees network administrators to relocate that capacity to geographic locations where the data is being created, as well as control the devices generating the data. A well-designed Ethernet network delivers the low latency and high bandwidth required by cloud computing to deliver the full value of its efficiencies.

While there is no denying that wearable technology has moved far beyond the concept stage, its impact on the healthcare industry is only starting to be felt. Exactly what the full weight of that impact will look like is still up for debate. With the right technology behind it, however, anything is possible.


About the author
Nicholas (Nick) Ilyadis serves as Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of Broadcom’s Infrastructure and Networking Group (ING), responsible for product strategy and cross portfolio initiatives for a broad portfolio of Ethernet chip products including Network Switch, High Speed Controllers, PHY, Enterprise WLAN, SerDes, Processors and Security. Prior to Broadcom, Ilyadis served as Vice President of Engineering for Enterprise Data Products at Nortel Networks and held various engineering positions at Digital Equipment Corporation and Itek Optical Systems. Ilyadis holds an MSEE from the University of New Hampshire and a BTEE from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Reach the author @broadcom


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