Gartner is predicting the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in the world will hit 20.4 billion by 2020, with global data and information services business IHS similarly expecting that by 2030, 125 billion connected devices will be part of our daily lives.

Within the enterprise, adoption of IoT should be approached with caution, but as VMware’s IoT CTO Greg Bollella told TechRepublic, it isn’t just due to the security risk connected devices pose to businesses.

What should organisations be aware of before developing an IoT strategy? Below are three things to consider, according to Bollella.

SEE: The rise of industrial IoT (ZDNet special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

1. Return on investment

According to Bollella, the first question to ask is what is the return on investment (ROI); is there a justified savings to cost ratio?

“I would say, if we looked at, across verticals, I think the number one inhibitor now is really getting a handle on the ROI of the solution. That’s really what people are struggling with,” he said.

“It all sounds fine and dandy to do predictive analytics … so what we’re finding is that the customers that can identify really crisp ROI, will probably be the first to deploy.”

There are two technologies Bollella said will be mainstream first — smart lighting and indoor location services.

Using an example in the healthcare industry, he said in the United States, healthcare professionals spend about an hour a day per person looking for things.

“‘Where’s the infusion pump?’ And I’ve talked to healthcare providers, and they actually say we hide stuff from the other teams, because they’ll take it, so [they] squirrel it away somewhere where they can’t find it,” he explained.

In that case, knowing where an asset is, in a setting like healthcare, is a 12.5% productivity increase.

2. Technology heterogeneity

“The heterogeneity introduced by the physical world is just going to be there … it’s unlike regular compute, where we like to make everything homogeneous so it’s easier to manage,” Bollella said.

“You can’t do that to the physical world. A single corporation may have temperature sensors that are radically different, temperature sensors, everything, from a room to a reaction vessel — completely different manufacturers, completely different protocols, completely different IoT gateways.”

He told TechRepublic this results in many CIOs feeling paralysed as they sit and observe all of the heterogeneity coming at them, such as individuals putting devices on an enterprise network.

“That’s freaking them out, and they don’t know how to move forward because of the heterogeneity,” Bollella explained.

SEE: Internet of Things policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Offering his favourite IoT hack example, Bollella discussed a breach within a casino’s fish tank.

“A casino in Las Vegas had their VIP data exfiltrated. So you can imagine what the bad actors could do with that, right?,” he said. “They got in through an internet connected temperature sensor in a fish tank.”

The login for the random Wi-Fi connected thermostat that was dropped in the fish tank was “admin, admin”.

“The bad actors, they don’t even know where they are, they just scan for port 22,” Bollella continued.

“So heterogeneity is a really difficult thing. And so some of us are looking at how do we reduce some of that heterogeneity at the gateway level, we think that’s maybe the proper way, proper place to reduce some of that.”

3. Scale

The third inhibitor is scale — IT professionals are at odds with the breadth they need to cover with IoT, particularly if those devices contain a lot of smarts.

“They’ll ask, ‘Well, how many of these thingies do I need to put?’ And the vendor will say, ‘Well, you need to put so many per square foot in the room’. So you see their heads start doing calculations right away. If I have to do my whole enterprise, how many of these damn thingies do I need?,” Bollella continued.

“Then they start doing the multiplication of this is one solution, then I have a whole bunch of solutions, now all of a sudden, you’re up to millions of endpoints — in a worldwide enterprise, easily millions of endpoints, all like that fish thermometer.”

SEE: What is the IoT? Everything you need to know about the Internet of Things right now (ZDNet)

Bollella said the next thought is often the frequency of which devices need to be physically accessed in man-hours sending out a person to inspect the device.

“And you do the math, and if that’s less than 15 years, you’re not going to sell your product,” he said.

“I like to tell people, ‘Look, to do IoT right, you need almost perfect remote management.'”

According to Bollella, the next generation of IoT gateways will need to have lights out management.

“If they stop running, and you have to reboot them, somebody has to go to them … some electrical distribution companies they’re thinking, when they’re done, they’ll have millions of IoT gateways scattered across hundreds of thousands of square kilometres,” he explained.

“What do you do if one of these things bricks, if the chance of one of these things bricking is one in 100? I mean, that’s, that’s 10,000 you have to touch every day. If it’s one in a million, you still need to go reboot one a day.”

Disclosure: Asha McLean traveled as a guest of VMware to VMworld in San Francisco.

BeeBright, Getty Images/iStockphoto