Could you manage a network of RoboCops?
A remake of the 1987 sci-fi classic RoboCop has just come out on DVD. In the new version, the huge, faceless corporation known as OmniCorp dominates the futuristic world of 2028. OmniCorp controls a huge fleet of robots to keep the peace overseas, and also the eponymous 'RoboCop', Alex Murphy. This re-launch is pretty timely. Although the original film was made over 25 years ago, it ties in perfectly to a topic close to my heart in 2014: the Internet of Things.
As I enjoyed the film, I couldn't help but wonder about the workday of OmniCorp's fictional network manager, and how his day might not be so very different to the network managers of today. What headaches might he or she have, running a fleet of robots controlled through OmniCorp's network connection?
So, for the benefit of all self-respecting network managers and sci-fi fans out there, I've attempted to add a little Hollywood glamor to my otherwise technically-focused day and share some thoughts on the parallels and challenges between the two realities.
As with any good sci-fi film, there are plenty of explosions, with robots being destroyed left, right and center, including (spoiler alert) an epic battle between robots and RoboCop. Although in less dramatic fashion, the everyday network manager dealing with the Internet of Things has to deal with connected devices going down or losing connection. A network manager needs to ensure they have the tools in place to alert them when a small fault or communication error occurs, or if a server is reaching capacity in order to prevent any downtime affecting the network. Officer down -- send in reinforcements quickly.
Missing in Action
OmniCorp is able to track RoboCop's location on an interactive map on a screen as he speeds around the city on his motorbike, through a tracker on his helmet. If he becomes damaged or goes AWOL he can quickly be located and recovered. There are tools available today for network managers to do a similar task. For example, if a connected device is hogging more bandwidth than it needs, they can find its location and resolve the issue. These tools can also be used to pinpoint a fault to a geographical location -for example, a damaged access point -- in order to quickly find and resolve the issue, removing the element of guesswork.
When Robocop starts acting against instructions and carrying out his own vigilante justice, it causes a real headache for OmniCorp. The same can be said when users start downloading unauthorized software onto company devices -- shadow IT. Unauthorized software may not conform to the company's standards, in terms of security, and can mean that the business operates inconsistently. What OmniCorp and the real network manager would do is identify the non-conforming behavior and address it with the support of policy enforcement and disciplinary procedures.
There are also issues when businesses use a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, rather than company-owned devices. When an employee leaves a job, they may no longer have the company's best interests at heart, and are likely to carry some important data on their device. In this instance, I believe network managers can take inspiration from RoboCop. When RoboCop gets out of control, OmniCorp is able to remotely shut him down. Network managers should make clear to all employees, that the company has the right to remotely wipe all company data from non-company owned devices.
In the film, RoboCop's crime fighting abilities are greatly enhanced by the fact that he has the entire police records downloaded into his brain, allowing him to establish a person's criminal record when he looks at them. This is an example of the capabilities of the Internet of Things, allowing devices to share information in this way. However, just like any other device containing important, confidential information, RoboCop should be secure. How different would the film be if RoboCop was hacked, and the bad guys deleted their own information from the database?
Any network manager dealing with devices such as smartphones and tablets that leave the office should ensure that they are well-protected from any malicious attacks. This means internal as well as external attacks. Companies should ensure that users are well-educated in keeping company data safe whilst they are out and about. I wonder if RoboCop was password protected?
With the exception of the half-human RoboCop, there are two types of robot run by OmniCorp. Luckily for them, this would make it easy to identify if anyone or anything joined the network that should not be there, or was not compatible. Network managers often struggle with a huge array of devices connecting to the network, in this age of BYOD where each employee could have five different devices in their pockets. A network could become more like OmniCorp and give the network manager an easier time, if they restrict the types of devices that are permitted to connect to the company network. Another option would be to implement a COPE (corporately owned, personally enabled) scheme, allowing employees to choose their company device from a list of pre-approved ones.
The new RoboCop film may be a work of science fiction, but as it is set in the future it also represents a prediction of how the world could be. Whilst we are a long way away from being policed by half-human, half-robot police officers controlled by huge corporations, the film highlights the importance of the Internet of Things.
Everything in the movie is connected; the robots are connected to the network, the network is connected to the police station records, and scientists carry portable screens that control all of the equipment in the lab. Whilst in reality this is only just starting to gather momentum, network managers should be planning now to ensure they can cope with the vast array of devices that could soon be connecting to a company network. Is the network infrastructure large, robust and secure enough? Is the correct network monitoring solution in place? And, at the end of the day, do you think you could manage a network of RoboCops?
Alessandro Porro is the vice president of international sales at Ipswitch
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