OPC solidifies position as key IIoT enabler

April 12, 2016
Open sourcing and support for publish/subscribe communication functionality increase applicability to the cloud side of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) systems

The OPC Foundation recently announced an array of new initiatives

Microsft's Matt Vasey, director of IoT business development, is latest addition to the OPC Foundation Board of Directors.

and developments that will continue to bolster the specification’s role as a central interoperability standard for the emerging Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

First, the OPC Foundation announced support for publish/subscribe communication functionality. This functionality will complement OPC UA’s client/server architecture and will be critical to supporting the integration of “cloud-side” IT protocols. Second, the organization announced a collaborative strategy with the Object Management Group to support complementary usage of OPC with the OMG’s Data Distribution Service (DDS) standard, a key pub/sub protocol for distributed real-time systems. Third, the organization announced that the OPC UA specification has been open-sourced, and is now readily accessible to suppliers, end users, academics and research organizations that would like to assess OPC UA technology.  Finally, a new seat on the Foundation board of directors was created for Microsoft’s Matt Vasey, director of IoT business development, in a nod to the growing importance of interoperability with not only industrial automation systems but cloud/IT systems as well. 

Pub/sub for OPC UA

The OPC Foundation booth at the upcoming Hannover Fair, the week of April 25th in Germany, will feature the first live demonstration of the OPC UA specification’s new publish/subscribe functionality. The demonstration will consist of multiple vendors showing OPC UA enhanced with publish/subscribe, demonstrating how easy it is to provide connectivity and information integration for IoT devices and applications. The demonstration will feature both semantic and syntactic data interoperability.

"State-of-the-art cloud infrastructures from Microsoft, Google and others use publish/subscribe protocols for native connectivity to the edge without the use of adapters” says Jim Luth, Schneider Electric and OPC Foundation CTO.  “Now OPC UA applications can be friction-free first-class data providers to the cloud."

Adds Stefan Hoppe, global OPC Foundation vice president, “The OPC Foundation commitment to be the solution for the Internet of everything, inclusive of Industry 4.0, IIoT, IoT, and M2M, necessitated that the OPC UA architecture be enhanced with the publish/subscribe communication architecture. The industry has recognized the value of connected devices beyond just industrial automation and the OPC Foundation commitment is to provide the best technology to achieve connectivity and information integration for all markets.”

Open source to advance adoption

By open sourcing OPC UA technology, the OPC Foundation is now enabling easy access to the technology by academia and research organizations, as well as many suppliers and end-users that would like to assess the OPC UA technology as part of early adopter and feasibility analysis, according to Thomas J. Burke, OPC Foundation president and executive director. The open source repository of OPC UA is now available on the open source GitHub web site at http://github.com/opcfoundation.

“The open source repository from the OPC Foundation is intended to supplement other open-source initiatives, providing additional value,” Burke says. “The OPC Foundation has committed resources to moderate/maintain and extend the technology to keep pace with technology changes in the industry as well as the extensions to the OPC UA architecture and corresponding companion specification.”

Among other industry leaders and innovators, OPC President Tom Burke will speak on the central role that open standards play in the emerging Industrial IoT at this year's Smart Industry conference in Chicago. Come join us September 26-28.  

Open sourcing the OPC technology does not compete with the OPC toolkit members or decrease the value proposition of membership in the OPC Foundation, Burke adds. The companies that build OPC toolkit products accelerate rapid development of OPC UA products, and these companies provide complete documentation and 24/7 support to enable product quality OPC UA products to be developed. The OPC Foundation value proposition of membership is to provide a complete infrastructure for developing and marketing OPC based products, inclusive of providing the OPC Foundation certification program, which allows suppliers to certify and validate the interoperability of their products to the OPC standards.

OMG collaboration eases DDS integration  

Together with the Object Management Group (OMG), the OPC Foundation has developed a technical positioning and FAQ document for complementary usage of the OPC Unified Architecture and the OMG Data Distribution Service (DDS) standard. The positioning document explains that the OPC UA and DDS standards are largely complementary and compatible. The document is a joint recommendation and is intended to help companies quickly implement IIoT strategies. 

Today, there is little overlap between OPC UA and DDS in applications. Even when used in the same market (e.g. energy) the use cases are quite different. Today, OPC UA provides client-server interaction between components such as devices or applications. DDS is a data-centric “bus” for integration and peer-to-peer data distribution. Because the focal applications and approaches for DDS and OPC UA are different, most applications clearly fit better with one or the other. 

“The OMG DDS protocol is the proven data-connectivity standard for Industrial Internet applications ranging from smart grids, healthcare, transportation, military and aerospace, simulation, unmanned vehicles, automation to smart energy,” says William Hoffman, president and COO of the Object Management Group. “We are delighted to work with the OPC Foundation as the two communities continue their long history of bridging IIoT standards.”

Microsoft’s Vasey to join OPC board

The OPC Foundation elected Microsoft to the Board of Directors of the OPC Foundation, which represents many of the world’s most prominent global suppliers. The new board seat, which will be held by Microsoft Director of IoT Business Development Matt Vasey, is an extension of Microsoft’s support for OPC Foundation since the company first became a member in 1995. Microsoft’s longstanding commitment to interoperability and the OPC Foundation includes the OPC technology portfolio and OPC-UA, active participation in the OPC Foundation technology working groups, and ongoing representation on the OPC Foundation Technical Advisory Council.

“OPC-UA is an essential component of the connected products that manufacturing customers need today, and it is increasingly seen as an important part of enterprise IoT scenarios and business models,” said Vasey. “I am personally excited to be working with the OPC team to help our customers unlock the value of these high-value IoT scenarios that span from the edge to the cloud.  Microsoft is committed to openness and collaboration and fully supports OPC-UA and its evolution.”