Distributed systems connecting ‘Things’ into islands-of-automation have been around for literally decades and include SCADA, M2M, DCS, CIM, and CMS, among others. So how is the Industrial IoT different?
It’s all about the potential to extract valuable insights from data in ways never before possible (at least at an affordable cost) and to use these insights to create new business value across the whole extended enterprise.
Today, useful data is coming from everywhere: connected sensors, machines, edge-device gateways, tablet computers, smartphones, operational servers, corporate databases, the web, and more, and new connectivity technologies (Internet, cloud services, mobile computers, wireless communications, data platforms, analytics engines) have never been more abundant or affordable. So the raw data and ways to distribute, share and analyze them to create new business value have never been more available. Building traditional bounded-domain systems to exploit them (e.g. M2M, SCADA), however, presents a number of obvious problems and limitations.
- The full potential of generating new insights (and thus additional business value-add) from all this data is left under-exploited in stovepipe systems
- The power and affordability of the latest connectivity technologies (between cloud, mobile, enterprise, gateway, device, etc.) are not fully utilized
- Many stovepipe systems mean many custom software infrastructures to support. Costs are higher than necessary and proliferation just makes it worse
- Connecting many proprietary OT and IT systems into an enterprise-wide infrastructure can be an integration and maintenance nightmare without proper differentiation between the enabling infrastructure and the domain applications
So to maximize value-add, while minimizing cost and complexity, a new approach is needed that provides a standards-based infrastructure for enterprise-wide data-connectivity into which domain applications are ‘plugged’ – thus supporting both vertical domain and cross-domain value-add.
The IIoT Platform – Providing the Operating Environment for Enterprise-Wide IIoT Exploitation
In other words, an IIoT platform that supports turning data into insights into business value for every computing platform (legacy, edge, gateway, cloud) and across all domains (OT verticals, domain boundaries and generic IT services).
So, how to progressively move from the as-is world of enterprise islands-of-automation, to the to-be digital enterprise?
The first step is to understand the essential support components of the IIoT platform required to underpin the digital enterprise.
- Heterogeneous computing platform environment (e.g. Android, iOS, RTOS, Linux, Windows, machine controllers, sensors, gateways, cloud services, virtualization)
- Enterprise wide data-connectivity for control, analytics, monitoring, mobility, etc.) wherever required to add business value (e.g. PrismTech’s Vortex)
- IDEs (for rapid new application development), edge device management, API management, edge (Small Data) and cloud-based (Big Data) analytics, etc. (i.e. generic applications or services)
- Multiple and sophisticated end-to-end Qualities-of-Service [e.g. determinism, content-based prioritization, data security, bandwidth efficiency, massive scalability (nodes and throughput), real-time peer-to-peer capability, near real-time via cloud services, etc.] e.g. utilizing the DDS data-connectivity protocol
- Integrating legacy systems (in brownfield environments) via standards-based protocol gateways to free that data from proprietary constraints (e.g. Apache-Camel-based protocol bridges)
- Vertical domain applications while maintaining horizontal data connectivity enterprise-wide (e.g. clean separation of the infrastructure and generic services from the domain applications)
Forward-looking end users and their major vendors are pulling-together these building-blocks to provide new IIoT platforms that will enable the exceptional growth that is forecast (by all analysts) over the next decade.
The Data-Connectivity Component of an IIoT Platform
Of these component parts, much has been written about connected devices (from sensors to cars) and cloud services and Big Data analytics. Between the Things and the cloud, however, is the software ‘glue’ that ties it all together with loosely-coupled, yet low-latency, secure and robust data-connectivity. At PrismTech we call this the Intelligent Data-Connectivity Platform and we have a market-leading example in our Vortex product line.
This platform facilitates the data-connectivity that enables new insights to be drawn from data and acted upon to create new business value, whether at the edge (e.g. microsecond latency control loops with peer-to-peer device connectivity), in the gateway (e.g. localized Small-Data analytics), from legacy systems (via standardized protocol-bridging technology), from enterprise servers (e.g. corporate knowledge bases), or from cloud services (e.g. mobility support, Big Data analytics).
It also needs to support the seamless integration of the latest generation of analytics engines, IDEs, API managers, etc. to enable a full-function IIoT platform for the digital enterprise.
The platform is used by end-users, ISVs, OEMs and systems integrators to underpin their solutions with a platform that supports both: (1) vertical (e.g. operational domain, tactical apps) and (2) horizontal (e.g. cross-domain optimization, seamless supply-chain) integration to free the data from local constraints and make them available, as required, to create new insights, and thus business value, enterprise-wide.
In summary, to create enterprise wide data-connectivity between new data sources (Things), legacy systems, enterprise systems, web browsers and cloud services, an IIoT platform is required that moves us beyond islands-of-automation and towards the seamless digital enterprise.
Only then will we realize the full and enormous potential of the IIoT to transform our business efficiency and deliver new value, whether from new connected products and data-based services, more efficient operations, and more environmentally-friendly, lower levels of energy use, waste, pollution, etc.
So, the IIoT is all about exploiting data horizontally as well as in traditional vertically-bounded systems. Just as the Internet-of-People opened-up new ways to communicate and add-value in many social and other activities, the IIoT will do the same for business. We just need the IIoT platforms to ‘free the data’ to allow new value-add, and so repeat for business what Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. did for our private lives.
Steve Jennis is the Senior VP of Corporate Development for PrismTech and a member of the Advisory Board and Program Committee for the Smart Industry Conference and Expo. PrismTech is a provider of system solutions for the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet and advanced wireless communications. Learn more about their Vortex intelligent data-sharing platform at www.prismtech.com/vortex.