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Key IIoT Platform Selection Criteria—Industrial Computers vs. Development Boards

Jan 03, 2017
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The market today is flooded with embedded solutions for the Industrial IoT. You can now choose from a wide variety of RISC-based embedded computers, single-board computers, and development boards to implement your IIoT solutions. What are some of the key factors that you must consider when choosing an embedded computing solution for your IIoT applications? Should you go for a single-board solution or choose a platform vendor who can work with you to develop a customized industrial computing solution? Can the development boards handle the complex requirements of the IIoT applications and deliver reliable performance for your critical industrial activities?

The IIoT development boards are a safe and economical way to create prototypes of your automation ideas. However, when it comes to implementing real-world industrial scenarios, such as the IIoT, a tested and proven industrial-grade embedded computing solution is the best choice because it provides a high-performing, stable, and secure system that can meet most of your automation needs.

In this article we list some key hardware and software advantages of industrial computing platforms over development-board based solutions and the questions you need to ask when evaluating a computing solution for your IIoT.

The Hardware Perspective

Engineers often favor development boards over industrial computers because of their low price. As an industrial operator, here are some key points that you must consider before deciding on a hardware platform for the IIoT.

Is the solution a ready-to-deploy platform?

Industrial computers are often ready-to-deploy platforms that can cater to most of your industrial computing needs as opposed to development boards, which are bare-bones components that require considerable time and effort to assemble before they can be put to use.

Does it support multiple IOs of different types, especially serial ports? 

Industrial computing solutions typically come with multiple communication interfaces that include Ethernet, serial, and cellular interfaces for maximum flexibility in large-scale industrial deployments. On the other hand, the development boards come with one Ethernet port and a couple of USB ports and no serial ports.

Is the solution certified as per the mandatory industrial safety standards? 

UL and CE certifications that are a must for equipment deployed in industrial environments are notably absent in most development boards. Industrial computing solutions on the other hand go through rigorous testing to meet various certification requirements and are optimized for different industrial domains.

Does it have ingress protection? 

Ingress protection is a key requirement for all industrial equipment in order to survive the harsh industrial environment. Depending on the application, most industrial computers comply with various levels of the ingress protection (IP) standard to provide protection against the ingress of dust and water.

What is the product-warranty period? 

Industrial-grade equipment is expected to have a long lifetime and a warranty of at least 5 years, which is a norm for most industrial computers. On the contrary, the development boards provide a 1-year warranty, or none at all.

The Software Perspective

Software components are used in an IIoT system to extend the capabilities of industrial hardware and include the operating system, data acquisition, device monitoring and control, and data conversion tools and applications. The following factors could lower your software development cost as well as the time to market.

What is the level of software services and support available for the solution? 

Software consulting and services are lifelines that developers depend on. Besides, developing an embedded computing platform requires in-depth knowledge on how these systems work. Most industrial computing solution vendors provide different levels of software service and support that you can choose from, with some vendors maintaining dedicated teams that work with you to customize their solutions. If you are planning a complex deployment using development boards, you are left to your own devices and have to rely on the user community to come up with solutions.

Is the platform optimized for your industrial needs? 

Industrial computing platforms are optimized for use in different industrial domains. You can choose a solution that best fits your computing needs. In the case of development boards, as with the deployment, any optimization is the sole responsibility of the user.

How extensive are the utilities and libraries provided with the solution? 

The key to the success of any hardware platform is an extensive set of libraries and utilities that are available to customize the platform and make it more user-friendly. The key is not to just provide these utilities and libraries, but to also provide constant updates and support. A good platform provider will commit resources to optimize their hardware platform by developing software utilities and libraries.

What is the nature of the long-term support provided? 

The typical lifetime of an industrial platform is 5 years or longer. Industrial-platform vendors must therefore commit their resources to long-term maintenance of their software environment.

The nature of the cybersecurity mechanisms provided with the solution 

The recent spurt in cyber attacks on industrial equipment, especially IIoT endpoints, has put the focus firmly back on the security of industrial equipment. Industrial solution vendors are vying with each other to close the security loopholes and provide multi-level security mechanisms in their solutions. You can take advantage of this trend to choose a solution that offers the maximum security for your industrial equipment.

The open-platform advantage 

Open source software and an open source OS provide developers with maximum flexibility. Make sure that the open platform you choose meets your system requirements and gives you the ability to develop libraries or utilities around it, either in-house or with the help of external consulting firms.

Moxa’s Industrial Computers

Moxa's industrial computers are designed to provide reliable rugged systems that ensure the best user experience for a variety of vertical markets, including smart grid, marine, oil and gas, and rail automation.

The UC-8100 computing platform is designed for embedded data-acquisition applications. The computer comes with one or two RS-232/422/485 serial ports and dual 10/100 Mbps Ethernet LAN ports, as well as a Mini PCIe socket to support cellular modules. These versatile communication capabilities let users efficiently adapt the UC-8100 to a variety of complex communications solutions. For additional details, visit the UC-8100 product page.

Download our white paper to learn more about choosing the right computing platform for Your IIoT.

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