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Tapping into the Potential of the Industrial IoT

Jan 05, 2016
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The number of smart devices connected to the Internet greatly outnumbers the number of people on the planet. From smart cities and smart industries, to smart buildings and smart homes, the IoT is continuously evolving; more and more devices are digitally enabled to communicate intelligently via networks to improve the monitoring, control, and safety of everything around us. Consequently, the way we interact with processes and data, as well as how machines communicate with each other, is changing. In our pursuit of everything smart, the challenges, however, are mounting for industrial networks to come to grips with the demands of the Industrial IoT.

A lot is at stake. According to a recent Nexus survey, 77% of respondents see interoperability as their biggest challenge in the Industrial IOT. Considering this and a plethora of other requirements, companies will need to find solutions that will allow them to achieve the most seamless operation possible.

This article focuses on the different challenges companies face in the Industrial IoT and discusses ways forward in terms of optimizing operations as well as reducing costs.

Key Challenge #1: Interoperability–The Devil Is in the Compatibility Details

Background and Challenge: In any interconnected system, all of its component devices must be able to communicate with each other—to speak in the same language, even if these devices work in very different fields. A lack of common software interfaces, standard data formats, and common connectivity protocols are complicating things in IoT-land. For industries, this means that 40% of the total economic value of the Industrial IoT will remain locked because different systems cannot work together. In addition, the drive to seamless interoperability is further complicated by the long lifespan of traditional devices that require costly retrofitting or replacement to work with the latest technologies.

Solution: Bridging the gaps in communications between devices and the rest of the Internet will require middleware or gateways that ensure interoperability throughout a network by translating the data from one protocol to another protocol. For example, OPC-enabled communication functions as middleware that allows data sharing across networks without any proprietary restrictions, overcoming interoperability challenges. An OPC server can communicate data continuously among PLCs on the shop floor and SCADA systems, RTUs in the field, HMI stations, and software applications on desktop PCs. When it comes to legacy-to-IP solutions, gateways play a crucial role to make IP enablement pain-free. The good news is you don’t even need to replace existing devices in your network; thus, saving immense costs. Furthermore, it is critical that, with the number of network devices and protocols quickly growing, the middleware delivers fast protocol conversion. This is a factor network engineers need to consider seriously if they want to integrate different protocols effectively.

Key Challenge #2: Reliability–Sweating It Out in a Brave New World

Background and Challenge: The success of the IoT depends on reliable IP-based networks. And, the key to a productive and effective network is tried-and-tested devices. Device reliability in the IoT is especially of utmost importance in the harsh operating environments typical of the oil, gas, marine, power, and railway industries. These industries will rely more and more on remote access, so it is in their best interest to deploy rugged-enough devices. Even the most well-designed and user-friendly front-end will be good-for-nothing if the backend of the system is not reliable. Devices that are defective, or break down due to extreme temperatures and other harsh environmental factors, will have a negative effect on the adoption of the IoT. We are all painstakingly aware of the possible outcomes because of device failure: people in danger, costly downtimes, and inaccurate data analysis, to name a few.

Solution: The success of the Industrial IoT depends heavily on a robust high-performing backend infrastructure. Investment in rugged industrial-grade devices−featuring wide operating temperature ranges, higher MTBFs, level 4 EMS protection, dual-power supplies, and dual-LAN technology−is a no-brainer for industries operating in harsh environments.

In addition, a number of redundancy technologies are available to ensure fast network recovery. However, open protocols like RSTP aren't as fast as proprietary protocols. The tradeoff is that proprietary protocols aren't interoperable. Over the past few years, advances in redundancy technologies such as Turbo Ring and Turbo Chain have enabled interoperability with RSTP and other networks, delivering the best of both worlds.

Key Challenge #3: Security–For Your Eyes Only

Background and Challenge: Now that more and more industrial users are expected to be able to remotely access all of their Internet-connected devices and cloud-based services, the exposure to cyberattacks is greater than ever. Until recently, cybersecurity has focused on a limited number of end points. With the advent of the Industrial Internet, security must expand its focus to include the physical and virtual worlds on a large scale.

Solution: Redesigning new security frameworks that span the entire cyber physical stack, from device-level authentication and application security, to system-wide assurance, is not negotiable. In general, an IoT solution is only as reliable as it weakest component. Therefore, it is critical to reinforce security with devices fitted with firewall protection that conform with industry cybersecurity standards such as IEC-62443. As firewalls can vary greatly in their ability to track, record, and report the activity fielded by the device, make sure the device offers the most comprehensive and useable activity logging and alerting features. With regards to secure remote accessing, firewalls should come with VPN support (open VPN encryption). Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (LZTP) and Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) are also trusted functions for securing remote access of devices.

With regard to physical security, operators can prevent blind spots by using robust industrial-grade IP surveillance cameras that run on networks equipped with Video Always-On technology to keep a constant watch, even when operating in harsh environments or using multicast streaming.

Key Challenge #4: Network Performance–The Big Squeeze

Background and Challenge: Most networks are simply not designed to face the challenges of an expanding IoT. The trend is toward multisystems integration and video surveillance; thus, requiring integrated networks with high bandwidth to combine video, voice, data, and control commands. Legacy monitoring tools are already stretched to the limit. Networks will come under more immense pressure to provide more bandwidth as billions of devices will produce an exponentially larger number of data points; all which need to be collected and analyzed. Moving this amount of data over the Internet will consume new levels of bandwidth; otherwise, networks will be plagued by bottlenecks.

Solution: Data transfer rates are a key consideration when selecting a network technology for a given application. Technologies such as 4G (LTE, LTE-A) and 5G are favorable for IoT applications, given their high data transfer rates.

A number of other options are available to build the high-speed network of the future. A Gigabit-level backbone is one solution network engineers are turning to address the need for uninterrupted high performance. Not to be overlooked is the IEEE 802.11n standard−a development that offers up to 300 Mbps and MIMO for seamless video-over-wireless networks. Furthermore, multicast technology must be present in the core, edge, and access layers of a network to optimize operations, especially in mission-critical multiple-service networks. Network performance can be further improved by having video systems use the network more efficiently with intelligent video analysis that identifies and prioritize video streams through motion and object detection or alert zones.

Key Challenge #5: Scalability−Breaking the Wired Ceiling

Background and Challenge: With billions of devices already connected and billions more to come, a harsh reality is that with a large scale of added devices comes millions of potential event failures. Industrial systems must prepare itself with scalable infrastructures that are expansion-ready. IDC predicts that the total number of “Connected Things” will exceed 200 billion by 2020. Also, in the future, more and more deployed devices will be mobile, intermittently connected, and low power−and they will need to interact with their changing environment.

Solution: IoT systems need to be adaptive and scalable through software or added functionality that easily integrates into an overall solution. New redundancy technologies such as Turbo Chain allow for flexible and massive scalability to support the Industrial IoT applications; they also ensure that large-scale networks are reliable at all times. In mobile networks, LTE has been designed to provide advanced capabilities for a large number of mobile devices to accomplish real-time interaction or transactions of important data. Also, low-power devices equipped with smart CPUs can make the expansion of networks much easier as they have sufficient processing abilities and are energy efficient.

Key Challenge #6: Management − All In One

Background and Challenge: The Industrial IoT needs to be built with maintenance and updates in mind. As a tangled web of interconnected devices is formed, system operators will not only have to manage the original system, but also adminster all of the new systems.

Engineers face a long learning curve. Most management software user interfaces are not designed for industrial automation; different management tasks require different tools. To make matters worse, setting up a network manually can lead to human errors and long labor hours. Furthermore, extra costs are involved to hire/train engineers in control rooms to respond to errors in a timely manner.

Solution: Modern management solutions make network engineers' jobs more straightforward by equipping them with the following tools:

  • An integrated network management suite that encompasses installation, operation, maintenance, and diagnostic
  • A productivity tool to configure and deploy devices rapidly
  • Predictive maintenance that involves using sensors to monitor machinery continuously to avoid breakdowns and determine when maintenance will be required, rather than relying on regularly scheduled maintenance routines
  • Mobile management through apps that allow engineers to check the real-time status of devices or receive notifications of events
  • Application Program Interfaces (APIs) are a powerful tool to simplify application development for device or system management


Moxa's Solutions

Moxa has multiple solutions that take care of these aforementioned challenges. For example, our reputable network redundancy technologies, such as Turbo Chain, Turbo Ring, AeroLink Protection, and V-ON, to name a few, ensure fast network recovery. What’s more, the industrial network management platform, MXview, supports IA-friendly functions, such as real-time, port-level topology and SCADA integration. MXview ToGo app allows engineers to check the real-time status or receive event notifications anytime and anywhere. To explore Moxa’s full range of solutions for the Industrial IoT, visit our webite here.

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