February 2016

No Quantum Leap Required: The Case for Serial-to-Ethernet in the IoT

Out with the old, in with the new—this is usually one of the first thoughts that springs to mind when the Internet of Things (IoT) comes up in conversations. A notion that is not necessarily true, though. In fact, most of the time all that’s required is finding a way to use the old better by adding new purposes to streamline operations and improve business.

In IoT-land, what really matters is getting the Things connected to the Internet. According to IMS Research, 85% of the devices in the field are legacy. Many of them are in remote terrains and, what’s more, not yet connected to the Internet. A large number of these legacy devices are serial-based and still play a major role in collecting and reporting data in a variety of applications worldwide. It’s no secret that the value of data increases when it becomes more mobile to be accessed by applications that can make full use of it for monitoring purposes. Therefore, the immediate challenge across the board in the Indutrial IoT is to get these legacy devices, which are already powered up and doing their thing, online. Forecasts put the number of devices to be connected to the Internet at more than 50 billion by 2020.

Several questions come to the fore while pursuing all-round connectivity. One persistent question: Is there still a place for serial-to-Ethernet in the Industrial IoT? For many practical reasons, the answer is simply yes. Devices’ longevity, the simplicity of serial-to-Ethernet communication, and cost considerations are driving the serial-to-Ethernet phenomenon in the IoT. This article outlines these three factors that underline the relevance of serial-to-Ethernet connectivity in the Industrial IoT.

1: If It Works, Keep It

Legacy devices and obsoleteness should by no means be mentioned in the same breath. Many legacy devices have long life spans, performing their designated functions faultlessly for up to 30 years on average. So, why change a good thing that still works? First, it does not make sense financially to replace these devices. Businesses with tight budgets are likely to take a beating should they unnecessarily be squeezed to upgrade a large number of embedded devices. Second, serial devices’ simple design, ease of control, low cost of deployment, and easy maintenance speak volumes about their place in the Industrial IoT.

The IoT is not at all about breaking with the past. Instead, the focus is on a more intelligent use of existing assets to tap into the potential of the Industrial IoT. The promise of connecting legacy devices to the Internet is multifold: unlocking data they contain, remotely fixing faults, and preventive maintenance, to name a few. So, in the words of the great British statesman Winston Churchill: “Stay calm and carry on.”

2: Simplicity Still Rocks

Figuring out how to use the IoT to your advantage does not have to be complicated. The mantra of good design is that systems work best by keeping them simple rather than making them complicated. As the IoT keeps expanding, more sensors will be deployed to capture the unlocked data in the field. In order to access and transmit data in the field, sensing technology relies heavily on serial communication, simply because it is easy to implement and use. The cutting-edge surface wave technology is a perfect example. Despite its rocket science-ish aura, it needs to ride on the back of serial communication to deliver the data to end users. The trend in the sensor industry is to remain focused on the development of sophisticated sensing technology while continuing to employ serial communication—simply because it is easy to use.

3: Not Breaking the Bank

For the one who signs the checks, sticking with serial devices and serial-to-Ethernet communication is a sound business practice. In comparison to using Ethernet devices in a pure Ethernet architecture, serial-to-Ethernet communications, on average, can save businesses up to 20% in network implementation costs.

A very important issue not to be overlooked is the exact requirements of a device. If it is a device, such as a power meter or water meter, that handles low-volume data flows, then a serial-based device is the default choice. It is cheaper than Ethernet-based technology and delivers the same results just as well. Another consideration is the intervals required between data updates. If data only needs to be updated every five minutes, for example, in non-critical applications, then there is no need to write off serial-to-Ethernet connections as too slow.

A further consideration, from a SCADA operation point-of-view, is the cost of IP addresses. In SCADA systems, the number of IP addresses influences the costs. Most small- to medium-sized businesses usually opt for a 1,000-point IP address package to keep costs manageable. Whereas a pure Ethernet architecture requires an individual IP address for each connected device, a serial-to-Ethernet architecture has the added advantage that it combines several connected devices to a serial-to-Ethernet converter with a single IP address.

Serial-to-Ethernet Solutions

The real beauty of the Industrial IoT is connecting a vast number of devices that use a wide range of connectivity standards and communication protocols to the Internet. Serial-to-Ethernet solutions make it easy to integrate these devices into Ethernet-based networks. These solutions give rise to opportunities to optimize legacy devices’ efficiency, prevent failures, and create new services. Serial device servers and protocol converters/gateways are the most likely solutions that connect serial endpoints to collect data and transmit it for analysis. For seamless integration, system integrators should settle on gateways for their ease-of-use, easy and low-cost deployment, and easy troubleshooting.

Moxa’s Solutions

As the IoT evolves, serial-to-Ethernet architectures will remain prominent. System integrators need to choose the best serial-to-Ethernet solutions for their networks based on up-to-date technology and costs. Bearing these criteria in mind, they should seek out vendors that provide a full spectrum of industrial communications solutions. In this respect, Moxa is the source to go to from design to delivery for pain-free IP enablement as its NPort®and MGate™ series are industry leaders in serial-to-Ethernet connectivity. NPort® serial device servers provide plenty of operation modes, such as Real COM Mode, TCP Client Mode, and UDP Mode, to allow different types of serial devices to be detected on a network. Moreover, with each operation mode, the NPort® is also equipped with various advanced functions to assist users in streamlining operations and maximizing benefits of serial-Ethernet connectivity. Moxa’s MGate™ gateways enable protocol conversions between SCADA/PLC and devices with different protocols. Standout features that set MGate™ gateways apart from others in the industry include easy configuration with a user-friendly web console, easy maintenance with built-in monitoring and diagnostics, and reliable performance.

To find out more about Moxa’s industry-leading serial-to-Ethernet solutions, check out our guides to device connectivity and making the most out of Modbus.

 
 
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