While the IoT and (I)IoT are on their way of becoming the new buzzwords in IT, most companies are still struggling to find their place in the grand scheme of things. At least that’s the impression I get when talking to various companies and customers throughout the past couple of months. Everyone wants a piece of the action but it can be hard to figure out where to start and what your role, as a company should, or could be in all this. It’s easier said than done. With such a broad definition of ‘things’ this doesn’t come as a surprise. One thing is for sure though, all these ‘things’, industrial or otherwise need to be connected.
Other related (I)IoT posts:
- All ‘things’ connected, the ‘I’ in the IoT – a closer look. Part two!
- All ‘things’ connected, the ‘I’ in the IoT – a closer look. Part three!
- Defining your IoT strategy – first things first!
- IoT use-case: The Connected Cow! Yes, really
- Citrix Octoblu: an architectural breakdown
IoT vs. Industrial IoT – (I)IoT
Since my main focus throughout the next few articles (haven’t decided on how many yet) will be on the (I)IoT, let’s start with a distinction between (and brief description of) the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet of Things. The IoT is sometimes also referred to as the consumer IoT, since its focus lies on connecting a broad range of consumer level ‘smart’ devices to enhance the overall user experience, and to hopefully safe some time and money along the way. At least, that’s how it all started a couple of years ago.
Today the IoT spans multiple domains and vertical markets (like: Industrial and Manufacturing, Retail and Management, Healthcare and Medical), but also includes domains like: Machine to Machine, Building and Automation (this is also where Citrix does some cool things with Octoblu – Workspace IoT) and Home Automation/Consumer. And of course, each of these domains represent multiple verticals as well. Note that (I)IoT is also known as Industry 4.0. I’m leaving the concept of the EoT out for now, I don’t want to make it anymore confusing than it already is, or can be.
While the Industrial IoT, or (I)IoT is generally seen as a sub-vertical it’s probably going to be one of the most important and biggest one going forward, in let’s say the next 3 to 5 years. From a business perspective, I mean. The (I)IoT inter-connects, monitors and collects data on all types of industrial machines and components like PLC’s (programmable logic controllers), RTU’s (remote terminal units) both also referred to as field connection controllers, and HMI (human interface) machines – used to control PLC systems and such. A PLC is able to receive (input) and transmit (output) various types of electrical and electronic signals (sensor data included) and use them to control and monitor any kind of mechanical and/or electrical system. As opposed to other forms of IoT, like Workspace IoT, for example here, the role of big data is going to be much more prominent as well.
In many cases Machine 2 Machine and parts of Healthcare and Medical are also seen and treated as (I)IoT instead of IoT. The same can be said for (consumer) IoT as well, in many cases the same types of ‘smart’ devices, protocols and/or networks are used as within the Building and Automation domein highlighted earlier, which also encompasses Workspace IoT, to name one. And of course it’s also a matter of perspective and who you talk to.
All this combined, including the so-called communication infrastructure, is referred to as a SCADA system (comprised out of multiple elements). SCADA systems typically run on a supervisory computer, or multiple gathering data on the various processes while sending commands to the ‘field connected’ devices as mentioned above.
IoT Fact: In the industrial world, all this is known as OT, or Operational Technology – as per Wikipedia: Operational Technology (OT) – the hardware and software dedicated to detecting or causing changes in physical processes through direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices such as valves, pumps, etc. The biggest challenge most industrial companies have today is merging the OT and IT worlds together. Especially with the introduction of IoT. Dealing with different protocol types and architectures, big data, remote access and keeping it all secure – are just a few of the challenges ahead.
The expected amount of data that will be generated, coming from the hundreds of thousands, or even millions and/or billions of sensors, and other components will be mind-boggling. The possibilities and opportunities that come with it, largely in the form of (big) data analyses (real-time) and machine learning, will have a huge impact on the ‘business as usual’, in a good way. Here we are talking about things like: the ongoing monitoring of thousands of components, predictive (automated) maintenance, enhanced connectivity, security and scalability.
Both the IoT and (I)IoT (should) focus on optimizing, automating and/or simplifying the most common daily (business) processes. If human intervention can be minimized or be made obsolete all together the bigger the time and cost savings will be. I say, most common because the simpler the process the higher the volume will be, most of the time anyway, which usually means more time/resources to be saved and thus money to be made. Though, this might and will apply to some of the more complex and time consuming processes as well, of course.
Making the connection
This is where the ‘I’ in IoT comes in. We all know that the ‘I’ stand for Internet, no surprises there. All ‘things’ need to be able to communicate with each other, hence a (wireless) network is needed. Both the IoT and the (I)IoT need a network to make communication amongst components possible, to read, receive and collect (sensor related) data. However, since different types of networks have different types of characteristics, and different types of ‘things’ produce different types and amounts of data, consider the following…
Have a look at the below list:
- Will data be kept in the datacenter, or on the ‘edge’ for further processing, or does is it need to be (or do you want to) send to another datacenter or cloud environment for further analyses.
- What is the distance between the objects and how are they connected?
- How many times will communication take place – between a censor and (I)IoT platform, for example?
- Are you dealing with autonomous decision making types of applications? If yes, continues network access will be needed.
- Small or big amounts of data? Self-driving cars vs. a censor on a container, for example.
- How about stability. How much latency is allowed, or desirable at most?
- When dealing with censors, battery life comes into play. Once it is out of power the sensor will need to be replaced. Another thing to keep in mind. Traditional LTE network offer broad range and wide coverage, but because of the high dB (decibel) extension it will impact your sensors battery life.
- As far as the spectrum goes, does it need to be licensed, or is unlicensed allowed as well? Looking at the pros and cons might influence your decision.
- Are technology standards, like 3GPP for LTE important, or is propriety allowed as well?
- How many connections, or volume of devices do you need and how important is it to be able to scale?
- Signal strength, being able to penetrate walls while maintaining signal strength. Within large, but dense buildings and cities, for example.
- Complexity can also be a deal breaker. While the Cat 0 and 1 LTE networks can deliver high throughputs and wide coverage, they are also complex to setup and maintain and can be tough to deal with as an outsider.
- Bandwidth MHz.
All these variables need to be taken into consideration when choosing your carrier. Sometimes the choice is easy, data storage, and perhaps processing/analytics takes place locally, or on the edge so not much (still some though) else is needed regarding your internal network. When tracking and tracing comes into play, a very popular form of IoT nowadays, coverage, battery power and thus a low power, broad range and wireless network will be needed.
In my next post (part two) I will talk about a bit more about big data, data analytics and the triggering of workflows, including a couple of real-life examples. Also, without going into to much detail on the individual networking technologies involved (I’ll safe that for part three) I will include a useful cheat sheet highlighting some of the most popular IoT and (I)IoT networking options available today. Including some of their most important en interesting features and characteristics – the main focus will be on LTE (cellular) and LPWAN’s (Low Power).
Thanks for reading.