The cloud is already shaping the way business will use IT infrastructure and computing power in decades to come. But the burgeoning Industrial Internet of Things is about to supercharge the cloud.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) isn’t new, nor is enterprise’s adoption of the public cloud infrastructure. But the combination constitutes a potent force that promises to supercharge Industry 4.0. Today’s IIoT platforms use the cloud to fulfill two requirements: collecting and analyzing data from IoT devices, and managing those devices.
USA-based Red Hat develops open-source technologies for IIoT platforms and cloud solutions. Lis Strenger, with the firm’s IoT and Emerging Technologies says:
Companies often turn to the cloud in the early stages of designing an IoT solution because it’s relatively quick and cost-effective to set-up a cloud back-end to receive and analyze data from pilot projects.
As IIoT projects grow, the cloud is practical because it offers easy scalability; if you want to grow the project, you just pay for more cloud storage. The same applies to managing IIoT devices and sensors, which can run into thousands of dollars on a single project.
J.P. Luchetti is director at mobile consultancy and app developer Mubaloo Innovation Lab, based in the U.K. They have worked on IoT deployments for MTR Crossrail, Aviva and other companies. He warns against taking huge leaps when innovating with new technology, including the IIoT and the cloud:
Cloud services have allowed IIoT to speed up the implementation process. This approach is based on taking small, simple steps, including proof of technologies or proof of concepts. The cloud makes this step easier and faster, allowing the speed of adoption to increase.
Once the project is up and running, moving into the production phase, the cloud becomes critical once again.
Most of the business logic—and all of the data—should sit in cloud services to make sure we are interconnecting the different IoT devices.
Data collected by IIoT sensors is fragmented. To maximize use, big data analytics software needs to be able to access all the data in one place.
A Burgeoning Cloud
Analysts expect that in the next five to ten years, 95% of companies will use some kind of cloud technology. Successful cloud growth to accommodate billions of devices will require the use of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6 ), the latest incarnation, which allows much longer IP addresses. That means the internet—and the IIoT—can increase in size exponentially .
A great example of how it’s already being used is the smart grid, where IIoT devices create mesh networks. The connectivity is established by the devices themselves, relaying data to and from each other. Luchetti adds:
IPv6 is in use on the smart grid already to help heating systems, lighting, vacuum cleaners and other appliances to create a mesh network to send data to backend systems.
His own Mubaloo Innovation Lab is working on tiny beacons that emit a short-range radio signal containing unique, location-specific data. Running the new Bluetooth 4.2 technology, they will allow physically diverse assets such as street lighting, smart bins and sensors in farmers’ fields to create mesh networks.
By adding IPv6 and the ability to create mesh networks with a single access point, companies will be able to connect a vast number of assets without requiring separate mobile connections on each asset.
However, another vital ingredient for the future of the IIoT is 5G connectivity. Its greater bandwidth will allow consumers to download a movie in seconds. For industry, the attraction will be the instant transfer of data, something that’s not possible at present because of latency—the time it takes for a packet of data to be returned to the sender by a network. For Strenger:
IIoT solutions that require real-time currently do not typically connect to the cloud because of the latency introduced by a round trip between device and cloud.
That’s fine if you’re collecting sensor data that will be analyzed later, but when creating automated systems—the true goal of the IIoT—real-time responses to data will be critical.
A Faster IIoT
For example, Red Hat partner Meteorcomm has created a Positive Train Control (PTC) system for the rail industry. It can slow or stop a speeding train, but the time it takes for data to travel between the speedometer and the braking system must not only be fast, but predictable and reliable.
Today’s 4G mobile networks just don’t offer that. Only with 5G will data jump from sensor to cloud for analysis, and instructions be sent to another device, all in a matter of milliseconds. Because of this, the PTC currently doesn’t use the cloud for data processing (instead using an ‘edge’ cloud that is physically situated in the train itself), which limits its usefulness. Robotics, industrial machinery and automated vehicles face the same limitations.
Still only a work in progress, the cloud is already a key component of the Industrial Internet of Things. In the future it’s sure to become more integral to IIoT’s success.