The growth of the Internet of Things is blurring the line between traditional operational technology such as remote sensors, mobile devices and smart machines, and the ability to intelligently monitor and control these devices using traditional information technology domains. As a result, a new generation of open solutions are cropping up based on standard IT platforms and protocols, aiming to unify OT and IT systems for better efficiency and interoperability.
For years now as the IoT has grown, building end-to-end IoT solutions has not gotten any simpler. With so many piecemeal technologies, developers face numerous challenges ranging from connecting legacy technologies to developing a simple back-end system for analyzing data in the cloud.
Today too many businesses treat IT and OT as independent departments maintained by different organizations. They often evolve at different times and therefore use disparate system architectures and communications protocols. IT systems tend to be open and standards-based. OT systems are more often designed to be stand-alone entities without interconnectivity or remote access. As a result, they are closed and proprietary.
However, forward-thinking businesses that are embracing the IoT can see that OT and IT solutions can be built around common protocols and building blocks. By unifying disparate systems, they can improve decision making by bringing OT data into business intelligence solutions. In addition, they can lower operating expenses and reduce risk with better system reliability and security.
Open source IoT standards and solutions are at the heart of any cohesive, forward-thinking IoT solution. Open standards can help to integrate operational data with cloud-based back-end services to enable these types of IoT implementations long term. Through our involvement with the Eclipse Foundation and the KURA project, Eurotech has formed a relationship with Red Hat, a leading provider of open source solutions, and realized that together we can help developers bridge the gap between OT and IT.
Chris Rommel, executive vice president at VDC Research, shared his thoughts on IoT gateways and open source technology. “VDC Research has supported the IoT gateway concept for several years, even when the technology was known as an edge controller,” said Rommel. “We believe open source-based collaboration of companies strong in OT with companies strong in IT gives enterprises the highest probability to successfully plan, test, and deploy IoT-based solutions and derive the operational benefits and efficiencies they promise.”
When designing a cohesive IoT solution that brings OT and IT together, a hierarchical intelligent systems architecture is ideal for scalability and resiliency. A next-generation converged OT/IT implementation has a simplified architecture, with the device tier on the bottom; gateway tier in the middle; and data center/cloud tier, including IoT integration platform, on top. The device tier includes intelligent devices such as connected meters, sensors, displays, and actuators. The gateway tier acts as an intermediary between the device and datacenter/cloud tiers. The data center/cloud tier includes IoT integration layer, smart applications, and services.
Intelligent IoT gateways are the key to this converged OT/IT architecture. They are designed to close the gap between OT devices in the field and business applications by gathering and processing real-time operational data at the edge. Eurotech’s intelligent IoT gateways ensure high scalability while streamlining project development by providing an abstraction layer between devices and business applications. Device abstraction is investment protection – most gateways on the market require new development when the hardware changes. Eurotech abstracts the hardware with open standards so the project is not tied to one vendor and the application can evolve over the lifecycle of the project rather than requiring new development with every update.
The key to abstraction on the IoT gateway lies in a device application framework to put a layer between the operating system and the business application. This type of collection of cohesive software components lets customers modify, reconfigure, and maintain their application over time, so it evolves as market demands change. The previously mentioned Eclipse KURA project is an open source effort that offers a Java/OSGi-based container for IoT applications running in multi-service gateways. Eurotech was a founding member of the KURA project and developed the original technology to isolate developers from the complexity of the hardware and networking subsystems while encouraging interoperable IoT solutions.
By following the proposed architecture for merging OT and IT, it becomes much easier to connect OT data to the enterprise, helping to simplify integration with IT applications and systems. Open standards are constantly evolving, allowing developers to update devices and back-end IT systems to enable the latest functions and services immediately. Open and flexible standards are robust, well-understood, and efficient at the edge, and they allow for a more cohesive IoT system that works with IT systems that have already embraced open standards.
Jon Woodland is director of IoT solutions for Eurotech - N. America (www.eurotech.com).
Edited by Ken Briodagh