The industrial internet of things is rapidly becoming a reality as the spaces where we live and work begin to become cyber-aware and react to events happening in its environment. In these spaces are “things” of varying complexity which include sensors to measure values like temperature, CPUs capable of sending things like text messages, and antennas to communicate over protocols like Bluetooth — all at the physical edge of our networks.
Many vendors take an elementary approach to building the internet of things by simply connecting everything to a single server in the cloud. This approach certainly simplifies the solution but fails to realize the ultimate vision of a connected world.
The following examples illustrate the gaps in a solely cloud-based IoT solution:
- A train shipping cargo across the country does not have connectivity 100% of the time, what if the brakes must be engaged quickly?
- A welding machine must be deactivated immediately when a shield is broken, not continue to run for 30 seconds as clouds servers lazily transmit data.
Safety alerts must be issued in real time and cannot wait the communication delay of 15 seconds or longer.
Additional examples include:
- Insurance companies cannot afford to pay for terabytes of redundant data to flow into their network daily without passing along the additional costs
- Modern and efficient LED light bulbs that communicate with ZigBee are not able to communicate with a cloud server
To solve the real challenges of IoT, we need edge-based computing. With IoT edge computing we benefit from five immediate and measurable results. Products like Amazon GreenGrass for consumers and ClearBlade EDGE for enterprises are targeting to deliver these results.
One of the most important things for any IoT solution of real-world consequence is to have 100% availability and uptime. For end users this means a positive, reliable experience. For industries and companies building IoT solutions it means that factories stay operational, workers stay in safe zones and processes run at optimal efficiency. In order to achieve 100% uptime in an IoT solution, a device must be located near or within the actual location where the solution is running. It must be capable of performing all the fundamental tasks of alerting users, rerouting packages and tracking orders without the need for a large cloud server infrastructure. Edge-based processing allows for running the IoT solution in the physical location of the devices. The edge processing can keep the rules running that optimize fuel consumption during low-usage periods, cache data to map RFID tag IDs to work order systems, and allow messages from switches to go directly to the lights they control. Without the edge, all of these valuable, lifesaving capabilities can be turned off the moment a router needs to be reset, the internet gets overloaded with traffic, an ISP has a server upgrade problem or a cloud vendor gets hit with an outage. To achieve the real vision and value of our IoT solutions, we must guarantee 100% uptime leveraging the power of the edge.
Ability to communicate with everything
The next challenge of an internet-only IoT solution is that it fails to include so many of the devices we would want included. It takes a tremendous amount of expensive compute power to communicate with the internet. Smartphones today send a constant stream of information back and forth to the internet, but come with an expensive upfront cost of hundreds of dollars for the device as well as hundreds more in annual connection and service fees.
It is impractical to empower every device to have the communication capability of our smartphones. Alternatively, we should leverage reliable M2M solutions of the past that use protocols like OPC or CANBUS. Newer devices are using lightweight protocols like ZigBee and BLE. For all of these devices to come together we must adapt them to an edge-based device that can speak all protocols.
Securing the vulnerable
As more devices communicate with IoT solutions, there is more and more opportunity for security vulnerabilities to appear. Those low-level devices don’t have the power to encrypt, don’t have the infrastructure to update and can easily be replaced. The edge device can solve these challenges by not only communicating across protocols, but they can also build security into simple protocols. This means that while a lightbulb may transfer information a short distance over an insecure protocol, the transmission to the internet is protected both at an access layer and an encryption layer. An edge device that brings true value to an IoT ecosystem makes it possible for all of these devices to behave in their normal usage patterns while securely sharing data and interacting with one another.
A solution without latency
Expectations for speed and performance constantly escalate. Today, if sports scores take longer than five seconds to appear, if papers aren’t printed in 10 seconds and if stock trades don’t happen within two seconds, the solutions are inadequate. The demand for real time from users and machines in an IoT ecosystem will only escalate. In our culture 250 ms is too long to wait for a garage to open or a light to come on. These activities should be as instant as the current hardwired switches we rely on today. There is no way to achieve these expectations with a cloud server driving these interactions. Today’s network equipment is barely able to move data from your homes and businesses to a cloud, execute the required processing on multiple servers and send back a response in an acceptable amount of time. Instead IoT solutions that include edge-based elements can run rules in real-time and handle the routing of requests between a smartphone and a door lock, a ZigBee switch and CANBUS HVAC system, or a business rule that reduces the fuel sent to a kiln when the temperature reaches a maximum.
The real-time experience is necessary for optimizing the performance, safety and experience of IoT solutions.
Affordable support model
The number one success criterion for every IoT solution is the affordability of the solution. This not only means initial development costs, but also the future operational cost as each message travels across expensive infrastructure for years to come. IoT solutions that communicate incessantly with the internet push the operational costs much higher than solutions that communicate only information of significance. This means a solution that only sends a status update when the battery level is at or below 5% rather than repeating unlimited updates will have a much lower long-term cost of ownership. IoT solutions that include an edge allow for achieving this smarter, more optimized form of communication. An edge solution should go even further and allow an operator to change the communication rules years after the initial rollout. The ability for an edge-based IoT solution to execute filter rules, scrape data and curate device noise allows for providers to engineer IoT solution optimized for affordability.
IoT technology is quickly arriving to make our worlds more connected and seamless. The first steps we have seen from cloud-based platforms are just the beginning of achieving these goals. To achieve the real vision for IoT we must embrace both the servers and edge requirements. We must build always-on, integrating, fast and cost-effective solutions.
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