Industrial Internet Reference Architecture Gets an Update

Jan. 31, 2017
This new version of the Industrial Internet Consortium's Industrial Internet Reference Architecture helps clarify its ideas and concepts.

Though consumer applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) gets most of the headlines, its application in industry could have some of the most far-reaching effects. Because of this, the German government’s Industry 4.0 initiative is designed to connect the government, academia and industry through the process of industry’s IoT transformation via digitalization. China has a similar state-run program with its Made in China 2025 strategy.

To provide a framework in support of industry’s general move toward IoT adoption, regardless of geographic location and state support (or lack thereof), the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) publishes its Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA), a standards-based architectural template and methodology designed by a broad spectrum of IIC members, including system and software architects, business experts, and security experts. The IIRA assists Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) system architects in designing IIoT solution architectures consistently and to deploy interoperable IIoT systems.

According to the IIC, the purpose of the IIRA is to help technology vendors build interoperable system components that address the broadest possible market. Likewise, system implementers can use the IIRA as a starting point to shorten system development by deploying reusable, commercially available, or open-source system building blocks to reduce project risk, associated costs and time-to-market.

To help clarify the IIRA, the IIC has announced an update to the architecture, known as IIRA version 1.8. The IIC states, "The IIoT core concepts and technologies addressed in the IIRA v1.8 are applicable to the depth and breadth of every small, medium and large enterprise in manufacturing, mining, transportation, energy, agriculture, healthcare, public infrastructure and virtually every other industry." In addition to IIoT system architects, the plain language of IIRA v1.8 and its emphasis on the value proposition and enablement of converging Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) enables business decision-makers, plant managers, and IT managers to better understand how to drive IIoT system development from a business perspective.

Pointing out the key changes and additions that set IIRA v1.8 apart from v1.7, Shi-Wan Lin, CEO and co-founder of Thingswise and co-chair of the IIC’s Architecture Task Group, listed the following:

* Improved description of the architecture concepts and constructs through a clear alignment with “ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010:2011, Systems and Software Engineering — Architecture description.”

* A new section detailing the IIRA’s “Scope of Applicability and Relationship to the System Lifecycle Process.”

* A new section on “Crosscutting Functions and Key System Characteristics.”

* A new section on “Functional Domain and Compute Deployment.”

* Clarity that the architecture patterns are representative and not all inclusive or normative.

* A new section on “Layered Databus Architecture Pattern” derived from the IIC SmartGrid Testbed program.

* A new appendix on “Design Space Considerations,” providing a broad view of possible design parameters and their constraints in identifying, describing and resolving IIoT system concerns.

“IIoT is still in its early stages of development,” said Lin. “Each new use-case scenario, testbed experience and implementation is resulting in new technologies, new solutions, new applications and enhanced understanding. The IIRA is, and will continue to be, a living document to ensure ongoing maturity that ensures its users are not only up to date with the changing IIoT environment, but also able to design IIoT systems that are robust and flexible enough to handle these dynamic changes.”

Explaining the driving factors behind the development of IIRA v1.8, Lin said, “The IIRA is the foundation for developing the other IIC deliverables such as the recently delivered IISF (Industrial Internet Security Framework); it’s also the basis for all IIC testbeds. As those deliverables are developed, meaningful feedback is being provided to the IIRA.The IIC wants to reflect, in every new version of the IIRA, the new thinking and learning from The IIC and the general IIoT community in the continuing effort of delivering practical and implementable guidance in architecture and other areas to the general IIoT community.”

Lin noted that another driver behind the IIRA update was to make the IIRA’s ideas and concepts clearer. “For example, we have clarified how ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010-2011 was used to create the IIRA and how IIRA is to be applied to broad use cases within and across industrial verticals,” he said. “We have also added a section discussing how the IIRA functional domains can be mapped into a compute deployment continuum to reflect the latest thinking in IIoT architecture. In addition, we have added a layered databus architecture pattern to enrich the implementation examples.”

When asked if end users tend to focus on certain aspects of the IIRA to develop and deploy their IIoT systems or if they use it more holistically, Lin said, “We are seeing a mixed approach to use. Those who want system design guidance are using all parts of the IIRA, whereas those who are focused on a particular aspect, such as data, might just use the data section that was published in part 2. The good news is that the IIRA is designed to be a business value-driven, concern-resolution-focused systematic template and methodology that supports a broad range of users. It allows businesses to drive their IIoT development from business vision and value in a top-down iterative process.”

About the Author

David Greenfield, editor in chief | Editor in Chief

David Greenfield joined Automation World in June 2011. Bringing a wealth of industry knowledge and media experience to his position, David’s contributions can be found in AW’s print and online editions and custom projects. Earlier in his career, David was Editorial Director of Design News at UBM Electronics, and prior to joining UBM, he was Editorial Director of Control Engineering at Reed Business Information, where he also worked on Manufacturing Business Technology as Publisher. 

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