How the Network Edge Is Changing the World of Automation

What’s appropriate for automation and control doesn’t always fit the world of monitoring and analytics in the Industrial Internet of Things.

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Because of the ongoing quest for deeper visibility into operations, we’re seeing a drive to change network architectures—in ways that are very different than any previously used in industry.

Here’s why this is an important realization: When we build an Internet of Things—with many of those “things” existing in brownfield assets—we create numerous network devices. When a thing becomes a network device, it picks up some new roles and responsibilities.

Because of this development, our thing now needs to be configured and managed. Additionally, it needs to have enough intelligence to know what data to publish and when to publish it.

So what does this all mean?

It means our thing needs to make some autonomous decisions based on prescribed business logic, which is not usually how we handle things in the world of automation.

In automation, there is a master or control device calling all the shots and we don’t expect to find much in the way of independent thinking. But what’s appropriate for automation and control doesn’t always fit the world of monitoring and analytics in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Why? Because, in automation, the data consumer is a control device typically located within a cable reach of the edge device. Data is requested, consumed and discarded locally and in real time.

Conversely, in the IIoT, the data consumer is a remote application, which typically grows to multiple applications. Because all of the data from the device is stored and analyzed over time, the phrase “real time” gets a very different definition.

The current trend is to push more and more intelligence out to the edge of the network. Sometimes that edge is represented by a device gateway. In other cases, it can be a smart, intelligent sensor. Since the edge typically lays well beyond the IT closet, or often even beyond the control panel, those edge devices for the IoT often have to be hardened and ruggedized to meet the requirements of the environment they will live in.

Here’s the takeaway: Technology is in our favor.

It costs relatively little to put processors, memory and network stacks in small devices today. But it’s worth recognizing that these IIoT architectures require not only new types of intelligent, industrial devices, but also new skills. It’s a full-circle evolution. This trend will only grow as networking and IT technologies continue to intersect with operations.

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