There’s no good use in having billions of sensors and devices connected to the Internet, which feed through data, if they can’t all talk to each other.
This challenge is what the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) is working on in its Reference Architecture that it plans to release to its members in March.
IIC was founded in March 2014 and promotes best practices in developing Internet of Things (IoT) applications. It is made up of 115 members including GE, IBM, Cisco and Intel.
As IoT apps heavily rely on things working together, standardisation and interoperability are crucial to making that happen, which is what IIC aims to do.
The first part of the Reference Architecture is to define the different components to making IoT work, which are connectivity, to sensors and actuators, data processing and security.
“Now I just used a whole bunch of words and didn’t define them. What do I mean when I say connectivity? What do I mean when I say sensors and actuators? What do I mean when I say some way of managing data?
“From the user’s point of view – and by user I mean someone who’s building an IoT system – you use the Reference Architecture as a framework/guideline for understanding the different types of components that you need,” said IIC’s chief technical officer, Stephen Mellor.
There are many standards that fall under each component, Mellor pointed out. For example, with connectivity there is Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee, Thread and TCP/IP. The Reference Architecture will list a set of current standards it recommends.
“What we’ll find is of course they don’t fit the boxes exactly and that some of them overlap and some of them only do part of what they are supposed to do and so on.
“But from the user’s perspective, this is useful because they can look at it and say ‘I need a way to manage lots of data and here are the standards that implement that, so I’m going to pick one’. And some might say ‘I need a way of having low powered devices and therefore I’m going to pick this particular standard that implements my connectivity component’.”
The third part of the Reference Architecture will be to identify gaps in the current standards and look at ways on how to improve them or make new standards.
“What we are going to do is define a set of requirements that we can provide to various standards organisations, because the IIC is not a standards building organisation. But we will define those requirements and request standards bodies to fill in those gaps for us,” Mellor said.
Openness is another important aspect to making the IoT work, Mellor said. Proprietary or strict licenses make it difficult to add components to the IoT, especially as technology is constantly evolving.
“One reason that the Internet has been successful over the last 30 years is because it has an open architecture, therefore people can add things to it,” he said.
Sufficient security protocols is also crucial to ensuring IoT is successful. Mellor said security needs to be embedded into IoT apps “at every single level, all the way across the entire industrial Internet”.
“When this device says what it is, is it really that device? There’s a whole question there about device identification and authorisation. So you need to know which device you are talking to, how you are talking to that device, so password security.”
IIC will also carry out ‘test beds’ on IoT standards and technologies to make sure they work in real world scenarios.
“Having the test beds is really important because this is how you know it actually works. It’s all very well writing documents, specifications and requirements and all this kind of stuff, but you’ve got to know that it works,’ Mellor said.
IIC will undertake a review process with industry member feedback on its Reference Architecture once it’s released in March.
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