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Scale, security, functionality – industrial IoT (Reality Check)

Taking industrial IoT to the next level of value

The internet of things (IoT) already connects devices and sensors to software applications and business processes for many companies. We see this being taken advantage of in smart meters, mobile devices, and more. For new technologies, boarding the IoT train isn’t very difficult. For mission critical infrastructure, most have yet to even purchase their train ticket. As a result, the promise of the industrial internet of things (IIoT) has yet to be realized.

The problem is that most of our world’s critical infrastructure was built a long time ago and as such, is difficult to connect. Oil and gas processing, building automation systems, manufacturing floor processes, and transportation infrastructure have been generating data used in decision-making for many years, they just haven’t been able to automate collection in a way that allows them to fully and efficiently utilize it. Now, the cloud and advances in big data analytics make it possible to gain new efficiencies or more insight—and therefore, value—from thousands of data points and variables being generated by existing connected systems.

However, legacy onsite systems weren’t designed to be connected to the cloud. Operations technology (OT) professionals need a way to cloud-enable and manage legacy operational technology to leverage these new analytics, machine learning, and predictive analytics applications at scale. For this to happen, there are certain challenges that must be addressed in scalability, security, and functionality.

To monitor, deploy, and manage services today, an engineer has to physically visit each facility – each truck roll is a costly and time-consuming endeavor. In environments where some initial IIoT networks are being deployed, organizations are finding that they aren’t sophisticated enough to meet industrial needs. They simply aren’t allowing multiple applications to access the same data at the same time – a no-go in environments where lag time is unacceptable. On top of that, current in-house solutions for secure remote connectivity across hundreds or thousands of locations can take months or years to be built out by large in-house teams. In order to decrease time to deployment, and achieve deployment success, there needs to be a streamlined approach that gets around the need for physical access and provides remote capabilities.

Traditional IT methodologies – such as command line interfaces, usernames and passwords, and changes to firewall policies – are not compatible with the world of the OT professional, which has typically only dealt with closed industrial systems. Legacy onsite industrial environments need to be digitized in a way that can scale to large and diverse industrial needs while at the same time protecting sensitive information transmitted. To realize the promise of IIoT, these organizations need to be able to securely connect their brownfield machinery to greenfield applications residing in the cloud. IIoT network infrastructure should be built on industry standard cryptographic technologies to minimize the threat of cyber attacks and create an overall secure infrastructure.

Rudimentary in-house networks have not been able to solve the challenge of real time application access to data, simultaneously. More sophisticated IIoT networks are necessary to enable peak efficiency across applications. We also need to make sure that IIoT networks can dynamically switch between the best available network carriers to provide the fastest access to data, and that data can be stored and then conveyed back as soon as connectivity is restored following a network lapse.

When you have legacy systems generating data that you depend on, you need to be able to safely and reliably connect it over any transport—regardless of its age or device types—to deliver new use cases. By overcoming the challenges in scalability, security, and functionality, mission critical infrastructures can obtain complete visibility of the IoT network, securely connect, deploy and manage any application legacy to the edge from the cloud at scale.

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