Why you need to be on board the Industrial Internet of Things
We talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – but what’s a “thing”? A thing can be any object – a fridge, a garage door, a thermistor, a gauge – that has its own IP address. What makes things so important is the way the IIoT is expanding, as the price of sensors and connectivity falls, and as Big Data gets bigger. And it matters, to us and to every one of our customers, because the IoT and the IIoT are going to transform the business world. Early adopters will thrive; those who are late to get on board may not survive long enough to board at all.
Don’t be misled by ideas that the IoT is only about things like turning up the central heating remotely when you’re on your way home to Illinois from a winter holiday in the islands. That’s flim-flam. In the world we’re moving into, the IIoT is what will allow the Home Office to monitor remote sites for speed of throughput, temperature, pressure, production jams and holdups, raw material shortages, raw material standard failure, and a host of other things besides. And it’s coming. In 2015, the ratio of connected or connectable devices to the number of people in the world was 3.5:1. By 2020, it is forecast to be 6.6:1, at which time there will be 20 billion sensors powering “things.” They’ll be in healthcare, in transport, in fraud detection, in power distribution, in machine control and in other use cases we haven’t even thought of yet.
But hang on a minute. 20 billion sensors? Each with its own IP address? How’s that going to work? The Internet mostly works on IPv4, and IPv4 has a theoretical maximum capacity of just over 4 billion IP addresses, though in practical terms it’s a little less. Okay, moving to IPv6 would solve the problem, but that would have to be done by the carriers as well as the companies involved, and that isn’t going to happen any time soon. And, even if everyone did decide to move to IPv6, could the internet handle that volume of short, small-packet transmissions without seizing up? Unlikely. So we’re stymied?
No, we’re not – because we’re not really restricted to those 4 billion IP addresses. The public limit may be 4 billion, but network address translation (NAT) means that each connected company can have its own internal set of addresses. It may be that the IP address of a sensor on Company A’s machine tool is exactly the same as the IP address of a sensor on something belonging to Company B, but they’re never going to communicate with each other’s internal networks, so what does it matter?
What allocates and manages the IP addresses on internal networks at a remote location will be the aggregator. Using an aggregator means you don’t need to put intelligence into every single component which, when you consider how the low cost of so many components is what has fueled the growth in industry around the world, is a boon to put it mildly.
That’s one problem solved. Another that might give initial concern is the question of security. So you add levels of security to the aggregator to identify and deal with anomalies.
In our next post, we’ll look at some of the practical applications of IIoT that are changing the face of business right now. In the meantime, if you’d like to talk about how the cloud might facilitate communication with your remote sites, bringing both visibility and control to what’s going on there, call us. We’ll be happy to talk about how IIoT communication can be made both failsafe and secure.