Choosing the right communications infrastructure strategy is vital to the success of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) implementations. Much of the media attention on IIoT focuses on the Internet-enabled devices that operate sensors, controls, and other instrumentation that are being deployed throughout field area networks to enable advanced measurement, management and control. There has also been significant coverage on the promise of analytics to process the mission-critical information to reap the benefits of increased efficiency, compliance, and operational safety. The underlying assumption from both of these visions is that there is a reliable, secure, and efficient communications infrastructure that connect devices at the edge of the field area network to the cloud-based or private data centers. Providing such communications across vast field area networks is no easy feat.
While some IIoT implementations may outsource communications for part or all of their field area networks, visionary leaders are taking the time to understand the technologies in detail. Implementing a private network that addresses current needs with room to grow, and provides flexibility and scalability to meet future needs as the business evolves. Organizations with a communications infrastructure strategy will be better positioned to scale rapidly with great ease and confidence. This strategy provides a smart and sustainable way to collect the vital field information an organization needs to offer superior services at substantially lower total cost of ownership than their competitors. This translates into a significant competitive advantage and cost savings over time.
Communications Infrastructure Strategy Has Four Key Components:
While the transmission speed of fiber optics is considered optimal by many, wireless technology is using innovative Massive Multi-User Multiple-In/Multiple-Out (MU-MIMO) transmission techniques to dramatically increase over-the-air performance and reliability, which has made it a viable and legitimate medium for transporting voice, data, and video. Another significant advantage of wireless technology is the fact that it can be rapidly deployed to remote locations without the trenching and labor cost of installing fiber. When network operators consider the communications transmission speed, reliability, and total cost of ownership - wireless technology is the preferred solution.
Centralized management -
Wireless communications systems may include equipment using both licensed spectrum and license-exempt spectrum in both narrowband for low bandwidth applications, such as process control and SCADA, and broadband for high capacity applications such as video surveillance and remote Internet access. The entire network can be managed from a central cloud-based or standalone "on-premises" system. A single system, equipped with open APIs, allows network operators to access real-time and historical network infrastructure statistics from the edge of the field area network to the operation center. These open interfaces permit external applications to extrapolate big data for analysis. In addition, a centralized management system enables - end-to-end monitoring of device and network health and performance, reaction to network alarms, and compliance reporting. Intelligent centralized management allows for control of the network, including simplifying device on-boarding, troubleshooting, firmware and software upgrading and uniformity via auditing, and "zero touch configuration" techniques via cloud- or NOC-based smart configuration templates, equipment life-cycle management, and centralized password management for protection of devices on the network.
Communications security -
The need for security for IIoT applications cannot be overstated. As technology is used to control vital utilities such as water, power, manufacturing, and transportation, any disruption can have catastrophic consequences. New threats to network security are constantly being introduced. The communications infrastructure must have layered security, including identity-based user accounts with positive authentication, tiered administrative permissions for system access, and equipment with robust over-the-air encryption of the radio transmission signals. Secure protocols, such as HTTPS and SMNPv3, are necessary in addition to threat detection, event auditing, and denial of service methods built into the logic and framework of the wireless equipment and management interfaces. In short, the wireless equipment must adhere to stringent security guidelines to ensure compliance to Information assurance standards.
Design for Scaling and Resiliency -
Demand for connectivity will increase as the business grows. The network must be designed to accommodate expansion from day one. This best practice in implementation optimizes operation, especially in changing times. As additional IoT devices are developed for new applications and integrated, the communications network will expand well beyond the initial deployment. As these capabilities are deployed into field area networks and the real world environment, device failures must not hinder the overall operation. By strategically adding redundancy, critical operations can continue when some devices fail. By designing for scalability and resilience, network operators can ensure performance of the current system while having confidence in their plans for future expansion.
Over the lifetime of the network, devices will be added and retired depending on the needs of the business and evolution of technology. Core business analysis applications will evolve to include new information sources. The communications infrastructure network that best meets the needs over the long term for reliability, security, scalability, and manageability will provide the lowest total cost of ownership while being malleable to support the rapidly evolving business drivers.