When you hear people discuss the Internet of Things movement, you may picture something along the lines of a wearable device monitoring your sleep and alerting your coffeemaker to being brewing the moment you awake. The same major concepts behind IoT—interconnected intelligent machines, the cloud, user-friendly interfaces—have been around for decades inside the manufacturing industry.
Kepware Technologies, an interoperability software solution developer for the automation industry, has recently announced a partnership with Big Data company Splunk. In this unusual collaboration, the realms of the IoT and the Industrial IoT work together to assign meaningful insight to siloed machine data.
I had the opportunity to discuss the partnership and the broader relationship between the IoT and IIoT with Kepware CEO Tony Paine. We talked about the blurring distinctions between IoT and IIoT, the role of Big Data, security concerns, predictions for IoT in 2015, and more.
Bridget Bergin (BB): A recent article from GE Reports says “The IoT is ultimately about connecting devices to people” while the Industrial IoT is “more about machine intelligence.” Do you agree with this distinction, and how do you see this distinction beginning to blur?
Tony Paine (TP): The distinction is already blurred. The scale of IoT we are talking about is very new. However, IoT at a much smaller scale has been around within manufacturing for some time, just maybe under different names.
When you think of an industrial automation process, you picture a lot of moving parts—some mechanical, some computers, and some humans. At any time, one of those parts may have information that is valuable to another part. The ability to connect the various pieces of equipment to computers that humans can interact with has been around for quite some time.
Now, people outside the industrial automation label companies are starting to think about connectivity and visibility. IoT players coming into the market like Cisco, Splunk, and IBM may give the industry as a whole a refresher on how to think of solving existing problems at a much higher scale.
BB: What role does Big Data play in the relationship between IoT and IIoT?
TP: Under the Industrial IoT umbrella, we are talking about connecting more devices then we have ever connected before and adding low-cost sensor technology to existing devices and pieces of equipment that may have been commissioned 10 years ago.
In industrial operations, things move very quickly, and the amount of data being generated is huge. When we start talking about sharing that information with IT-related applications sitting in the cloud, there isn’t always going to be a direct connection between the plant and the public domain. There will need to be mechanisms put into place to be able to store the massive amount of data and make it available to the cloud.
There are similarities between IoT and IIoT on how the data must be stored and published. This is going to add to the overall amount of data being collected in a centralized repository, which in turn introduces the challenge of accessing the stored data and converting it into meaningful information within seconds.
BB: What role has the manufacturing industry played in the IoT movement?
TP: IoT can learn a lot from manufacturing, but I don’t think that what we have accomplished as an industry is an end-all-be-all solution.
When you think of a manufacturing environment, you have equipment from a wide variety of vendors. Out of the gate, those pieces of equipment typically do not communicate with one another, and they may not even provide an easy way to access processed data.
The industry has come up with standards that equipment vendors have adopted or software application developers have developed. This way, manufacturers are able to bridge the gap between pieces of equipment from different vendors, enabling machine-to-machine connectivity and providing a single interface to allow a human to interact with a wide variety of devices.
BB: A huge concern for many manufacturers considering adopting IoT or IIoT technologies is security. What can be done to help secure the massive amounts of data being generated?
TP: We will definitely need to add a layer onto existing infrastructure. We won’t be able to rip and replace everything that has been deployed over the last few decades, so we are going to have to be able to take data that is not secure and tunnel it over the public domain into a secure context.
Gateways are an interesting technology for taking data that is not secure, enabling it, and pushing it over in an encrypted manner to the public domain.
Another aspect is access control. Just because you can encrypt it and make it available doesn’t mean you want to make it available to everybody. You may want some people to have monitor access to the information, but allow some people to manipulate the information.
It is also important to consider how information is going to be pushed or collected from a plant. Will someone be able to make a connection from the outside world to the manufacturing facility, or will the facility publish the information into the cloud in a single direction to minimize the attacks from the outside.
BB: What can we predict from IoT and IIoT in 2015?
TP: I’m hoping the industry comes together to develop a better story on what the benefit is to IoT and IIoT. We have really only talked broadly, and now we need to go beyond and start asking more questions. For example, why is it important to be able to access this information, and what can I do with it that will make my life easier?
I don’t think any single company can position itself as the expert on all things IoT, so I envision there will be some interesting partnerships forming this year. That way, companies can take the best of their knowledge and supply it to a much broader solution with the help of other organizations. I’m very hopeful that we will start seeing more prototypes out in the field where people can demo it and see the benefits for themselves.
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