Big Data Delivers on its Promises when Embedded Designers are IoT Enablers
If the IoT is to be more than just a concept and yield benefits to industrial, medical and consumer and other applications with actionable information, embedded designers will need to wield devices and systems that simplify the acquisition and management of remote data.
The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t in itself a tangible thing. It is a concept—a concept that helps to define a complicated system of networked, distributed, communicating embedded “devices” that provide important data sets (big data) to the cloud for access from anywhere (with an Internet connection) and for integration into back-end systems in order to be tracked and analyzed and turned into actionable information that leads to better business processes (lower costs) and improved customer journeys (increased revenue).
Big data can offer detailed demographics and interaction patterns for better marketing, individual buying behaviors for improved sales, network usage patterns of bandwidth and storage for optimized information technology (IT) planning, inventory and maintenance requirements for more efficient logistics, and patterns of revenue fluctuations for more accurate financial projections; and big data can also reveal how all of these issues affect the overall company for better operations.
Analysis to Action
The problem is that getting from Point A to Point Z in an IoT deployment takes a village. Embedded designers can build it, but the big data manipulations may not come. And without a commitment to long-term data analysis and turning that analysis into action, then the IoT is really just a concept.
The IoT ecosystem consists of myriad role players and is growing every day. To make the IoT a reality, all of these role players within the ecosystem must work together to create standards and build solutions that enable businesses to more easily get from Point A to Point Z. As industrial technology vendors, our focus is to provide the enablers for the delivery and access of big data, while other role players focus on how an individual company can use that big data to make business improvements.
IoT Technology Enablers
When the IoT first became a buzzword, there was much talk of it being machine-to-machine (M2M) 2.0. But there is an enormous expansion of application scope and anticipated benefits when moving from M2M to the IoT.
M2M communication refers to the remote device access inherent in IoT deployments. Traditional M2M solutions typically relied on point-to-point communication using embedded hardware modules and either cellular or wired networks, but that has evolved over the years to include the IP-based network communication more commonly used to interface device data to a cloud or middleware platform. However, M2M is really just the communication enabler in the IoT concept.
Intelligent Endpoint Devices
So what are the other IoT technology enablers? The ground floor enablers—the ones most representative of the physical manifestation of the IoT—are the intelligent endpoint “devices” and sensors that allow the extraction of data that is being communicated. The reason for enquoting the term “devices” is to signify the variance in its definition. An IoT device is essentially any computing engine in an endpoint solution that enables that solution to be intelligent and connected. It doesn’t have to be handheld or mobile, but it can be. Devices can be anything from an embedded board installed in factory floor machinery to an actual handheld field service device.
Connecting to remote devices to extract collected data can be done in different ways, but all require hardware, firmware, and software components. A good place to start is with a dedicated board management controller (BMC). Initially designed for power sequencing tasks, the BMC has evolved to include many new and useful features for board management and control. Measuring the supply current to get a snapshot of the system’s power consumption is only one example of these new capabilities. And compatibility with the latest Embedded Application Programming Interface specification (EAPI) reduces design efforts to port existing calls to the BMC.
Providing the interface from the hardware to the operating system is one of the most important functions of the device’s remote management system. The BMC first collects all relevant information from the chipset and other sources. Utilizing the System Management Bus, the application layer fetches the data and presents it to the user, displayed either in the BIOS menu or a user-friendly dashboard suitable for supervision and troubleshooting.
Cloud connectivity takes today’s intelligent middleware a step further than previous generations of remote management technology. By employing a cloud server architecture and an M2M stack on top of the intelligent middleware, embedded devices can connect to the cloud without additional design requirements (Figure 1). For example, the M2M stack pushes system data to the user’s cloud server via any kind of TCP/IP connection. System managers have easy access to data and analytics through any commercial cloud portal, using any device (e.g., PC, tablet, smart phone).
When systems are available, operators can observe their performance. Cloud-based remote management furthers that process by enabling observation anytime, anywhere. Embedded management agents may be used to continuously upload data through an encrypted Transport Layer Security (TLS, the successor protocol of Secure Sockets Layer or SSL) connection.
Data to the cloud enables operators to verify, monitor and manage system performance from a single, central location – providing immediate improvements to reliability and reduction in management costs. But the larger promise is realized when this big data is integrated into back-end business systems, such as enterprise resource management (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM).
And this brings us back to M2M communication. With the IoT, M2M communication has become more about machine-to-cloud, or machine-to-machine-to-cloud. A critical challenge to deploying industrial IoT solutions is the lack of a single standard of network connection. For example, brownfield devices use a scattered variety of proprietary protocols; using an IoT gateway that supports cross-communication protocols and can connect with IP-based networks can greatly simplify an IoT deployment.
The ideal gateway platform integrates routing and data collection functions, conversant with existing protocols. Strong support for widely used fieldbus protocols provides bi-directional communication and acquisition (Figure 2). Simple IoT gateways are capable of accepting a wide range of connectivity protocols for analog and digital data and can provide communication for a wide array of industries, taking advantage of the valuable data existing in their hardware assets.
Intel has invested much time and effort in an Intel® IoT Gateway platform that addresses the need for incorporating both legacy devices and newer, more open systems into IoT deployments. The Intel® IoT Gateway platform integrates an Intel® processor-based third-party hardware with an Intel® software stack. This software platform bundles together Wind River Intelligent Device Platform* (IDP) XT and McAfee* Embedded Control to provide a complete, pre-validated communications and security solution.
Wind River IDP XT provides a software stack for communicating with local equipment and the cloud. Its extensive connectivity choices include Wi-Fi*, Bluetooth*, ZigBee*, and short-range wireless protocols widely used in smart buildings. Wind River IDP XT supports the MQTT protocol for data transportation, and remote management protocols such as Technical Report 069 (TR-069), CPE WAN Management Protocol (CWMP) and Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA DM). For developers, the Wind River IDP XT software stack provides Lua, Java, and OSGi application environments to enable rapid, reusable application development.
Wind River IDP XT delivers built-in security features as well—such as a hardware root of trust—to secure the communication channel, the data, and the end device. In addition, McAfee Embedded Control adds dynamic whitelisting. This technology locks the system down to a known good baseline so no program outside the authorized set can launch. McAfee Embedded Control also contributes a policy-based change control feature that monitors files and prevents unexpected changes.
Embrace the Role of Enabler
Embedded, connected systems can generate and collect a vast amount of system performance data – and embedded designers can sleep well knowing that the role they play in the creation of a successful IoT application is critical. By developing devices and systems that simplify the acquisition and management of remote data and by focusing on the movement to develop industry standards to simplify IoT deployments for end customers, embedded designers are enabling big data. They can then confidently pass the baton to the next level ecosystem partner to figure out what to do with it all.
Elizabeth Campbell is general manager, Americas, ADLINK Technology. Campbell has more than 30 years of sales and general management experience, the last 12 with ADLINK Technology via its acquisition of Ampro Computers in 2008. She began her career in management consulting, advising high-tech clients worldwide on organizational effectiveness techniques and sales methodologies.