PICMG, Venerable Open Standards Organization, Guns for IIoT

Select PICIMG open standards, including COM Express, get a boost from the IT industry to engage in the Industrial IoT using a RESTful API.

Open standards are just good common sense. They allow everyone to see the specifications for interoperability and reduce confusion, time-to-market, and cost for all involved. The PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturer’s Group (PICMG), a consortium of equipment makers, component suppliers, system vendors, and end users for the embedded (non-desktop) computer market, has several open standards. One PICMG standard covers Single Board Computers (SBCs), called COM Express®.

The Internet of Things (IoT) needs a processor (e.g., an SBC), internet connectivity, sensors, and a cloud server to aggregate and analyze data. The Industrial IoT (IIoT) is more reliable, secure, and maintainable than the IoT you might see in a Fitbit. PICMG sensibly wants to bring IIoT into its standards, with COM Express as a good candidate. COM Express works for applications that need rugged SBCs and computer modules.

IoT has no broad governing standards body, since the scope of, and resources, for IoT are very broad. Nevertheless, the Eclipse Foundation has some open source implementations available for IoT communication and protocols.[i]  Another, The Open Connectivity Foundation™ seeks to solve the “IoT standards gap” in several vertical markets.[ii]  It is time that PICMG bring IIoT into the COM Express world. PICMG is open to accelerating the adoption of the IIoT by providing open specifications and design guidelines meant to aid in creating IIoT solutions that integrate well with PICMG computing technologies. As such, the 24-year-old PICMG consortium is working to leverage strengths in industrial computing by building partnerships with IIoT-focused standards organizations.

The IT-side of industrial environments has traditionally been managed by proprietary solutions. Proprietary solutions from PLC companies whose networks webbed the factory often become the de facto standard. However, proprietary solutions make upgrades and repairs by the owner difficult, resulting in service calls, and a proprietary installed base means future expansion must also include the same equipment for trouble-free, seamless integration. According to Doug Sandy, VP of Technology for PICMG, “Large industrial automation suppliers are not incentivized to embark on open standardization because it loosens the customer’s dependence upon their proprietary solutions. Smaller automation suppliers lack the industry clout or size to take on such an ambitious undertaking. This is a task best suited for an industry standards organization, and one which PICMG is well equipped to handle.”

PICMG recently announced a partnership with the Distributed Management Task Force to incorporate the IT side of the IIoT equation. The DMTF is an IT standards body that “creates open manageability standards spanning diverse emerging and traditional IT infrastructures including cloud, virtualization, network, servers and storage.”[iii]  DMTF has a software tool that can help PICMG technologies to engage IIoT as seamlessly as possible.

Top challenges for IIoT are cybersecurity, lack of standardization, and existing installations of legacy systems, and PICMG aims to be a catalyst for mitigating these challenges.

[i] https://iot.eclipse.org/

[ii]  https://openconnectivity.org/

[iii] https://www.dmtf.org/about

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