ARE YOU READY FOR…THE INTERNET OF THINGS?
24 October 2012
Following the PC and the Internet, the next IT technology to change the world will be the Internet of Things (IoT), says CDA consulting editor, Andy Pye
If ever the importance of automation were in doubt, the Internet of Things is probably the clincher. But what is it? Whereas the Internet increases people-topeople interactions, the IoT will greatly increase people-to-object and object-to-object interactions.
With the rapid development of IoT and the unique features of connectivity, such diversified communication technologies will become more significant.
A key enabling technology for the Internet of Things is IPv6, which had its World IPv6 Launch Day on 6th June 2012 – a day which is set to go down in history.
In 1973, when Vint Cerf and his team put together the networking rules for what would become the Internet, they used an addressing system with 32 bits of addressing space – the well-known 192.X.X.X IPv4 system in use today. This gave the fledgling Internet the capacity for 4.3 billion individual addresses; far more than Cerf and his team could even conceive of needing back then.
Obviously, Cerf and everyone else severely underestimated the growth of the Internet and all the various ways it would be used.
More than just a system to share files and images, the Internet has become a platform for commerce and communication that eventually dwarfed the telephone network, the only comparable network on the planet. There are currently 5.5 billion mobile devices in the world.
If each one of them were to need an IP address (and that’s likely to be true in the very near future), they alone would require more than the available Internet addresses under IPv4. New devices simply would not be able to connect. According to a prediction from Forrester Research, global IoT revenues will be thirty times those of the internet, making it the next trillionlevel communication industry linking what, according to an IDC survey, will be 25 billion smart devices and intelligent systems in operation around the world by 2020 – forget 5.5 billion mobile devices. Imagine the possibility of billions, even trillions of pieces of hardware connected to the Internet, all sending out signals. Watches, pens, shoes, pacemakers – all will have their own IP address and will be able to send out signals.
Conventional diagrams of the Internet leave out the most numerous and important routers of all – people. The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy – all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.
IOT HAS BEEN HERE ALL ALONG, SLOWLY GROWING AS INDUSTRY INCREASINGLY TAKES ADVANTAGE OF TECHNOLOGIES THAT INTERPRET DATA
We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did.
Fortunately Cerf and others saw this bottleneck coming. In 1996, they put together a new addressing protocol, IPv6, with 128 bits of address space. That means IPv6 can accommodate 340 trillion trillion trillion (3.4 times ten to the power of 38) addresses. That should be enough for a while.
Even so, the transition to IPv6 has been slow – only about 5% of users are able to support IPv6 right now, though that number is steadily rising. Large-scale applications are still a long way off, because the business model is at an early stage and lacking in technical standards. IBM’s leader of IoT research, Wang Yun, recently mentioned that IoT development will far exceed the current use of the internet, especially in food traceability, health care, intelligent cities, environmental protection and energy savings.
READY FOR USE
IPv6 is in place now and ready for organisations to use. Companies looking to establish deeper connectivity with their customers – especially those planning to connect large numbers of mobile devices and IP hardware and applications – should consider beginning a gradual transition to the new addressing protocol.
Indeed, the new routing protocol for the Internet of Things, RPL, which has been adopted as an international standard by the IETF (RFC 6550) and CoAP, the lightweight resources management protocol specified by the IETF, are both IPv6 protocols.
While it’s certainly true that the IoT is much more readily associated with the consumer electronics IT sectors, the Internet of Things (IoT) is also here in the automation industry.
Manufacturing is characterised by a set of qualities that are different from those found in enterprise IT – for example, hardware has an extended service life, often being used for over a decade, compared to three or four years in the enterprise world.
"IoT has been here all along, slowly growing as industry increasingly takes advantage of technologies that interpret data from things like SCADA, supervisory HMI, MES and EMI solutions on a single platform. IoT represents the next huge leap in automation, particularly where there is an advantage to be derived from the acquisition and organisation of previously unthinkable amounts of data,” says Mike Lees business manager of HardwarePT, the Industrial IT division of SolutionsPT.
This quantity of information, which in the IT world we would call big data, could be defined as a data set or sets so large and
complex that they become awkward to work with using existing management tools. In process optimisation, we used to be restricted to collecting just a few data points, limited by simple serial networks and the negligible storage capacity of the control devices, something which was particularly true of PLC based control.
The bottom structure of IoT is composed of sensors, networks, services, and applications.
SolutionsPT provides sensing products to acquire the front-end data, thanks to its partnership with Advantech. After convergence and processing, this data is sent to the service layer via the network.
Ultimately, the database will be used in various fields with different strategies. Furthermore, SolutionsPT also offers the SCADA, historian and operational intelligence systems for the service layer to manage the status of sensing devices, as well as the interpretation platforms through which all of this data can be managed.
Advantech UK, is introducing SUSIAccess V2.0, a remote device management application for centrally monitoring and managing remote embedded devices in real-time. The application is also designed to be cloud-based and provides ondemand software services for systems integrators to download and upgrade applications as required saving time and cost.
When errors occur, it auto-notifies the system administrator via warning popups and e-mail alerts.
And if there’s a major system crash, it automatically reboots so it can run diagnostics and deploy system recovery procedures. If necessary, it can deploy firmware upgrades or file updates, and it can even capture screens to help troubleshoot problems.
A key example of where this comes into play is in Smart Grids: as electric utilities across the world are modernising their energy infrastructure. The Field Area Network of utility operations, which handles the electric distribution down to the meter and the meter reading back – the so-called ‘last mile infrastructure’ – is a key area of focus. An IPv6-based architecture is being looked at by companies such as Cisco to provide the Smart Grid infrastructure to support meter readout, demand-response, telemetry, grid monitoring, and automation.
Networks are expected to support a number of services, including HAN applications - these typically require communication between home appliances and the utility head-end server through individual meters acting as application’s gateways. For example, a user may activate Direct Load Control (DLC) capabilities, empowering the utility company to turn off or down certain home appliances remotely (e.g. air conditioning, washer/dryer), when demand and/or the cost of electricity is high.
• The IoT will greatly increase people-to-object and object-to-object interaction
• IPv6 is in place now and ready for organisations to use
• The bottom structure of IoT is composed of sensors, networks, services, and applications
• Networks are expected to support a number of services, including HAN applications