Industrial process control engineers may recall the “early days” when a single computer cost upwards of a million dollars and had less computing power than a smart phone, and sensors were mechanical devices costing thousands of dollars and requiring constant calibration. Today, many of these sensors have been replaced by semiconductors with digital outputs costing under $100. Lee Stogner, president of the Vincula Group and member of the IEEE Internet of Things Initiative, calls today’s technology a “perfect storm in the Internet of Things” in an IEEE Xplore article.

Getting this “perfect storm” under control will be an absolute necessity if users are going to benefit from rapidly growing technology. “Potential migration toward an Industrial Internet of Things [IIoT] raises numerous questions regarding suitable architectural frameworks or reference architectures for use in these emerging ecosystems,” says Chantal Polsonetti, ARC Advisory Group vice president, advisory services. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and the European IoT-A (Internet of Things-Architecture), among others, have been busy developing architectural frameworks that define relationships between IoT domains and devices, as well as appropriate security schemes.

The IEEE P2413 Standard for an Architectural Framework for the Internet of Things working group is pursuing a proposed standard that is intended to provide an extensible, integrated IoT framework, adds Polsonetti. “The P2413 Standard work is holistic in nature, striving to ‘enable cross-domain interaction and platform unification through increased compatibility, interoperability and functional exchangeability.’”

“Standardization will be key for the end-customer experience,” said Nicolas Leterrier, Schneider VP of innovation, at the April 2015 meeting of the IEEE P2413 working group. “We need to ensure all devices that will communicate will also cooperate to deliver quality of services as well as functionality. This is why standardization is of outstanding importance. We believe [at] Schneider Electric that interoperability will be a key success factor in the deployment of end-to-end solutions and distributed intelligence.”

The P2413 working group has set about defining things by describing their properties, for example, the type of information exchange used, device properties and functionality (e.g., “what I am, who made me, what I can do”) and a security wrapper. The definition of a thing is abstracted to include applications and/or services that may reside on the device. P2413 provides a device description for a universal thing that will help manufacturers identify at least minimum content for standardized IoT profiles.

The IIC recently released its Industrial Internet Reference Architecture, which provides “guidance for the development of system, solution and application architectures.” It provides common and consistent definitions in the system of interest, its decomposition and design patterns, and a common vocabulary with which to discuss the specification of implementations so options may be compared.

According to the IIC, an Industrial Internet System (IIS) exhibits end-to-end characteristics such as safety, security and resilience. Because IISs are large scale, heterogeneous, built with multivendor components, often broadly distributed and continuously evolving, it is a challenge to define, measure, enforce and maintain the system characteristics over time. Therefore, the IIC document gives prominent treatment to a few system characteristics.

The IIC document also looks at four viewpoints: business, usage, functional and implementation. The business viewpoint attends to the concerns of the identification of stakeholders and their business vision, values and objectives. The usage viewpoint addresses the concerns of expected system usage. The functional viewpoint focuses on the functional components of an IIS, their interrelation and structure, the interfaces and interactions between them and the relation and interactions of the system with external elements in the environment. The implementation viewpoint looks at the technologies needed to implement functional components, their communication schemes and lifecycle procedures.

Can manufacturers afford to wait to implement IIoT? Waiting can put a manufacturer behind competitors that have already adopted an IIoT strategy. Plus, changing to IIoT has economic benefits. According to Stogner, “Proprietary networks that in many cases would cost over 100 dollars per foot installed now use industry standard Ethernet that costs just dollars per foot installed.”

 In its 2015 report, “Industrial Internet of Things: Unleashing the Potential of Connected Products and Services,” the World Economic Forum states, “Our research concludes that the Industrial Internet is indeed transformative. It will change the basis of competition, redraw industry boundaries and create a new wave of disruptive companies, just as the current Internet has given rise to Amazon, Google and Netflix. However, the vast majority of organizations are still struggling to understand the implications of the Industrial Internet on their businesses and industries. For these organizations, the risks of moving too slowly are real.”