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M2M Technology & Building the Industrial Cloud

29 Jan, 2015

Johnny Fang and Patrick Bor, Product Managers for Moxa, for Design World news, clarifies the industrial cloud & M2M technology. Here is an excerpt:

Industrial automation suppliers need embedded computing platforms that are optimized for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The fundamental challenge in designing IoT clouds for industries involves negotiating the divide between IT and IA technologies.

Industrial automation protocols are fundamental to the proper functioning of the mass of devices connected to various fieldbuses, input/output configurations, serial interfaces and gateways. But for most IT engineers, the entire field appears esoteric and mysterious.

On the other hand, securing networks with firewalls and VPNs, protecting against dropped packets or node failures, and the multifarious problems introduced by wireless communications are typical challenges for IT, but ones which industrial automation (IA) engineers would rather avoid.

The biggest challenge today when building an industrial M2M network is its massively distributed nature: there is very little value gained by a gradual transition that takes years. IoT deployments must be rapid enough to sustain investment value, but the massive number and scope of the devices used makes rapidly completing the full installation pretty much impossible.

Specialized technicians are needed for every individual station. They must be competent electricians, as well as network designers, to juggle the details of multiple protocols, interfaces and communications media. Unfortunately, few IT professionals have ever worked with the protocols and interfaces that are common to industrial automation networks, and IT people have limited experience setting up input/output stations or configuring sensors.

Thus, effective software automation at the connectivity layer is critical: First, to help deploy devices that may ultimately include hundreds of thousands of nodes, and second, to flatten the learning curve for the men and women installing these devices. Software tools that transparently automate the rollout of industrial automation devices and simplify network deployments are important for anyone managing the deployment of an IoT network.

Industrial grade stresses, enterprise class challenges
 Yet another way in which IoT networks differ from consumer networks is their strict availability and reliability requirements. Industrial M2M systems for intelligent transportation systems, or the smart grid, operate 24/7, 365 days a year. At any moment, the network must be able to call upon remote stations at the network’s edge and command them to make adjustments, return data or perform maintenance checks.

Obviously, devices that are not capable of reliably maintaining network connectivity for years on end will not be valuable to network administrators. Similarly, all devices along the network must be able to deliver key information for preventive maintenance, and to respond to a variety of common network challenges, such as failed nodes, network congestion and wireless re-association. For the most reliable performance, network redundancy, automated connectivity checks, preventive maintenance routines, and effective maintenance, monitoring and control protocols must be integrated as deeply into the hardware level as possible.

Finally, there are the related problems of data integrity and network security. Authorization, access and accounting controls are imperative for an M2M network; illicit access to a massively distributed industrial network by a hostile party has clear, potentially lethal consequences. IoT networks must support the strongest possible encryption and access controls. Similarly, accounting controls over the entire network are important not only for the monitoring and management of the network itself, but also to aid in preventive maintenance, as well as to perform forensic analysis on suspected intrusions or other security breaches.

For full information visit moxa.com / designworld.com

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