Universal connectivity will yield insights in fields as diverse as aviation and hospitality, but will challenge conventional practices.
As the internet of things (IoT) pushes Ethernet into new areas – manufacturing lines, hotel room beds, farm combines or the inside of an aircraft wing – devices that need a connection will move from the thousands to the millions, as process engineers, control system engineers, hotel designers, electric grid operators and other business executives harness the digital disruption and powers of the IoT. For networking professionals, the next wave of challenges comes from lines of business deploying IoT systems and will break the traditional networking processes and control. Consequently, networking teams will learn to empower other teams to move the business forward.
Forrester defines IoT systems as those enabled by machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies. Forrester defines M2M technologies as those that collect and transfer information on the condition of physical assets or people. IoT systems set the stage for a new era of innovation, driven by capturing insight on the location, status or presence of objects or assets, analysing that information for risks and possibilities, presenting alternatives and taking actions. There are several interesting examples in this field of research, such as the Planetary Skin Institute’s Planetary Skin project or HP’s Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE).
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Who will exploit the internet of things?
IoT systems are starting to permeate many industry sectors, such as manufacturing, retail, and hospitality, among others. In many cases, business stakeholders drive the deployment of IoT systems and are more directly involved in technology decision-making.
Concrete areas of business – such as manufacturing sites, hospitals, warehouses, farms, and substations – have recently jumped on the bandwagon with the IoT. For instance, manufacturing equipment suppliers, such as Rockwell and Siemens, offer a full line of automation equipment and networks based on Ethernet/IP. Based on the TCP/IP suite, Ethernet/IP uses TCP for information messaging and UDP for I/O messaging. Besides connecting equipment from different suppliers on the manufacturing line, product engineers can work with process/ manufacturing engineers to make changes from halfway around the world – instantaneously. The benefits extend to the supply chain and the manufacturer’s customers, because all these systems can be interconnected and deliver on the promise of just-in-time manufacturing.
Industrial automation and control system networks have moved away from the purpose-built and supplier-specific communication protocols to Ethernet. This is driven by several factors, including the challenges of finding resources to support them, the site-specific controls and interoperability issues.
With nanosensors, input/output devices (for example, a light or on-off switch), and programmable automation controllers (PACs), plant managers, process engineers and business owners can deploy, control and report on plants from the other side of the world and enable a multitude of subsystems to work together harmoniously to improve efficiency and product quality.
Matching energy supply and demand
In the energy sector, with renewable energy and fluctuating demands across long distances, networking, combined with smart sensors, offers a way to match power flowing into and out of the grid, based on real-time information and control systems. Ethernet offers the most robust, cost-effective, and common platform that can allow once-disparate systems to share information. Power engineers are setting up IP-enabled devices, such as routers, switches and laptops in the substations, generation plants, customer locations and so on, to monitor and control energy from central locations on the fly.
Information technology systems will enable the power station staff with control and protection schemes to increase the reliability and efficiency of the power grid. Moreover, the operation and control of a grid with high penetrations of renewable generation resources will depend on the availability and implementation of these schemes. Those that depend on weather conditions (wind, sun and rain) will need to be harnessed from different areas and piped to the energy-hungry spot.
In construction, property management firms and multi-property owners have been increasing their investments in smart buildings as a differentiator. More aggressive firms offer businesses variable leases on the amount of resources they use, because of the information that smart buildings can provide the owners. Civil engineers and architects have accelerated their use of technology in building designs to support this demand.
A smart building systems can provide a computerised, intelligent network of electronic devices designed to monitor and control the mechanical, electronic and lighting systems (shutters, lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation and auto-window tinting) in a building.
Engaging with business stakeholders will ensure network exec utives have a seat at the table during initial IoT system discussions
Today it is cost-effective to produce controllers and I/O modules that reside directly on Ethernet, providing the benefits of Ethernet connectivity without the need for gateways, terminal servers or other miscellaneous hardware. Ethernet TCP/IP capability is built right into the controller device, which allows users to exploit an existing corporate network for the main system backbone, if required. This can result in significant cost savings, improved access to data and easier network management.
It can often seem easier for networking professionals to take on new responsibility rather than delegate and enable others to own it. Existing networking teams struggle to keep up with the configuration changes needed for the datacentre, let alone supporting users connecting to the edge of the network with mobile devices. Businesses will not have the resources to architect, deploy, manage, and upgrade an infrastructure that will support a new edge that has moved from hundreds of devices to millions, if not billions.
Because technology permeates core business processes, some infrastructure and operations professionals have spent their entire career protecting the network from non-tech-savvy users and protecting those same users from themselves. Rather than creating a situation in which the networking team is indispensable, they have imprisoned themselves – disdained by both business and other infrastructure and operations teams and unable to innovate because they are shackled to tactical tasks. Today’s model is not working and it is not sustainable, but there is a way forward:
- Networking professionals must learn no one group can do everything. Networking organisations need to embrace systems to empower other organisations. It can start with network access control. Most infrastructure and operations professionals Forrester speaks to would agree that HR, legal and the business should develop acceptable-use policies that balance corporate culture, common sense and business objectives, and limit risk to the enterprise. Instead of trying to figure out business goals and policies, networking professionals should spend their time on putting together a network infrastructure with the ability to accept business policies and signals through standard interfaces.
- Network executives must engage with business stakeholders. This will ensure you have a seat at the table during initial IoT system discussions. This does not mean giving free rein across the network or letting the business design and manage the datacentre network. Rather, networking teams can educate and establish governance and guardrails.
- Networking professionals should embrace the lessons learned outside IT: Total quality management (TQM) is a philosophy that emphasises continuous improvement of customer satisfaction by empowering all employees. TQM managers gain employees’ trust, encourage them to solve problems and promote co-operation among departments. They monitor and adjust the process but do not try to control employees.
This was first published in December 2013