Navigant Research Blog

Industrial IoT Gets Needed Technology Boost from Vendors

— June 14, 2018

For many businesses, the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has yet to take hold. Most are well aware of the concept, but have little practical experience with the intricacies of IoT deployments, or else lack a strategy for taking advantage of IoT. Lately, though, new tools and better approaches have become available to help move firms still on the sidelines to the playing field.

OSIsoft Cornering Collaboration

For example, OSIsoft has developed several ways of collaborating so clients can get the most from their operational data. The company is working with Amazon Web Services to simplify the analytics process that kicks in when a firm uses OSIsoft’s PI System. Also, the company has a new deal with Nokia whereby the two firms will jointly develop new business models based on integrating IoT with private LTE networks. The aim is to help customers more easily deploy predictive maintenance and communication infrastructure. Lastly, in the utility sector, OSIsoft is helping Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) use the PI System in a newer way, providing remote monitoring and real-time alerts to reduce grid downtime.

Sprint Looks to Capture the Small and Medium Business Market

US wireless carrier Sprint is another firm supplying a new IoT tool, in this case aimed not only at larger firms but also the often overlooked small and medium business market. Sprint has created its IoT Factory, an online marketplace offering pre-packaged IoT solutions. The marketplace is a collaborative effort that includes strategic partners myDevices, a creator of drag-and-drop IoT devices, and the Goldie Group, a firm that provides lifecycle services in the electronics and wireless industries.

Let’s Talk about Progress

Progress, a provider of application development and deployment technologies, has come out with a new self-service anomaly detection and prediction tool for the IIoT market. The firm’s DataRPM is said to be a first-of-its-kind offering that enables R&D and innovation groups to enhance their decision-making capabilities during IIoT proof-of-concept or piloting projects. The new tool is hosted on AWS, which is offering free trials of Progress’ DataRPM to qualified manufacturers.

And Then There’s Microsoft

Finally, Microsoft is forging ahead with efforts to promote its Azure IoT Edge capabilities. At its annual Build conference, the software giant announced that it is open-sourcing Azure IoT Edge Runtime, launching Project Kinect for Azure, and further embracing Kubernetes. What this means is Microsoft is all in on IoT. This was underscored by the announcement earlier in the year that it is tripling its previous spending on IoT.

Small Steps Add Up

Individually, these might appear to be mere small steps in the evolution of the IIoT market. Taken together, however, these efforts illustrate the type of technology development momentum necessary to drive adoption. These strategic moves should help reduce the complexities involved in IoT projects.

This is just the type of market development anticipated in Navigant Research’s most recent report on the subject, Industrial Internet of Things. The report notes how, unlike consumer markets for IoT, the industrial or enterprise adoption pace will be more measured in the near term, with a surge coming later. That pace is likely given how many companies take a more restrained approach to new technology. Established companies will be hesitant to fully adopt until the evidence shows that they will get the necessary ROI.


Making the Case for an Intelligent Edge in an IoT World

— June 12, 2018

Cloud computing gets plenty of attention in IT circles and among grid managers—it is hard to ignore when technology giants like Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and others keep promoting their cloud solutions. But as the Internet of Things (IoT) concept gains momentum, new attention is being focused on intelligent edge and distributed computing.

This theme was prevalent at the recent Internet of Things World conference in Silicon Valley, where participants pointed out advantages that edge has over the cloud. Jesse DeMesa, a strategy partner at the venture capital firm Momenta Partners, said that a cloud-first or data center-first approach to IoT analytics will not work, and companies will ultimately move toward more autonomous systems. Many current IoT adopters, he said, focus on connecting, collecting, and storing data, while the “real value of data has a shelf life often measured in seconds.”

Getting the Edge on Costs

His point is well-taken. Looking back and analyzing large datasets for actionable insights via a cloud scenario does have value. But gleaning insights within seconds, or fractions of a second, at the edge and making immediate adjustments can be equally valuable, if not more so, when critical operations are at stake or the safety of nearby personnel is in play.

The need to rethink a cloud-first approach was emphasized for cost reasons by HarperDB CEO Stephen Goldberg. During a panel session, Goldberg said the bandwidth needed to push data to the cloud and the edge storage infrastructure is expensive, and ends up grabbing a significant share of the cost in an IoT deployment. He argued that a more distributed computing infrastructure, where edge devices already in place are doing as much computing as possible, is a more rational approach. This is true.

IoT vendors recognize this need for advanced intelligence at the edge. Recent examples of companies with new edge offerings include: SWIM EDX, which processes edge streaming data in real time; C3 IoT and Intel partnering on a new artificial intelligence (AI) appliance for optimizing applications that do not require cloud computing; and Edgeworx, a startup that builds software for edge gateways and micro data centers.

Edge Networks Get Sharper

The big tech players have noticed the growing edge computing need and the advantages of putting more and strategically useful computing horsepower there as well. Dell and Microsoft, for instance, have teamed up to create an integrated IoT edge platform. Amazon Web Services has updated its edge computing platform, called Greengrass, to incorporate machine learning capabilities. Similarly, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Aruba subsidiary launched a new network edge solution called NetInsight in March that uses AI to autonomously monitor corporate networks and optimize performance.

What this all means is that the edge of networks is getting smarter. It means companies deploying IoT solutions need a strategy that integrates edge, on-premise, or cloud computing architectures to take advantage of each for an enterprise’s or a grid operator’s own needs and applications. In some scenarios, a cloud architecture makes sense, or an on-premise solution. But more likely the complexity in these deployments will require a sophisticated blend of technologies. As my colleagues Richelle Elberg and Mackinnon Lawrence note in their Navigant Research white paper From Smart Grid to Neural Grid, the future mature Energy Cloud will be based on technologies that integrate ubiquitous connectivity, cloud-based AI, and edge computing. That same type of integration of computing power will be needed for enterprises beyond the energy grid that seek to harness IoT as well.


Global Industrial Titans Join Efforts to Thwart Cybersecurity Threat, but Will They Work?

— May 31, 2018

The threat of cyber attacks to critical industrial Internet of Things (IoT) technologies has risen to a near crisis level and is driving more global industrial titans to band together. Recently, Cisco, Dell, oil & gas multinational Total, and testing and certification firm TÜV SÜD joined the Charter of Trust, an initiative spearheaded by Siemens.

The charter now boasts 16 members and is likely to add more. Its lofty goals are threefold:

  • Protect the data of individuals and companies
  • Prevent damage to people, companies, and infrastructure
  • Create a foundation for trust in the digital world

To reach these goals, members have also agreed to 10 principles that range from taking responsibility for securing the supply chain to focusing on user centricity to working with governments. Perhaps the most important and practical principle is the establishment of mandatory independent third-party certifications for critical infrastructure and IoT solutions. While that sounds good, the details are skimpy.

Reasons to Worry

There are clear reasons for corporate leaders to be worried and motivated to act. A study among cyber risk managers in the US oil & gas industry found 68% had experienced at least one security breach in the last year, resulting in the loss of confidential information or operational technology (OT) disruption. A different survey of IT security professionals found that 85% foresee a cyber attack on critical infrastructure taking place in the next 5 years. Then there is the sobering message from the US Department of Energy last year that said the electricity system faces “imminent danger” from cyber attacks, which are growing more frequent and sophisticated.

But one wonders how Siemens’ initiative is any better or all that much different than Microsoft’s call for a digital Geneva Convention, or the more recent Cybersecurity Tech Accord. Yes, the Microsoft push leans more toward discouraging government or state-sponsored hacking. But both companies are focused broadly on cybersecurity and the myriad threats to individuals and corporations.

Trust Issues

So which company should we trust and will these efforts actually work? As Sasha Romanosky, a former cyber policy adviser at the Pentagon’s office of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy says, the firms joining Siemens’ charter might have noble goals, but not all companies have the same incentives. For example, some firms might have a greater focus on environmental concerns or health issues or child labor. The threat from cyber attacks might not be as important to some companies, and without widespread participation and a closer alignment of goals, the dangerous level of cyber threats will persist.

These doubts are not raised to discourage efforts to prevent cyber attacks. In fact, a recent Navigant Research report, Managing IoT Cybersecurity Threats in the Energy Cloud Ecosystem, recommends grid operators and other enterprises set up a comprehensive cybersecurity plan and use it. But how many broad initiatives are really going to make a difference? The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has its Industrial Internet Security Framework. Germany’s Industrie 4.0 has a working group focused on security. In the US, NIST has its own program for IoT cybersecurity.

I’m all for serious steps to thwart the bad guys. But count me skeptical until we see demonstrable evidence that these initiatives, alliances, and frameworks are making a difference in keeping data and processes safe. It is hard to be otherwise when some companies and governments are known to skirt the rules to their advantage.


New Technology Announcements Portend a Smarter IoT

— May 10, 2018

The Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem is about to get smarter. Leading technology vendors have recently announced new products and integrations intended to push greater intelligence to the edge, derive deeper insights through analytics, and heighten security. Utilities should take note.

Qualcomm Offering a New Chip-Based Platform

Qualcomm’s new Vision Intelligence Platform is part of this trend. The Qualcomm platform features the chipmaker’s first family of system-on-chips (SoCs) built specifically for the IoT using an advanced 10 nm FinFET (Fin Field Effect Transistor) process that produces substantially faster performance and efficiencies than previous chips. The platform’s chip models, QCS605 and QCS603, are designed to provide greater computing power for on-device cameras and machine learning. The company envisions these chips being used for a variety of applications, including robots, the smart home, and smart cameras. For utilities, these could become valuable in cameras mounted amid critical infrastructure such as substations, or in drones that monitor the grid.

Microsoft Promoting Its Own System

Similarly, Microsoft has introduced Azure Sphere, a new custom SoC operating system for the IoT. Azure Sphere has its own flavor of a Linux kernel, and includes a new security subsystem called Pluton. The idea is to provide greater IoT device security starting from the microcontroller level and moving up from there to the cloud. For example, Pluton is designed to prevent malicious code from tampering with firmware on a device, which could be quite useful for a utility or energy provider that oversees over-the-air upgradeable smart meters or sensors connected to the grid. The first certified hardware based on Azure Sphere is expected to be available later in 2018.

Other Offerings in This Market

SoftBank Group’s Arm semiconductor subsidiary announced enhanced capabilities for its Mbed IoT platform during Hannover Messe, one of the world’s largest industrial technology events, held annually in Germany. The Mbed platform, designed to help companies connect, secure, manage, and provision IoT devices, will now integrate Mbed’s Cloud solution with IBM’s Watson IoT and artificial intelligence platform. Arm also announced a collaboration with Cybertrust and GlobalSign in a bid to give industrial customers the flexibility to use their own security certificates in IoT deployments, something utilities are likely to appreciate given their penchant for managing and controlling their devices and systems in their own way.

Just a Glimpse of Market Momentum

None of these vendor moves will happen overnight, of course. They are cutting edge and will take months or even years to gain widespread adoption; some might even fizzle or fail. Nonetheless, they indicate vendors’ strong emphasis on the IoT, whether the focus is at the edge, in the cloud, or on security (for a deeper look at IoT security, see Navigant Research’s Managing IoT Cybersecurity Threats in the Energy Cloud Ecosystem). Momentum is building, and utilities need to stay apprised of how advances in IoT technologies could enhance their grid operations.


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