By Jason Andersen, Vice President of Business Line Management, Stratus Technologies
As more industrial enterprises take their first tentative steps toward Internet of Things (IoT) implementations, they quickly discover the need for a new class of system: the IoT gateway. As with any new technology introduced into industrial environments, one question arises: Will it introduce new risks?
Put simply, an IoT gateway sits between systems at the edge and central control and management systems, often linked via the cloud. The gateway aggregates data from hundreds or thousands of sensors and other edge devices and systems, performing translations of protocols and device management models. Increasingly, IoT gateways are evolving from simply providing this translational function into “intelligent” systems that provide higher-level control functions at the edge, easing the burden on central management systems. Companies like Foghorn, for example, greatly increase the capabilities of these gateways by providing real-time analytics to collect the data for the gateways.
System vendors have seized upon the growing demand for IoT gateways by offering pre-packaged solutions combining software and hardware. Indeed, you’ll find a host of IoT gateway solutions offered by some of the biggest names in computing hardware. These systems have some attractive features. They are often ruggedised, built specifically for deployment on the production floor. And they are generally inexpensive. What’s not to like?
Unfortunately, these systems also have some limitations. They generally don’t have a lot of power; they cannot replace the edge servers you are currently running. They aren’t virtualised – or if they are, they can be just as expensive as a more full-featured system. And because they’re based on inexpensive, commodity off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, the expected lifecycle is limited—as are the expectations for robust support from the vendor.
These IoT gateway systems can be adequate, but relying on them for business-critical use in your production environment could introduce a level of risk you’re not prepared for.
But there is a practical workaround: Buy or download the IoT gateway software you need but run it on hardware that’s built for business-critical production environments. We’re talking hardware that offers the efficiencies of virtualisation, together with the scalability and fault-tolerance required to keep growing businesses up and running without interruption. That doesn’t have to mean moving to a more complex solution. Focus on hardware that combines sophisticated availability and management capabilities with simplified servicing and maintenance—critical priorities at the edge, where IT skillsets may not be readily available.
The IoT gateway is here to stay. But taking a “best of breed” approach that marries the right software with highly available hardware made for the industrial edge could hit the “sweet spot,” maximising the benefit while minimising risk.