*This is the first in a series of blogs examining Sensor-2-Server communications, development and implementation.
Throughout history, industrial revolutions have hinged on the power of automating processes. While automation today offers many benefits, imagine if you could automate thousands – or even millions – of processes simultaneously? This is the next potential wave of innovation, and it’s the organizations that are “geographically dispersed” or “automation heavy” that will benefit the most.
While long-range communications and connectivity have become increasingly easier to attain, businesses need to be able to break down their isolated islands of automation in industry to achieve comprehensive and connected automation at scale. For example, there always has been a clear line dividing operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) networks. The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) blurs that line as industrial operations head in the direction of complete connectivity for all devices on a network – including those remotely located in the field. With new dedicated access layer platforms, IoT data can be analyzed, acted upon and transmitted from anywhere in an Industrial IoT (IIoT) network.
The increasing shift toward Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) tends to bring up a lot of questions about the continued value of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems that have traditionally served as the driver for monitoring and control in industrial markets. Although OT and IT are beginning to converge, there is still high demand for SCADA data. However, new technology offers the opportunity for data to be used in ways that were previously not possible, such as predictive analytics. This doesn’t make SCADA obsolete, as many operators are using it and will continue to employ it. Going forward, industries will leverage new technologies designed to help them make better business decisions than with SCADA alone.
Sensor-2-Server™ (S2S™) intelligent communications for the access layer can collect and transport the data that supports higher-level analytics. As IoT becomes adopted by industrial markets, there is going to be an increased demand for video, voice, data and sensor data communication from the outermost layer of the network (think sensors on oil pads or water tanks). Industries like oil and gas, electric power, agriculture and utilities are starting to pick up on the benefits of S2S when it comes to profitability and cost savings through more advanced data analytics.
S2S is intelligent communication that begins at the sensor level and targets servers for specific reasons. These servers could include anything from a SCADA data server that collects and monitors through the SCADA system or a Big Data engine. S2S could be leveraged in a predictive analytics engine that compares data at rest stored in a database to data in motion in real time from the access layer of the network. The concept of S2S extends beyond transmitting data. It is about creating intelligent transmission from a specific location back to the appropriate server with the appropriate intelligence to drive action for change.
What is the Access Layer?
The access layer is the edge of the IT network. An IT infrastructure has a core that is home to all the Big Data and data analytics. At this core, the data is “at rest” because it has reached its final destination. Next is the distribution layer of the IT infrastructure which is where the major plants, sites and facilities are located. Further out is the aggregate layer where data at the next level in the network is collected. Extending out even further is the access layer.
The access layer is the layer at the far edge of the IT network.
In oil and gas, for example, oil pads would be part of the access layer because they are typically remotely located at the edge of the network. It is highly likely that sensors physically exist in this layer for monitoring and control of these devices. Additional examples of the access layer are tanks, refinery sites and ocean exploration vessels. In water/wastewater, the access layer could be the treatment facility that has the water meters, pumps, smart meters, etc. Essentially, in an industrial site, the S2S access layer is the furthest point at which the operators are collecting sensor data. Industrial organizations today need intelligent secure communication and transmission from the sensor data back to the appropriate server, and there are a number of available options.
Next week, we’ll continue our Sensor-2-Server series with a look at implementation and some of the core tenets of communication system development.