Before enterprises can reap the benefits of IoT, network infrastructure must be in place
Turning your retail store, restaurant, or commercial building into an Internet of Things-connected facility takes more than just hooking up sensors to the cloud. However, it’s important to not let the elaborateness of IoT obscure the rewards of the technology. By enabling operators to monitor, manage, and leverage data, IoT pushes enterprises toward strategic innovation and profitable efficiencies.
With the launch of our OpSense platform, Mission Data has acquired real-world experience in deploying large-scale IoT networks across multiple sites. We help guide our clients through the necessary planning stages so that solutions are built to perform, scale, and add complexity.
As your organization prepares your IoT roadmap, make sure you do the necessary prep work to understand the architecture and bandwidth capacity you’ll need. Focusing on network and bandwidth issues in the early stages of your project can help you prioritize IoT infrastructure investments.
Before the possibilities of IoT can be realized, network infrastructure must exist to provide reliable connectivity and data exchange — whether that’s across a retail sales floor or deep underground to a subway tunnel or mining shaft. Low-cost wireless sensors can measure almost anything today and new wireless technology such as Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) facilitates the installation of these sensors without the need for power, cabling, or even Wi-Fi connectivity.
For example, a temperature sensor in a HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) system may need to send a simple temperature measurement to a controller device once every few minutes or only when the temperature changes by a certain amount. The sensor may be located in a relatively inaccessible place without a power source, needing a battery with an operational lifetime of years in order to minimize battery replacement. Very low power consumption then becomes a critical requirement.
Consider whether your devices will be wired, connected with Power over Ethernet cabling, or whether they will require portable power sources such as batteries or supercapacitors. If they require batteries, you need to know the size, weight, and capacity requirements, as well as whether the batteries should be rechargeable, replaceable, or whether the devices should be discarded after the batteries die. If the devices are rechargeable, how often should they be charged, and by what means? Could solar panels or other energy harvesting techniques be utilized so the sensors could run indefinitely?
Connectivity: Automation Protocols
While Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have established themselves as standards in the device-to-device and high data-rate domains, such as audio and video streaming, for the low power, low data-rate domain of monitoring and control, there are several competing automation protocols. To name a few: SigFox, ZWave, 6LoWPAN, LoRa, RPMA (by Ingenu), Symphony Link (by Link Labs), NB-IoT and LTE-M.
In developing our OpSense platform, Mission Data has partnered with Zigbee, established in 2003 and used by major players in the home automation space (Philips, Huawei, Texas Instruments). The Zigbee standard includes built-in mesh functionality that relays communications through other devices on the network, meaning that each Zigbee device only needs to be within range of any other Zigbee device, not necessarily the central controller. Zigbee consumes very little power and uses inexpensive technology, making it ideal for IoT deployments.
Other emerging network standards include Thread, which uses compression to send standard IPv6 packets over low-power networks designed specifically for IoT applications, and is used by a consortium of companies including Google, Samsung, and Nest, among others. Interestingly, Thread, which does not have an application layer defined, has partnered with Zigbee to allow the Zigbee application layer on top of the Thread IP stack.
Earlier this year, Bluetooth mesh joined the mix as a new wireless standard. While Zigbee and Thread networks relay messages through a routing technique where a message “hops” from node to node to reach its final destination, Bluetooth mesh uses a “managed flooding” technique in which every device in the network shouts its message to every other node subscribed to that device. Though flooding may be easier and more flexible to deploy for simpler applications, it can also add an overhead of higher latency and power consumption for some large-scale networks.
Edge vs. Cloud vs. Hybrid
To shift from traditional business intelligence reporting to more real-time and predictive analytics, enterprises will need to prepare for vast amounts of data. A cloud IoT architecture can be beneficial for organizations managing a large volume of connected devices where value is driven through the combination of internal and external data. For instance, a supply chain application that involves multiple data sets would need cloud architecture to integrate and interact with other IoT devices and cloud systems.
Companies can simply contract for more storage capacity from cloud vendors as storage needs grow, although that may come with trade-offs in terms of higher latency and less control over how data is managed. Many large enterprises prefer to invest in their own on-premises and private cloud storage, while a hybrid approach may be the best use of resources.
By 2019, 45 percent of IoT data will be stored, processed, and acted on close to or at the edge.
With earlier IoT projects, organizations shipped data to a central data warehouse (data lake) for processing in order to glean strategic insights. But now, with sensors churning out exponentially more data, more organizations are benefitting from an architectural approach known as edge computing. According to IDC, by 2019, 45 percent of IoT data will be stored, processed, and acted on close to or at the edge.
With this strategy, designers enable information processing near where data is being collected, often with the help of intelligent gateways. The result is less network traffic and more efficient use of storage capacities. This model also enables real-time analytics, making it possible to make decisions at close to the same time that events happen.
Often, a hybrid approach is a preferred course of action, where devices perform initial filtering and analyses that separate actionable information from raw data feeds and then send higher-value results to central applications and databases.
In these situations, how much data should get processed at the network’s edge versus what is brought to the center and processed at the core is an important architectural consideration. The combination of real-time response of a local architecture as well as the cloud’s system-wide access and scalability brings the best of both worlds to play.
Almost half of building automation projects involve legacy systems running multiple protocols from different vendors. It's clear that multi-protocol and converged solutions will be key to extracting optimal benefits from the IoT. Integration of different siloed services can be achieved through joining them together at the top end through specialist software products such as OpSense.
Platforms engineered around the needs of the enterprise customer, their industry, and stakeholder ecosystems are gaining dominance in the IoT operations market. The result is a set of purpose-built solutions that adopt the industry language, concepts, and metrics that customers use every day.
This platform approach has the effect of reducing complexity, shortening the learning curve, and enabling the enterprise to focus on its core competencies, rather than getting bogged down trying to understand how to implement, use, and maintain the IoT. The result is a simple elegant IoT-enabled platform that’s easy to use, value-added, and intelligently focused on solving a narrow set of business challenges.
Companies planning IoT deployments for 2018 should engage in discussions with service providers or third-party partners to leverage their experience and conduct a thorough assessment of existing network infrastructure. If you are interested in learning more about Mission Data’s OpSense IoT platform for retail, restaurants, and commercial buildings, we can work with you to plan for the capacity you’ll need to avoid latency and performance issues that could sink an IoT project before it gets off the ground. Contact us for more information today.