By the co-chairs of the Industrial Internet Consortium Technology Working Group
Bradford Miller is a Senior Scientist at GE Global Research
The first release of the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) Technical Report is the outcome of a 15-month intensive work effort by members of the Technology Working Group in the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), representing diverse industrial and academic viewpoints. The Industrial Internet -- the Internet of Things in industrial environments -- along with its counterpart in the consumer space -- is an emerging yet rapidly developing technology and business landscape that will have great impact across industrial sectors in the decades to come. The Industrial Internet has a number of important characteristics that are distinct from its consumer counterpart and thus poses unique challenges in its architecture, implementation and operation.
The IIC Technology Working Group has examined these challenges in detail to produce this architectural technical report. Here we wish to share with you some background considerations.
Complexity and Variation:
The Industrial Internet covers many industrial sectors, such as manufacturing, transportation, energy, agriculture, healthcare, public infrastructure, etc. Industrial Internet applications in each of these sectors are not only highly complex but also unique in their usages, and therefore, have highly diverse system and architecture requirements. The challenge here can be highlighted by the following question: Is it possible to create a high-level abstraction of architecture patterns and description that can be applied across the industrial sectors, with an open reference architecture?
The benefits of such an open reference architecture are obvious: It would encourage reuse of common system building blocks and make it easier to share experience and know-how in designing, implementing and operating Industrial Internet systems across industrial sectors. With a widely-accepted open reference architecture, system and component vendors can build interoperable market fitting system components applicable to multiple industrial sectors. System implementers can take the open reference architecture as a starting point for design and use it as a framework to choose reusable commercially-available or open source system building blocks to reduce project risk, costs and time-to-market. A successful open reference architecture for the Industrial Internet could be a first step towards an open, innovative and thriving common technology development environment for the industrial sectors. Such environments have been the bedrock of the Internet Revolution in the consumer, e-commerce and enterprise Information Technology environments.
Contributors within the IIC Technology Working Group gained an increasing awareness of the complexity and variation of Industrial Internet applications over the course of the past 15 months. After intense debate, we reached consensus that across the industrial sectors, there are common value proposition themes and high-level architecture patterns. Furthermore, there are identifiable large common technology and solution building blocks that can be leveraged and reused in Industrial Internet implementations. In the newly-released Industrial Internet Reference Architecture technical report, we share our initial findings.
Because the Industrial Internet, along with its IoT cousins, is still in an early stage of development with many factors in play that would influence its direction, we seek a balanced treatment of topics surrounding the open reference architecture for the Industrial Internet. We focus on fostering shared recognition of key architecture issues and common understanding of widely applicable architecture patterns. Our goal is for this IIRA to be openly accessible and easily related to existing concepts, practices and real world use cases so that it can be useful for the Industrial Internet practitioners with various technical orientations in their system conception and design. Because the Industrial Internet architecture consists of many topics, it was not viable to treat all the topics in depth in this IIRA. Moreover, for the reference architecture to be widely applicable across the industrial sectors, we kept the discussion at a high level of abstraction with broad stroke painting of its general direction highlighting the most important issues. Considering all these factors, we decided to present our findings with reasonable technical depth in an informative, rather than normative, style since compliance is not our goal.
We hope this IIRA will serve as a foundation for more detailed, topic-specific discussions in sequential companion documents that will be published by the Industrial Internet Consortium.
No architecture can or should be created in isolation. Precisely because of the complexity and variability of the Industrial Internet, we considered a broader architectural context for this IIRA, driven in part by the large investment that is typically required in establishing such systems and the potential large impacts these systems may bring to businesses, the environment and society at large. We therefore leveraged an architecture framework based on ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010 for systematically evaluating the large set of intertwining concerns of establishing and operating an Industrial Internet system. This framework provides four distinct yet interdependent Viewpoints: Business, Usage, Functional and Implementation, to address Industrial Internet stakeholder concerns. We start the evaluation of concerns from business vision, values, objectives successively to drive the discussion of system capability, usage and requirements before we deal with the more technical topics such as functional architecture and system implementation. The evaluation and resolution of these concerns are, of course, not linear and one-directional. In this framework, the later stages of work are expected to provide feedback and validation to their proceeding counterparts. We hope this framework highlights the importance of comprehensive and holistic evaluation of the business and technical concerns of new Industrial Internet systems and provides some general guidance on how to identify and resolve these concerns.
Industrial brownfield systems:
Industrial assets deployed in operations – the brownfield environments - are costly to upgrade or replaced, and they tend to take decades to be naturally phased out. Therefore, it is important to devise non-invasive approaches to enable the integration of the brownfield assets in the Industrial Internet to deliver the promised value in the earliest time possible. One first step is to look into the integration of Operational Technologies (OT) with Information Technologies (IT) and the adaption of IT technologies and frameworks to the OT domain. This IIRA, however, does not explore this idea in depth, and we intend to delve into this topic in a separate companion document in the future.
Mission Critical State:
Because many industrial assets are deployed for mission critical applications, they typically require high standards on a number of important system characteristics, such as safety, security and resilience. We stress the need to consider these characteristics holistically across all the architecture viewpoints starting from business values to system implementation and operations. We also highlight the roles the engineering process, operational procedure and, perhaps more importantly, assurance program in ensuring the prevalence of required system characteristics in the end system in operation.
The path to successful implementations of Industrial Internet applications requires adapting and enhancing technologies and best practices in the industrial space, and creating innovative technologies and approaches to meet their challenges. In the IIRA, we explore evolving areas that are important to the Industrial Internet such as safety, security, trust and privacy, connectivity, data management, and industrial analytics. In these areas, some of the technologies, frameworks and best practices can be readily adapted from their respective well-established domains such as enterprise IT, cloud and mobile computing. We also include a few emerging topics or existing topics examined from new angles anticipating new challenges in the Industrial Internet. These topics include resilience, composability, autonomous and resilient controls, dynamic composition and automated interoperability. The discussions are intended to start a conversation that we believe is important to the evolution of the Industrial Internet in the coming years.
This release of the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture has focused on asking the most important architectural questions about the Industrial Internet. In exploring answers, we are fully aware that we may have left out some questions that are important, and that some of the answers we presented may not be complete, conclusive or universally applicable. With the initial release of this IIRA, we hope to ignite an active discourse on key architectural questions within the industrial community. We anticipate learning from new testbeds and real world Industrial Internet implementations. We invite discussion from other organizations that are developing similar reference architectures or architecture frameworks. It is our intent to update and improve this technical report in order to better serve the community going forward.
To download a complimentary copy of the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture, visit www.iiconsortium.org/iira.