The IoT is increasing its pace. The basis for future-oriented network structures: the right combination of edge, cloud, and container technologies. More and more machines and systems are connected to the internet. This gives companies access to a lot of data that should serve as the basis for digital business models.
Before that, it is important to collect and analyze the data. In view of the increasing data volume, a complete evaluation in the cloud is neither sensible nor practical: The technically related latency times make real-time evaluations impossible, while the increasing amount of data takes up enormous computing capacities. Processing data where it is created, i.e. on the edge of the network, is becoming increasingly important in view of these developments.
Edge Computing – the answer to growing amounts of data
With this technology, known as “ edge computing ”, a pre-evaluation takes place in the machine or system that generates the data. Only the results obtained are forwarded to the higher-level IoT platform. Edge computing is particularly suitable for application scenarios with high latency sensitivity, such as M2M communication.
For on-site data processing, an IoT gateway with the appropriate computing capacity is required, such as that offered by the Endian 4i Edge X. With such an edge device, rules can be defined when a transfer to the IoT platform should take place: either after a local evaluation on-site or if a certain limit value is exceeded or fallen below.
The most important basis for data-based business models is the absolute correctness of the data. Wrong data inevitably leads to wrong decisions. It is therefore important to protect the machine data from theft and manipulation, both during processing and storage in the edge device and during transmission to the cloud. For edge computing, only IoT gateways that are equipped with coordinated security technologies, such as a firewall, anti-virus software, and an intrusion detection system (IDS), are suitable. It is also important to encrypt the data during transmission, from end to end.
The storage capacity of an IoT gateway makes a further contribution to data security: If the internet connection is interrupted and data transmission to the cloud is not possible, the gateway offers the option of temporarily buffering the data locally so that it can then be sent to the IoT platform transmitted when the internet connection is available again. Analyzes are therefore based on consistent data records.
Container Technologies for more flexibility
If the data processing takes place on the edge of the network, the appropriate applications should also be executable there. With container technologies, such as Docker, applications can be put together flexibly and used in a wide variety of environments.
For example, Node-Red: With this programming software, logical sequences can be defined. If a branch has created a logic for data processing via Node-Red, the company may also want to use it on other, globally distributed production facilities. Using container technologies, these applications can easily be transferred to a variety of different machines. This is why container technologies are particularly interesting for system integrators who support industrial companies in Industry 4.0 projects.
Containers are independent of an operating system and consist of several layers. Depending on the host environment, each layer reloads the components that are necessary for the execution. For this reason, containers consume far less computing capacity than virtual machines and at the same time ensure maximum flexibility: If globally distributed branches use different operating systems to monitor their production systems, the application can still be used equally in all branches via containerization.
Cloud and IoT platforms
If machines and systems are securely networked and the appropriate applications for data preprocessing are installed, the results of the local data analysis can be transferred to the IoT platform. Here the results of the pre-evaluations are brought together and processed. Supplemented by other factors, such as the outside temperature, the data collected enables conclusions to be drawn about the optimal operating conditions of a machine.
The more decentralized the network structure, the more important a two-way connection to the cloud. The security of the edge devices can only be guaranteed with centrally organized remote maintenance: The permanent connection of an IoT gateway to the Internet or the cloud enables the timely import of security patches. This is a central point for IT security because any type of security software only reliably protects against cyber threats if it is always kept up to date.
In the future, the right mix of IoT, edge, and cloud computing, as well as container technologies, will be the key to more agility in the digitized industry and thus the basis for future-proof concepts in the Industry 4.0 environment.