Industrial Internet Reference Architecture

The Industrial Internet represents a convergence of the industrial ecosystem combined with new levels of connectivity permitted by the Internet, low cost sensing technologies and the power of advanced analytics.  It is an Internet of Industrial things, machines, computers and people sharing data in real-time to make smarter decisions that can be used to improve industrial operations.

The Industrial Internet will facilitate a revolution that will see individual systems integrated together via interoperable protocols to form larger end-to-end systems in order to solve new business problems. These end-to-end systems are referred to as Industrial Internet Systems (IIS) and utilize advanced analytics possibly deployed at the edge of the network close to the machines for more responsive and optimised decision making.

IIS typically operate in mission-critical environments requiring enhanced levels of performance, scalability, security, safety and resiliency to failures. IISs are deployed in domains such as Energy, Healthcare, Transportation, Manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

To support the development and rollout of complex IISs it is important to base their design on widely applicable, standards-based, open and horizontal architecture frameworks and reference architectures.

The Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) is a standards-based open architecture defined by the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). Its objective is to have broad applicability to drive interoperability, map applicable technologies and to guide technology and standards development. It distils and abstracts common characteristics, features and patterns from use cases defined by the IIC and that have current relevance.

A key element of the IIRA is the Connectivity Architecture. Ubiquitous connectivity is one of the foundational technology advances that enable the Industrial Internet. The IIRA defines the key functional characteristics of a Connectivity Framework that can be used to support IISs.

Industrial Internet Reference Architecture Connectivity

IIRA Connectivity Architecture

At the heart of the Connectivity Framework is the Connectivity Core Standards and the IIRA recommends the use of a core standard(s) that can satisfy key connectivity requirements of IICs, specifically:

  • Syntactic interoperability between endpoints by ensuring that information is structured in  a common data format, independent of endpoint implementation and decoupled from the underlying platform (hardware and programming).
  • Automated service discovery and permissions to discover available services and their QoS requirements (offered or required), the data formats associated with the services and endpoints taking part in a data exchange.  End points should be authenticated and permissions granted (read-write) before taking part in a data exchange.
  • Support for information exchange patterns such as peer-to-peer, client-server and publish-and-subscribe.
  • Data Quality-of-Service (QoS) is a non functional aspect of a data exchange and may vary depending on individual information exchanges. Key QoS categories that should be supported by the Connectivity Framework include:
    • Delivery - to control at-most-once-delivery, at-least-once-delivery and once-and-only-once delivery
    • Timeliness – to prioritise one data exchange over another and indicate when deadlines have been missed
    • Ordering – to present the data in order it was produced or received
    • Durability – to make data available to late joiners and extend the lifecycle of the information beyond that of the producer
    • Lifespan – to be able to expire information that is stale or no longer relevant within the system
    • Fault Tolerance – to be able to manage redundant connectivity endpoints and failover mechanisms when connectivity with an endpoint is lost
    • Security – to ensure confidentiality, integrity, authenticity and non-repudiation of the information exchanged
  • Performance and scalability of the system is ultimately bounded by the underlying transport layer. A Connectivity Core Standard used by an IIS should impose minimal impact on data exchange QoS and must have minimal impact on overall performance and scalability.
  • Programming model – a Connectivity Core Standard should provide a programming model (i.e. APIs) in multiple programming languages commonly used is different part of an IIS (e.g. C, C++, Java, C#).

The Connectivity Framework layer sits on top of the communication transport layer and should be agnostic to the underlying transport technologies that provide technical interoperability between endpoints.

The Connectivity Architecture also recognises the need to be able to integrate multiple connectivity technologies both within the same functional domain and across functional domains.  It specifies the use of Gateways for this purpose both at the transport level and at the Connectivity Framework level.

Based on the broad range of key requirements defined in the IIRA for a Connectivity Core Standard, a standard such as the Object Management Group's Data Distribution Service for Real-time Systems (DDS) that can support most if not all of the capabilities outlined previously is key to the implementation of successful IIS. In comparison, other competing standards typically can only support a subset of these requirements.

PrismTech's Vortex Intelligent Data Sharing Platform provides a suite of DDS compliant implementations that can support the IIRA requirements for a Connectivity Core Standard and is an excellent choice to base an IIS on.