Juggling Data Connectivity Protocols for Industrial IoT : Andrew Foster Reports

Real-time needs are key in multiprotocol industrial IoT.

With much legacy equipment existing with older protocols and requiring diverse real-time needs, the Industrial IoT will not soon, if ever, use a single data-connectivity standard.

 The projected benefits that can be gained from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have been well documented during the past several years by the likes of General Electric, Accenture and other organizations that have conducted extensive research in this area. In fact, these benefits in revenue, cost reductions and energy consumption are now coming to fruition in a variety of smart city, smart farming, transportation and other industry sectors.

A great example is the Connected Boulevard program in Nice, France, which uses Industrial Internet technologies, including an innovative data-sharing platform, to help manage and optimize all aspects of city management, including parking and traffic, street lighting, waste disposal and environmental quality.

The key to these benefits is the ability to derive value from the data. The data must be accessible wherever it resides and delivered to wherever it’s needed (edge to the cloud) so that it can be analyzed and acted upon in the right amount of time. There are a range protocols currently used to provide this “data-sharing function” within an Industrial Internet system (see chart above). Chief among them are:

  • The Object Management Group’s (OMG) Data Distribution Service for Real-Time Systems (DDS);
  • OASIS’ Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP);
  • MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT), a protocol originally developed by IBM but now an OASIS standard;
  • Representational State Transfer (REST), a common style of using HTTP for Web-based applications and not a standard; and,
  • Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP), a software protocol to be used in very simple electronics devices such as Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) that allows them to communicate over the Internet; and,
  • The eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), the IETF’s formalization of the base XML streaming protocols for instant messaging and presence technology originally developed within the Jabber open-source community.

To read the full report, visit www.eetimes.com

There’s more to securing the IoT than you’re aware of

Many would argue that the consumer and internet of Things (IoT) are improving the quality of our lives and the environment by reducing pollution and augmenting productivity and efficiency. For instance, think of somebody living in Nice, France (see my blog on smart cities) who has experienced – thanks to the smart parking system – a reduction of more than 30 minutes in the time needed to park downtown. This not only improves this person’s overall experience, it also reduces the CO2 emissions caused by the car being driven around in search of a parking spot. In another example, consider smart refrigerators. These appliances can keep track of the food they hold, warn you about expiration dates, suggest recipes, and help with the shopping list. Who wouldn’t want that? But in this wonderful connected world, all that glitters is not gold.

Several industry reports have highlighted a series of security holes. The recent HP Fortify study on IoT security notes that 70 percent of the devices don’t use transport security, thus sending unencrypted information over the Internet! In addition, 90 percent of the devices collected some form of personal information. And a relatively high number of devices use trivial passwords, like 1234. Imagine how this lack of security can turn a digital paradise into hell if somebody, other than you, gained control of your appliances.

Let’s turn our attention from the consumer IoT to the industrial IoT. Here, security is even more important as the devices involved aren’t simple appliances but power grids, aircraft engines, city lightning, sewers, etc. Thus, the impact of a security hole can be far more devastating than that of somebody hacking your refrigerator.

Many IoT security reports argue that a big part of the security issues can be solved by properly applying well-known security principles and techniques, such as using transport encryption, robust passwords, supporting secure firmware and OS upgrades, avoiding cross-scripting attach, etc. Yet most of these reports focus on securing the interaction between a device and a and don’t address the problem of data security in general.

If we consider a more sophisticated IoT application, such as smart cities or smart grids, we quickly realize that access to information needs to be properly regulated. For instance, it may be acceptable to allow everyone to learn about the level of production of a given electric power generator. On the other hand, it’s necessary to allow only specific users access to set the production target. Likewise, for privacy reasons, you may be happy that the position of your car is known when it gets stolen.

Clearly, both the consumer and industrial IoTs need more than the ability to secure access and pipes through which the data flows. It’s essential for these systems to properly address data security. Yet, today few IoT applications are providing support for data security in the form of controlled access. The main reason being the lack of support from the infrastructure they rely on.

IoT systems interested in having a full security solution, including access control on data flows, should look at platforms based on data distribution service (DDS). DDS has recently been equipped with a security standard that, along with introducing transport security, allows to control access to data. PrismTech’s DDS-based Vortex, for instance, supports authentication and transport security as well as Topic-based access control to handle allowed operations. This includes create, read, update, and delete operations that an application can perform on a given kind of information.

The figure shows a hypothetical system in which different users are allowed different access rights on the various kinds of information. Arthur Dent can read and write the topic A and only read the topic B, while Zaphod Beeblebrox can read and write any kind of information. Poor Marvin can read everything and write nothing.

Clearly, security can’t be an afterthought in IoT applications as the implications can be severe. Furthermore, IoT applications have to think beyond basic transport security and start to reason about data access control. The OMG DDS as a data sharing standard provides a suitable infrastructure for tackling all distribution and security aspects required by IoT applications.

DDS, MQTT and the Internet of Things

The commoditization of network connectivity is providing the foundation for the Internet of Things – a system in which data flows seamlessly, at Internet Scale, between network-connected devices, mobile devices, industrial and information systems.  Yet, network connectivity alone is not sufficient; another key building block needed for the Internet of Things are standards for interoperable data sharing – as without standardized open data sharing there is no Internet of Things.

The Object Management Group (OMG) Data Distribution Service for Real-Time Systems (DDS) and the upcoming OASIS Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) provide two excellent examples of standards that address the Internet of Things.

Introduced in 2006, DDS has established itself as the standard for peer-to-peer real-time data sharing in Operational Systems , such as Air Traffic Management Systems, Medical Systems, and Combat Systems.  DDS has recently experienced rapid adoption as the foundation for an increasing number of Intelligent Systems in applications such as Smart Cities, Smart Grids, and m-Health.

MQTT was introduced in 1999 by IBM as a publish / subscribe, extremely simple and lightweight messaging protocol, designed for constrained devices and low-bandwidth, high-latency or unreliable networks.

DDS and MQTT share some common principles, such as parsimony and efficiency, temporal decoupling and anonymity, yet each technology has some unique features that make it most applicable for certain use cases.

For instance, MQTT is most suitable for sporadic messages and highly resource constrained devices whilst DDS is most suitable for those applications that require real-time data exchange – meaning applications in which data has an inherent temporal validity and in which stale data should never delay fresh data– and tight control over the Quality of Service (QoS).  In addition DDS supports peer-to-peer (infrastructure-less) communication, a feature that comes in handy for device-to-device communications.

In summary, DDS and MQTT are two very good standards for data sharing in the Internet of Things. DDS provides support for both Device-to-Cloud (Device-to-Data Center) communication as well as Device-to-Device.  MQTT provides very good support for Device-to-Data Center communication.

Finally, I have produced an ondemand webcast on Building the Internet of Things which you can access at: http://www.prismtech.com/opensplice/resources/webcast-archive.