As we prepare ourselves for the expansion of the IoT (Internet of Things), many businesses today are looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunities that are beginning to present themselves. Of course, as with anything new there are many questions and concerns.
Many organizations are struggling with interconnectivity. How do we get existing information systems to communicate with new information systems? If leveraging the IoT requires a wholly rebuilt information infrastructure and a complete reformatting of business processes – well, that’s just not going to work for most people.
There are also organizations who will have questions about how to make use of the unstructured data coming in real time from any number of different sources. How can they create the context to translate this endless stream of raw data into useful information?
And what about the scalability and flexibility needed to deal with growth and change. After all, if the changes implemented today need to be undone in order to keep up with the future needs of your organization, then is it really worth it?
Another common concern is that of security. Are we going to push sensitive information up to the cloud, where it may be exposed to any number of potential threats ranging from cyber-terrorism to corporate espionage? And even if our sensitive data is not being broadcast over the internet, how do we protect these interconnected systems from internal threats? How can we ensure that our employees and contractors have access to all of the information they need to do their jobs and nothing more?
These and many other questions are preventing some organizations from realizing the many benefits of the IoT. Some think it will be too difficult or expensive to implement; others may question the value of it. Fortunately for us all, these questions have been asked for several years, and there are answers.
The communication protocol often cited as the best fit for IoT applications has already been developed, tested and deployed in live environments around the world since it was fully released in 2009.
OPC Unified Architecture (UA) is platform-independent, service-oriented architecture developed and maintained by the OPC Foundation. As the interoperability standard for industrial automation, OPC has become an integral part of most SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems. As data systems expand beyond their traditional roles to include more sensor data and consolidate data from multiple systems, it makes sense that the OPC Foundation has remained at the forefront of the standardization process and have developed a communication standard that has been embraced by proponents of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things – companies like Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, GE, and many others,
OPC UA is universally embraced because it directly addresses the obstacles faced by organizations involved in IoT implementation projects. The problem of interconnectivity, for example, is exactly the problem that the communication standard was developed to address. Today, OPC drivers exist for thousands of different devices, and many devices today are manufactured with embedded OPC servers to allow for exactly this type of interoperability with other devices and systems.
The concerns about the usefulness of multi-system data is addressed by information modeling. The OPC UA information modeling framework turns data into actionable information. With complete object-oriented capabilities, even the most complex multi-level structures can be modeled and extended. Information modeling also makes an OPC UA-based system significantly more customizable and extensible. As virtual representations of actual systems, information models can be modified or expanded to meet the changing needs of a modern company.
Of course, one of the most important considerations when choosing a communication technology is security, which is one of the great benefits of OPC UA. Security is provided in a number of ways, including: Session Encryption, Message Signing, Authentication, User Control, and Auditing of User Activity.
While it is difficult to say that there is anything “standard” about the Internet of Things, OPC UA is the closest thing we have to a communication standard, and every day it is becoming more widely accepted and adopted.