A database on the edge can open doors to enhanced IT and OT operations
Note: c-treeEDGE became FairCom EDGE in November 2020.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are no longer vague concepts. They are part of a movement that is transforming the way organizations conduct their business. In this new era of technology, everything can be connected with sensors that collect copious amounts of data, opening doors for better efficiency, performance, and ultimately, higher profits in a wide range of industries. The impact, especially from IIoT, can be found in, but not limited to, manufacturing, healthcare, energy and transportation.
There are two vital areas inside organizations that stand to be impacted greatly by the rise of the IIoT age. Ironically, these areas — operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) — have had limited synergy in most instances until now, even though, it is easy to assume that OT and IT should be joined at the hip.
The advancements in IIoT are playing a key role in bridging the gap between IT and OT for companies who move into this new world, whether they are embracing it with open arms or if they are feeling pressure to do so. As for those who have not considered deploying an IIoT environment, it is a safe bet that a significant number of those organizations will do so within the next several years.
What is IT?
TechTarget defines information technology (IT) as “the use of any computers, storage, networking and other physical devices, infrastructure and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data.”
IT systems/processes tend to be transactional in nature and incorporate a data management component such as a database. IT systems can be designed for tasks common in most industries or can they can be industry specific. Some examples of IT systems are email, payroll systems, internal company data centers and human resources systems.
What is OT?
According to Gartner, operational technology (OT) is “hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes and events in the enterprise.” OT systems are often considered to be mission critical, and therefore, the OT system requirements can be extremely thorough. OT systems often have specific functions (or even a specific function). Some examples include SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), PLCs (programmable logic controllers), scientific equipment, manufacturing equipment and distributed control systems.
Breaking it all down, you can think of it simply like this: OT produces and uses data to control systems and IT manages data to uncover hidden meaning and value. While many of the advancements in IoT technology are not new for the OT world (it’s use to large volumes of data production from sensors), OT is finding a new frontier in IoT learning how to, extract value from its massive amounts of data.
Tying the Knot: IT/OT Convergence
More data and better management are only part of the story. IT can allow OT to better utilize the data its systems produce. The term “IT/OT Convergence” is used to describe the integration of these disparate technologies.
This melding of technologies is transforming the way business is being done through several means:
- Utilization of wireless technology in operational environments
- Reduction of unplanned downtime through predictive maintenance (Digital Twins)
- Enablement of real-time decision making
- Enhancement of mission critical data management
One of the greatest benefits of IT/OT convergence is the generation of enormous value (in the areas of cost reduction and increased efficiency) by connecting these two important ecosystems in a business. In a significant number of instances, this can be done by using the existing infrastructure of an organization.
Connecting IT and OT systems on the same network allows an organization to have a better understanding of its complex processes currently taking place and the ability to quickly adapt to changes, essentially creating smart machines. By attaining tighter control of operational technology and processes, organizations can increase efficiency, allowing them to:
- Enable enterprise-level risk management
- Deliver products to market faster
- Lower the total cost of ownership
- Improve asset utilization
The benefits of IT/OT Convergence are not just exclusive to the production/operations. The benefits can lead to improved operations throughout other aspects and activities of an organization: employee productivity, supply chain management, logistics, customer experience and innovation.
In order to realize benefits of IT/OT Convergence, management of data is necessary. One way to manage the data is to send select data to the cloud for storage and/or processing. Unfortunately, in most cases this method does not allow organizations to tap into the full potential of IIoT capabilities.
Data Management on The Edge
There is a viable option now available for IoT/IIoT data management. This option is the use of a database in edge computing. For computing purposes, the edge is at or near the point where data is generated and collected. One example of such a database is the FairCom EDGE solution for Iot and Industry 4.0 .
A database that is specifically designed for IIoT with a robust architecture can empower organizations to not only reliably collect and manage their data on the edge, but it can also open the door for organizations to make mission-critical decisions at or near the collection point. A few examples of use cases that can see huge operational gains from edge data management are oil/gas pipelines, the manufacturing plant floor and transportation command centers.
At a high-level, a database at the edge will provide basics benefits, with the most obvious being reduced bandwidth, reduced latency and cloud storage costs associated with the data collected by OT systems. Some early IoT/IIoT adopters have learned that leveraging the compute power on edge devices saves on cloud data processing costs as well. Also, there is an innate benefit to data management performance by lowering the distance data has to travel. These benefits are great, but they are only scratching the surface of what can be done.
With a data management system on the edge, organizations are more likely to ensure the quality of the data collected by OT systems. Data quality can only be guaranteed through persistence with a fully functional edge-specific database like FairCom EDGE. The ability to reliably persist data on the edge allows businesses to maintain a high level of data quality and significantly reduce the amount of time needed during a decision-making process. The combination of NoSQL and SQL, which can be found in databases like FairCom EDGE, is ideal for IIoT operations on the edge and provides outstanding performance without affecting the regular flow of data.
Due to the database’s proximity on the edge, persistence and security are immediate. Data quality increases because there is less opportunity for data corruption (via loss, manipulation, etc.) to occur during communication with the cloud. With lowered latency due to not sending data to and from the cloud, new automation opportunities are possible for tools to prevent catastrophic equipment failure, enhance product quality control and protect human life.
More importantly, though, using a database that is designed for use on the edge allows OT systems to achieve high throughput for processing data necessary for artificial intelligence activities at or near the collection point or in the cloud. The possible outcomes are enhanced by the IT-related benefits that come with the data management capabilities associated with a powerful and dynamic database.
It must be noted that the emergence of edge computing by no means signals the end of the cloud. Unlimited resources and incredible scalability are important benefits the cloud provides. A successfully planned IIoT environment would incorporate both the edge and the cloud according to each’s best use per the application. Storing data on the edge must be done with consideration given to how, to when and to what data should eventually be uploaded to the cloud. Accordingly, it is important to select a database that integrates well with both.
The IoT/IIoT revolution and IT/OT convergence are changing the way business is done. Fortunately, for organizations this transformation is still in the early stages, and they can still begin their transition without being late. However, organizations it is important that they be committed to achieving optimized IT, OT and business operations. If successful, a fully integrated IT/OT infrastructure will position an organization to be reliable, flexible, efficient and competitive, and in some cases a step ahead. One way to ensure the integration of IT and OT systems increases the ability to reach organizational goals is to have a database that can effectively manage the data. Detailed information about the FairCom EDGE IoT Database can be accessed at FairCom.com/products/faircom-edge.