Cloud-based systems are currently the most widespread model used in IIoT applications. These systems control operations as well as the flow of information from a single, central point. All of the devices that are connected are, in a sense, utterly dependent on this central power concerning sending and receiving information and commands.
While connecting everything to a central, cloud-based server makes for a cheap and straightforward process, this approach is somewhat short-sighted. This IIoT architecture is based on an old model, granted it is much larger and much less expensive, in the process. But its most significant issue, however, is the fact that it is not scalable.
One can only look at things as they are today, to realize that as the cost of hardware and cloud-based infrastructure are going down, the number of connected devices is going to increase at an exponential rate. It means that the amount of data that’s being transferred through the system will also increase, making it a matter of time before the whole thing becomes inoperable.
What’s more, many of these devices and machinery were not originally designed to communicate with others. So, to transfer data between them and the cloud, often additional hardware and software are required for conversion. This extra layer of technology brings with it the added risks of data integrity and other security concerns.
Edge Computing IIoT Architecture
Edge computing is a way of optimizing cloud-based systems by taking control of some services away from the core (cloud) and bringing them to the ‘edge’ of the internet. Such edge infrastructure devices include gateways, switches, and routers, and are the point where the internet ‘makes contact’ with the outside world.
In short, edge computing can perform analytics and knowledge generation at the edge, taking advantage of the physical proximity of devices, thus reducing communications bandwidth between them. Since the system is now more decentralized, IIoT devices and applications cannot shut down since there is no server to be shut down. Likewise, if one device were to fail, the others will continue to run.
One particularly important area where edge computing is set to revolutionize itself is in Machine Learning an Artificial Intelligence. As these processes become more powerful and efficient, so will the edge-based devices that will utilize them. In other words, more and more of the data that’s being transferred between systems, as part of the all-encompassing IIoT, will no longer have to go into the cloud, as it will be processed at the edges. It is where Blockchain will come into play.
With better technologies; they can easily extend to decentralized storage. It means that no other central authority owns device data but the edge device, itself.
Now, in all fairness, edge computing will not wholly decentralize the IIoT architecture, as we know it. Not in the foreseeable future, at least. But it will, however, introduce more flexibility, more speed, and reliability, as well as the necessary security and transparency that the current model lacks.