10 things every intelligent systems needs
Building a foundation for the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way businesses use technology. This web of interconnected devices and machines gathers information from gas-oil-water exploration sensors to sensors in corn fields, to medical devices and train control systems; and it is embedded in smart manufacturing machinery, telemetrics and smart meters. The flow of data brings new levels of insight to help organizations efficiently pursue opportunities. But to make a complex system of devices communicate with one another in a meaningful way–and do so profitably–requires infrastructure that is reliable, stable and secure.
Intelligent systems and the Internet of Things
The phrases “IoT” and “intelligent systems” are often used interchangeably by technology vendors. Both phrases refer to new and rapidly evolving IT technologies using many smart remote devices that automatically and securely transmit and receive information via an Internet or cloud connection to one or more data centers. In enterprise data centers, business intelligence tools then analyze data and generate reports that can help the business make processes more efficient.
This article generally uses the term, “intelligent systems,” to refer to the technology architecture or implementation of an IoT solution. It always presupposes the presence of data feedback where devices collect information and transmit it for collection and analysis in an enterprise data center.
“IDC estimates that the installed base of the Internet of Things will be approximately 212 billion in 2020. This will include 30 billion “connected (autonomous) things” in 2020.”
Why do intelligent systems matter to enterprises? It’s all about the data
Value lies in the data and the trends that the data identifies. The result can be greater efficiency and, ultimately, profitability–including improved sales, higher customer satisfaction, new business opportunities and enhanced business process improvements.
The IoT provides several broad areas of opportunity for improved business efficiency.
- Decrease your time to market for new offerings. Smarter development cycles and connected devices can help your business reach profitability faster.
- Create new and improve current revenue streams. Better serve your current customers and attract new ones by increasing the capabilities of devices you provide to your customers and sales force.
- Manufacturing process improvement. Enhance existing processes and create new ones with smarter process control, monitoring and predictability to improve efficiency.
- Build customer loyalty and increase customer base. Improve customer experiences with your products and services.
- Improve supply chain and logistics. Know exactly what is happening in your ecosystem by using smart devices that accurately track, monitor, and assess the quality and volume of your supply chain.
What every intelligent system foundation needs
With every intelligent systems solution, there are risks if it is not designed effectively. To minimize risk, intelligent systems architecture needs to be crafted from a comprehensive solutions perspective. Merely adding an individual device to a current IT infrastructure creates challenges that the infrastructure was not designed to handle. For example, the existing network may not be prepared to handle the type or volume of traffic from new network-attached devices. In addition, existing IT infrastructure rarely addresses the new device’s requirements for reliable and timely transfer of data to and from the data center.
To help avoid these potential pitfalls, the following 10 areas should be addressed when designing intelligent systems architecture.
- Security. Architecture and products must be designed with security in mind. Products and services must secure your data and keep out hackers. This is especially critical to your business if the data includes financial or payment card industry (PCI) data or any personal data protected by confidentiality regulations. Internet-connected devices that are deployed in the field are even more vulnerable to attack than computing devices safeguarded by corporate policies and security measures inside data centers or private networks. Hackers are able to use devices as attack surfaces to gain access to enterprise data and infrastructure. The best line of defense is to ensure that devices are kept up-to-date with security patches and upgrades.
- Reliability. Choose field-proven products that provide high reliability and stability. Even more important is the ability to maintain each of the smart devices and the entire intelligent systems architecture. Simply put, you do not want to build a system consisting of hundreds or thousands of devices with untested technology. Intelligent systems solutions that need field service engineers on-site to frequently replace or maintain systems are antithetical to cost containment and profitability. Investigate the means for management of devices in the field when choosing intelligent system components.
- Scalability. Adding smarter devices to your current enterprise IT infrastructure without provisioning the IT infrastructure for higher traffic loads and device management means it is not likely you will benefit fully from the intelligent system. Devices must be integrated into an architecture that addresses those issues and provides the needed resources.
- Flexible, extensible platform. Having a single platform across the various tiers of an intelligent system architecture gives your business efficiency, consistency and predictability. Consistency from the edge device through controllers and gateways and back into the data center makes development, integration and maintenance much simpler.
- Integration with enterprise applications and infrastructure. Once the smart device data is received back at the data center and analyzed, the solution architecture needs to integrate with your current backend business process management and data visualization tools. If the analysis tools for the collected data are not part of your current business processes, new tools from independent software vendors (ISVs) may be needed to improve business efficiency. For example, your data feedback loop might require tools for transformation from raw machine data formats as well as additional tools to automate and analyze the output.
- System and device management. Being able to manage and maintain systems and devices is critical to maintaining stability, reliability and security. The architecture should provide for repair, replacement and authorization of the complete solution, including devices, concentration-gateway devices and the data center.
- Technologies that minimize network cost. Power and the ‘last mile’ connection of the devices and concentration-gateways are significant cost elements in any intelligent systems solution. An intelligent systems solution needs to enter into and come back from lower power modes. It must also include low-cost communications technology via cloud, Internet, WiFi, cellular or enterprise local-area network (LAN) connections. Older embedded devices typically respond only when polled, but intelligent systems devices report data asynchronously. This leads to a significant increase in traffic. Many devices can store data for later analysis when traffic loads are too heavy for transmission.
- Certifications. Choose solutions that already have ISV certifications and are compliant with appropriate local, national, financial, government or regulatory agencies.
- Stable technology product life cycle. Mature, tested products with a record of reliability and long-term product support can reduce the cost and complexity of maintaining a solution deployed in the field.
- Maintainability. Older embedded systems often have a “build it and forget it” mentality. Intelligent systems are dynamic and perform best when properly maintained. Devices must be updated. Patches offer fixes, security improvements and new features and functionality that are needed throughout the service life cycle. An intelligent system design automates as much of the update process as possible.
When it came time to design floating data centers for the U.S.S. Zumwalt , Raytheon chose commodity hardware running Red Hat Enterprise Linux for their Electronic Modular Enclosures (EMEs). The EMEs connect to the Zumwalt’s Total Ship Computing Environment that is the backbone of an intelligent system with hundreds of shipboard integrated devices and computers.
The IoT is all around us today — we interact with it on a daily basis. We are surrounded by devices collecting data that drives the behavior of organizations. This web of interconnected devices and the processing of the data streams they produce places heavy demands on technical infrastructure, especially in terms of stability, reliability and security. Whether designing a new intelligent systems solution or extending existing infrastructures to accommodate smart devices and data analysis, the 10 areas described above are essential to the long-term viability of your solution. Depending on your industry and the solution’s context, some aspects will be more important than others. However, a system designed with the whole life cycle in mind must eventually address all of these issues.
Red Hat provides the only open-source, end-to-end solution stack—from edge devices within the Internet of Things to enterprise applications—all using a common, secure software platform. To learn more about Red Hat’s intelligent systems solutions, please visit www.redhat.com/embedded
Written By: Ken McLaurin
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