Industrial Internet Consortium Reference Architecture Reinforces IT/OT Convergence

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), an industry group founded in 2014 by AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Intel, issued its Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) in June 2015. This group, which currently has over 200 member companies, is focused on accelerating growth in the Industrial Internet by promoting best practices.

The IIC’s reference architecture document covers a broad range of topics related to Industrial Internet implementation. It highlights areas in which existing technologies and standards apply and where gaps exist. In doing so, it references numerous potentially applicable existing standards activities and technologies, such as ISO/IEC/IEEE, OASIS, OMG (the IIC’s parent organization), and the Semantic Web.

The document strongly reflects the industry trend toward information technology/operational technology (IT/OT) convergence in areas such as the need to rely on IT rather than OT for storing, distributing, and analyzing data generated by the IIoT. It also reinforces the contention that both Analytics and Big Data are important for achieving the IIoT’s potential.

Highlights of the Architectural Framework

The IIC Architecture Framework, based on the ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010:2011 standard specification, provides guidelines for common architectural practices and conventions as well as common nomenclature. Along with an architectural description, the intent is to provide a platform for “broad industry consensus (and) product interoperability” to simplify and accelerate system development.

Business objectives are clearly in focus, particularly “significant increases in levels of performance, scalability and efficiency.” Target systems must be “easily understandable and supported by widely applicable, standard-based, open and horizontal architecture frameworks and reference architectures that can be implemented with interoperable and interchangeable building blocks.”

Viewpoints and Functional Domains

Part 1 of the IIRA document provides the context for the key system concerns expressed in Part 2. Along with the architectural framework itself, Part 1 delves into rationale, context, and system characteristics that emphasize safety, security, and resilience.

Presentation of the differing viewpoints to be considered in IIoT architecture development should be of interest to developers and customers alike. As noted in the table, the document highlights the roles and concerns of various potential stakeholders. This discussion provides a valuable roadmap for internal organizational and responsibility planning. Among other points of interest, note the differing security roles performed within each viewpoint as well as the separation between machine vs. human security within the Usage domain.


Key Systems Concerns

Part 2 of the IIRA addresses what are seen as common concerns that cannot be attributed to a specific domain. These include means to address the key safety, security, and resiliency characteristics cited at the beginning of the document. In addition to the issues highlighted below, system developers should take note of the need for dynamic composition and automated interoperability as well as promoting an intelligent control model predicated on distributed vs. local control.

Of note in the safety discussion is the assertion that the widely adopted ISO/IEC 61508 Functional Safety of Electrical/Electronic/Programmable Electronic Safety-related Systems standard does not “explicitly address safety issues related to the cross-cutting concerns, architecture, integration and overall lifecycle of IISs” (Industrial Internet Systems).

The reference architecture also pays significant attention to the issues of security, trust, and privacy. To achieve these goals, it emphasizes security-by-design, with end-to-end security at endpoints, for secure device-to-device communications, for remote management and monitoring, and for secure data distribution. Security should further possess real-time situational awareness and seamlessly span the functional domains as well as the IT/OT subsystems and processes without interfering with operational business processes.

System resiliency is seen as a superset of the fault tolerance commonly applied in industry. Resiliency is considered to have a larger scope in that it focuses on threats from outside the system, rather than the internal failure that is the focus of fault tolerance. The IIRA looks to Military Command and Control techniques as a roadmap for the resiliency realm.

Two-Layer Connectivity

The IIRA addresses the issue of connectivity from the perspective of two distinct layers, each with its own functional characteristics. Industrial Internet systems are deemed more complex than the functionality inherent in the 7- layer OSI model, leading to the need for this two-layer approach.

The Communication Transport Layer transports information between endpoints, while the Connectivity Framework Layer focuses on interoperability. The IIRA vision draws on Conceptual Interoperability, a concept from Simulation theory, when addressing interoperability.

The connectivity model includes gateways to integrate alternative technologies. It also advocates a publish-subscribe model.

Complex Event Processing and Advanced Analytics

Complex event processing and advanced analytics are recognized as necessary to discover meaningful patterns from data and, ultimately, drive the desired increases in performance through their ability to spot opportunities in real time, make predictions, and take action. Like many of the other sections of the document, the sections on Advanced Data Processing and Advanced Analytics include reviews of some of the latest developments in this area. These are too extensive to cover here but should be reviewed by personnel interested in these areas. All types of advanced analytics are advocated, including descriptive (historical), predictive (forecast), and prescriptive (recommended actions). These capabilities can reside in different components within the aforementioned functional domains.

About ARC Advisory Group: Founded in 1986, ARC Advisory Group is a Boston based leading technology research and advisory firm for industry and infrastructure.

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