Requirements and issues for developing customized intelligent IoT gateway
As companies evolve their Internet of Things (IoT) strategies, one clear trend taking hold is the need for a customized solution, including the IoT gateway component. In a recent blog on embedded.com, I characterized this trend as an indication that the industry is moving from the relatively simple implementation of leveraging gateways as data aggregators that include cloud-based storage and processing – to the realm of “IoT 2.0” where intelligence is pushed from the cloud to the gateway and edge devices. Further, within this IoT 2.0 realm, security is treated more comprehensively and connectivity is broadened to include more devices across the network up through the business enterprise.
From the perspective of the IoT gateway, IoT 2.0 means the gateway component of the cloud strategy requires comprehensive connectivity, security, and processing capabilities. In essence, the IoT gateway needs to be an intelligent device capable of handling and processing a variety of functions. In a recent report, “The Global Market for IoT & Intelligent Gateways,” VDC Research states that the intelligent gateway segment is the largest and fastest growing segment of the IoT gateway market (Figure 1). Taking a closer look at the intelligent IoT gateway is the focus of this article.
Figure 1: The intelligent gateway is making impressive strides in the IoT world. (Source: VDC/Research 2015)
The trend toward customization
What factors are pushing companies toward customized gateway solutions?
One significant factor is connectivity. The need to extend the IoT reach within the network, whether it’s a factory, hospital, or white goods in the home, means connecting existing legacy, or “brownfield” devices alongside new devices, which typically leads to the need for customized interfaces.
Security is another huge factor. As connectivity proliferates across the enterprise, additional points of attack are potentially created. When intelligent processing is pushed from the cloud to the gateway and edge devices, companies are increasingly concerned about the risk of cyber-attack. These are very real concerns that can disrupt operations, result in theft of information, or worse, cause human injury. Customized gateway solutions help address threat profiles specific to a company’s IoT strategy and implementation.
Finally, specific processing requirements drive customization of the intelligent gateway. These requirements might include network throughput, open source and proprietary IP, soft real-time versus hard real-time performance, power management, graphics, and other factors. These factors also have a significant impact on processor selection.
No question, business pressures are unrelenting. As a result, gateway requirements are becoming more complex and businesses face a significant challenge finding a gateway solution that meets their specific technical needs while at the same time meeting their business objectives. This is what is driving the need for IoT gateway customization.
In most cases, extending the reach means integrating new IoT infrastructure while taking into account existing devices and infrastructure in brownfield deployments. For example, on the factory floor, there are many types of devices such as controllers, sensors, and actuators that include many different types of physical connectivity options including serial Fieldbus, industrial Ethernet, wireless, proprietary, and many others.
Prior to IoT 2.0, the most common way to build such a topology was to integrate a series of off-the-shelf routers, bridges, and gateways that network everything together. Unfortunately, this requires a proliferation of devices, not to mention the need for more infrastructure, many types of spares, and additional points of failure. Clearly, it’s more desirable today to implement an IoT network topology with a minimal number of components. Building a customized gateway is one such approach to accomplishing this goal as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Industrial IoT environments that utilize a customized intelligent gateway are able to simplify the network topology, reduce cost, and improve operational reliability. (Source: Mentor Graphics)
Customizing connectivity often requires both hardware and software. For example, if an industrial automation business needs to integrate new EtherCAT-connected devices at the edge, the business could benefit from integrated EtherCAT hardware and accompanying software stack in the gateway, integrated alongside legacy interfaces.