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Devices at dawn: Consumer vs. industrial Internet of Things

This is a contributed piece by Chris Mills, CTO EMEA at Pivotal

Let’s face it, when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), everyone’s talking about the growing number of connected devices in our homes. From egg cookers that talk to each other and communicating toothbrushes to belt buckles that light up when you get a message, the opportunities are endless.

But tomorrow’s real growth opportunity lies in the industrial internet. If you think about turning on the lights in your home, there’s actually a turbine at the other end that produces the power to do so; and getting all of these different devices to talk to one another requires billions of sensors to be embedded within each of them. The Industrial IoT is of critical importance to large manufacturing and supply-chain systems, with far reaching impact across governments, city infrastructure, aviation, power generation, transportation and more. So why is everyone so fixated on the consumer internet?

Harel Kodesh, Vice President, Chief Technology Officer at GE Software recently pitted the consumer and industrial internet against each other at the Cloud Foundry Summit. He made some really interesting points about the key differences and here, I discuss them closely.

Data generation

Firstly, looking at data generation reveals there is little comparison to be made between the consumer and industrial IoT. Combining every single tweet posted per second, there is about 80GB of Twitter data generated every day. While this might seem impressive at first glance, looking at the data generated by a single flight totally dwarfs this figure.

Information such as the engine’s health and status, the aircraft’s vibration and the cabin’s temperature is collected and analysed closely by teams of people – from mechanical engineers who are building the air frame to marketing and performance scientists looking to understand why the cabin was too hot or cold. This equates to 500GB of data per flight, and when you think of the fact that there are around 100,000 flights a day, you can start to appreciate the sheer scale of this operation.

Security

While the average consumer wants their smart devices to be secure, they aren’t necessarily willing to pay significant sums of money to guarantee this. Across industrial operations however, lack of security simply isn’t an option. Given the fact that essentially any device or piece of machinery has the potential to be hacked, there are eye-watering figures being invested to protect against breaches. Critical, national infrastructure has to work all of the time and therefore the industrial internet not only has to be high performance, but also high security.

Privacy

Linked to the above is a point around privacy. Consumers are growing increasingly blasé about privacy, with posts and pictures about their personal lives being shared across social channels in huge volumes.

Industrial devices meanwhile are stringently dictated by regulations and standards to ensure assets do not get into unwanted hands. As a result, the industrial internet must enable operators to meet certain standards. Machines need to be built to collect, ingest, store and clean data, all the time ensuring security and compliancy.

Connectivity

The next consideration is around connectivity. The biggest problem for consumers with limited bandwidth might be a dropped call, or a slow browsing experience. Of course, this can be frustrating and could result in reduced productivity; but the repercussions of interrupted connectivity in the industrial IoT could be catastrophic. If, for instance, an engineer loses connectivity in the middle of drilling operations, the blowout preventer might not respond in the correct way, potentially causing an oil spill. 

This is where connectivity becomes critical. Not only do operators have to ensure 24/7/365 uptime, they also have to make provisions for when the connectivity is intermittent, or to some extent, unavailable.

Device lifespan

Finally, comparing the average longevity of devices, consumer items, such as toothbrushes, last a maximum of six months. In contrast, industry assets often need to work day in, day out for up to 35 years. As a result, considerably more time, effort and resource need to be invested into the maintenance, repair and security of industry devices and machinery.

As organisations look to grapple with the IoT, consideration must be given to the industrial internet. Although more complex, critical and costly than its consumer counterpart, it is where tomorrow’s growth opportunity truly lies and those organisations that drive it forward will certainly reap the benefits in years to come.  

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