Capturing Critical Data in the Industrial Markets

Larry McCreary, Director of Customer Advocacy
FreeWave Technologies

The demand for information is pervasive. Converging mega trends such as the Internet of Things, Big Data and Cloud Computing are pushing the bounds of innovation and possibility. Industries of all types are navigating the continuous flow of data to make better decisions and improve operational efficiency, all while increasing productivity. This is further exacerbated by the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) demand for access to everything from a single hand held device.  The needs of the real-time enterprise operating within the industrial sectors are driving digitalized business models, thus creating a wider emphasis on proactive IT departments and next-generation networking technologies.

As the automation of manual processes continues to grow in both popularity and necessity, decision makers have an opportunity to select from a plethora of communication technologies available in the marketplace.

Feb_M2M word cloudWhat’s It All About?
Machine to Machine (M2M) communication technologies offer a wide variety of potential benefits, underscoring why an increasing number of industries are either currently deploying or anticipating using them in the future. The specific benefits gained vary based on the application served, but in general, the overall benefits from these solutions include:

  • Optimizing resource utilization
  • Better visibility into potential failures and key operational success factors through real-time visibility. Reducing costs and environmental impact through  monitoring/control across large geographic regions
  • Automating safety and security measures reduces critical event response time. Centralizing policy management creates  greater adherence and more uniform enforcement of  regulatory and compliance factors
  • Flexibility, Scalability and Mobility of deployment increase agility to adapt to changing market demands
  • Improving product quality

For industries that require many geographically dispersed assets and an increasingly mobile workforce, M2M networking technology ultimately is the glue connecting everything and, thus, the backbone of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.

When we talk about the IoT ecosystem, most people think of data and devices, and how the two are inextricably linked together –  the concept behind M2M. This ecosystem, however, does not, and cannot, exist without highly reliable and secure wireless communications technology. In today’s fast paced, get it done yesterday environment, we don’t have time to hardwire, worry about interfaces, and protocols. Connecting the unconnected to automate processes, access data and control – that’s what this is all about. This cannot be done with wires, unless our oil and gas producers, public utilities, municipalities and energy companies are willing to invest heavily in the time and resources to develop an expansive and retrenched network infrastructure across long distances, one wire at a time. “Time to market” and “Time to Revenue” drive business decisions and technology choices.

Enabling M2M applications within our nation’s critical infrastructure is a top objective today, but how can operators and IT departments leverage the best possible solution(s) for their assets and facilities? Before decision-makers purchase any wireless M2M communication technologies available today, it is imperative to review two important success factors that need to be addressed with these solutions: security and reliability.

Questions Worth Asking
Many would argue that our critical infrastructure projects are only as reliable and secure as the technology serving them. While reliability and security are completely separate success factors, they often play into one another. Overall, decision makers must consider some important questions in regards to reliability and security features of wireless M2M communication and networking solutions before ever selecting a technology. For example:

  • What is the M2M communications technology controlling or automating? Is it essential that it operates without failure?
  • What data is being collected and/or transmitted with this technology? Is it time-sensitive and/or mission-critical?
  • What technology solutions have a proven track record for the applications being served?
  • What external factors might impact the reliable transmission and receipt of critical data from one point to another?
  • How does this M2M communications technology address challenges such as data encryption, network access control and signal interference?
  • Do we need this technology solution to be fail-safe, in order to prevent or eliminate catastrophic damage from occurring?
  • Is cyber security or physical security a greater concern for this deployment?

Proprietary wireless communication technologies and devices (especially when they offer many “knobs” and configuration options to create private, user-defined networks) actually offer a higher degree of security. But even those technologies are subject to security and reliability threats. Therefore, network access control is one of the most important security features for M2M communication and networking technology for preventing unauthorized access and intrusion. A proven communication network security strategy should go even further and protect data “in transit” as well. Even if an unauthorized device manages to gain access to the M2M communication network, it isn’t necessarily gaining access to the actual data without passing yet another layer of security. Last, a communication network security strategy needs to address and implement policies that serve as safeguards, which make it difficult to circumvent security measures and limit the potential impact of a security breach.

Finally, in order to complete the M2M security approach, it takes vigilance.  Vigilance is the ‘action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.  Today’s Machine to Machine networks are not heuristic, self-healing, adaptive, self-optimizing automatons.  They require an educated observer who is looking for anomalies, aberrations, outliers, exceptions and flat-out failures.   M2M requires standards based protocols for determining the health of the network, integrity of the links and performance of the overlying applications.

What’s Next?
Unlike the past, organizations today cannot limit their communication technologies to just one vendor, one technology or one service provider. In order to leverage the most cost-effective solutions for specific network deployments, organizations will leverage multiple technologies for a hybrid networking approach to utilize the most cost-effective data transport medium possible. With these highly-specific network deployments, there may be substantial benefits in combining multiple technologies for a hybrid networking approach, and organizations are taking notice.

Ideally, organizations should have the choice to select a network topology or combination of networks that best suit their applications with a mix of high speed Ethernet and Serial data ports for easily interconnecting with existing system technologies. The latest wireless M2M networking solutions can meet these requirements, integrate with existing technologies, preserve existing network infrastructure investments, and replace obsolete communications solutions without a hitch.

As industrial markets continue focusing more on safety, automation, and improving operational efficiencies, the demand for more intensive monitoring, measurement and automation via M2M communication and networking technology has naturally followed. Understanding the emerging developments of M2M wireless communications and reviewing the necessary security and reliability considerations reveals an exciting, but challenging future for organizations attempting to leverage information in real-time.

For more information visit www.freewave.com.

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