IoT Blog
IoT Blog

Using the Industrial IoT To Connect Remote Industrial Assets To The Cloud

by Sam Lucero, Senior Principal Analyst, IoT, Omdia

As we discussed in the recent webinar we conducted with Sierra Wireless and Microsoft, Bridging the IT-OT gap in your Industrial IoT project, companies are increasingly using Industrial IoT (IIoT) applications to connect remote industrial assets to the cloud. 

By connecting equipment and other assets deployed outside of a factory or plant environment to the cloud – assets like commercial HVAC systems, gas turbines, aircraft engines, or organic waste bins --companies can increase operational efficiency, improve worker safety, enhance regulatory compliance and enable “Outcome-as-a-Service,” or other new business models. 

These benefits are why in a recent report we forecast that the market for industrial connectable devices will grow at a rapid rate over the next five years – from 1.079 billion devices deployed globally in 2017 to 5.473 billion devices deployed by 2025.

Industrial Connectable Devices, World Market, 2017 - 2025

Industrial Connectable Devices, World Market, 2017 - 2025

Source: Omdia, April 2020

Yet the road to successfully connecting remote industrial assets to the cloud is one that has traditionally been littered with complex challenges. As they seek to overcome these challenges, companies have usually had to choose between two approaches when deploying IIoT applications – a “Do It Yourself (DIY)” approach or the “Stovepipe” approach. 

The Pros and Cons of the Do It Yourself and Stovepipe Approaches to Industrial IoT Applications

Companies interested in flexible or customized IIoT applications have often selected the DIY approach, as it provides them with freedom to develop and deploy IIoT applications designed to address their specific needs. However, a DIY approach forces the company to integrate edge devices, connectivity services, device and data management functionality, analytics, cybersecurity and user interfaces with their enterprise applications and systems.

If they hope to integrate all these IIoT application components together, companies need to acquire specialized expertise in a number of complex subjects, such as embedded software development. At the same time, they have to pull together all the components from a fragmented supplier ecosystem and manage the integration of all these components over the life of the application. The high probability that companies will have difficulties in acquiring the expertise needed to integrate an IIoT application’s components, source the right components, and properly manage the integration of these components over the life of the application are why, until recently, a DIY approach has been more uncertain and risky than the Stovepipe approach.

One way companies can reduce the uncertainty and risk of the DIY approach is by hiring a systems integrator or consulting firm to manage the custom development of the application. However, this approach can lower the ROI of the project, due to the increased project costs associated with engaging a third-party firm to take responsibility for project delivery.

Unlike the DIY approach, with the Stovepipe approach companies don’t build the IIoT application but purchase the complete IIoT application from one or more suppliers. Purchasing a set of complete solutions reduces the need for companies to acquire specialized expertise, reducing project uncertainty and risk. However, it locks the company into working with certain suppliers, while also limiting its ability to customize the application to its specific needs or evolve the application as these needs change over time. 

A New Way for Companies to Do It Themselves -- IoT Infrastructure as a Service

Another way to reduce the uncertainty and risk associated with the DIY approach is to utilize an IoT platform to develop and manage the application. Today there are hundreds of IoT platforms on the market, all providing companies with a variety of different IIoT capabilities. By removing the need for companies to custom develop device management, data management, and other features and functionality that are common across different IoT applications, these IoT platforms provide companies with the flexibility and customization of a DIY approach, with much less complexity. 

The potential solution space addressable by IoT platforms is large however, and IoT platform vendors have necessarily taken diverse strategic approaches in their offerings. Oftentimes vendors focus on specific sub-sets of the total IIoT application stack. For example, one vendor may focus more on device management functions, while another focuses more on application features targeted to a specific vertical market. The burden on the developer is greatly reduced, but not eliminated.

Building on the simplicity delivered by IoT platforms, Sierra Wireless and Microsoft have partnered to provide companies with “IoT Infrastructure-as-a-Service.” Combining Sierra Wireless’s edge-to-cloud Octave solution with Microsoft’s Azure IoT Central, the partnership’s “IoT Infrastructure as a Service” approach comprehensively addresses the full IIoT application stack in a more complete fashion than is typical in the market today, in Omdia’s view. IoT Infrastructure-as-a-Service enables companies to greatly simplify the development, deployment, and management of IIoT applications using the DIY approach. With it, companies can extract data from remote industrial assets, and then integrate this data however they want to into cloud-based enterprise applications in the same way as they currently integrate payment processing functionality from a vendor like Stripe, or sales management functionality from a vendor like Salesforce.com. 

With Sierra Wireless and Microsoft’s IoT Infrastructure-as-a-Service offering, companies can use Octave to manage edge devices and edge communications infrastructure, and orchestrate the extraction, processing, and delivery of data from edge devices to the cloud. In addition, Octave provides companies with access to a managed global cellular IoT connectivity service that leverages Sierra Wireless’ Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) footprint.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Azure IoT Central allows companies to create low-code and no-code actions using Microsoft Flow and Azure Logic Apps. It also includes data connectors and tools for customization and extensibility, app templates for certain industry verticals, big data management, and analytics. The high availability, scalable, and resilient Azure IoT Central platform also features built-in integration with Microsoft and third-party applications and services.

In addition, with IoT Infrastructure-as-a-Service companies avoid the risk associated with unpredictable data transmission, integration, and other costs, thanks to its predictable, messaged-based pricing and its pre-integration of their respective offerings and ecosystems with each other.

A Step Forward for the Industrial IoT

Organizations are increasingly realizing the benefits of connecting remote industrial assets to the cloud – but the specialized expertise required to connect these assets is outside the core competence of most organizations, making building these connection challenging. IoT platforms have helped companies address this challenge faced by companies trying to build these connections themselves. By combining Octave with Azure IoT Central for IoT Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Sierra Wireless and Microsoft have, further reduced IIoT application complexity and risk. 

For more information on the benefits and challenges of connecting remote industrial assets to cloud-based applications, view the webinar or download our report on the Bridging the IT-OT gap in your Industrial IoT project.