IIoT: 'It's not a technical play; it's a cost play'

The process control community has long understood and tapped the value of connecting machines, putting information on servers and accessing it using various applications. So when I got Steve Jennis, CEO of connectivity company PrismTech USA, on the phone, I told him, "We're understandably baffled and bored by all the Internet of Things (IoT) hype. We've been doing it for years whenever it makes economic sense—what's really new here?"

Jennis says that's the key concept – when it makes economic sense. The technology to do the kinds of things that are making IoT headlines has been around for decades—the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was tracking missiles on control panels 50 years ago—but it cost a fortune. PrismTech has been developing it for years with military and aerospace companies to implement combat management, air traffic control and other "dispersed, real-time and deterministic systems," he says, in applications from autonomous vehicles, agriculture and mining to healthcare, finance and energy. "Our technology has been very well accepted on both the information technology [IT] and operations technology [OT] sides because it's real-time, deterministic, low-latency and robust."

See also: How IIoT adds value over traditional IT and OT

PrismTech relies on an "Open Source, genuinely free implementation of the Object Management Group (OMG) Data Distribution Service for Real-Time Systems (DDS) standard." Jenner calls it a system-wide database with a publisher/subscriber model, sort of "Twitter for things, but it doesn't put all of the data everywhere—local data can stay local, not every publisher, not every subscriber." It's more generic than OPC-UA and fieldbus protocols such as Modbus, and lets automation engineers reach out beyond their control systems to leverage Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications.

Above all, it's gotten really cheap. "IIoT is not a technical play, it's a cost play," Jennis says. "We could do all these applications 10 years ago, but they were very, very expensive, using WANs, fiberoptics and cell networks. Now, these things are almost free. Connectivity has become very affordable as well as robust, and we can do end-to-end systems much less expensively."

See also: Beyond M2M to Enterprise IoT

Jennis is a featured speaker at the upcoming Smart Industry conference, October 5-7 in Chicago. Created by Control's new sister publication, Smart Industry, the inaugural Smart Industry Conference will bring together leaders in the engineering, design and implementation of IIoT systems and strategies to provide attendees with understanding, context and real-life application experiences on the future—and present—of IIoT. Learn more about Smart Industry and register the Smart Industry Conference here.

Learn more about Smart Industry 2015