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From M2M to IoT: Old industries have to learn new tricks

Stephen Lawson | Dec. 19, 2014
The Internet of Things may be a new idea, but machines talking to other machines is not.

But as promising as these new technologies are, moving on from older ones can be hard. IoT has to match the capabilities of legacy M2M to gain users' confidence, and the change could even shake up organizations.

Purpose-built systems on private networks have both security and reliability characteristics that aren't inherently there on the Internet or commercial networks, Gartner's LeHong said. If designed right, a pipeline valve connected to a proprietary wired network will be safe from intruders and always close right when you send the command from the proprietary control.

Legacy industrial systems have had some security shortcomings of their own, such as the Stuxnet worm that attacked SCADA systems and the Target point-of-sale breach in which hackers took advantage of an HVAC system. But Internet-based technologies may need some work to match all the qualities of the older systems, LeHong said.

"Everything has to work as if it were a closed, private environment, or better. ... We can't just put mission-critical use cases on the Internet" without additional steps to harden the systems, he said.

Industrial vendors such as General Electric and IT companies such as Cisco and IBM are working to bridge the gap in security and reliability, with organizations such as the Industrial Internet Consortium seeking to align some of those efforts. Cisco and other vendors have started to introduce application-enablement platforms.

But along with the technological leap, most enterprises will have to address organizational issues, Cisco and others say.

Companies with a lot of systems for making, processing or transporting things have long managed those separately from IT systems that handle data. Operations people chose the M2M platforms to run their factories or oil rigs, managed the systems themselves and consumed the data they gathered through specialized consoles.

Now that physical operations can benefit from assets that came from the other side of that divide, such as IP networks, mass-produced chips and cloud computing, operations staff and IT have to learn a complicated dance together.

"They kind of don't trust each other," said Maciej Kranz, vice president and general manager of Cisco's corporate technology group. Both sides may be resistant to change, he said. Cisco's educational division recently moved to help bridge that gap by offering a specialization in industrial networking.

Enterprises that want to move from one generation of connected things to the next probably won't do it in one leap. Legacy M2M systems are often too widely dispersed and too deeply embedded to replace economically, which is why they're built to be used for many years.

"You're not going to change your gas turbine engine just to get more sensors," LeHong at Gartner said. But it might be possible to retrofit that engine with more sensors, at a lower cost, if the additional data would make a factory more efficiently, with more preventive maintenance and fewer unplanned outages. Those are the calculations that companies have to make.


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