How To Design Reliable IIoT Architecture
Refining your IIoT design is a key part of building strong cybersecurity resilience in the network architecture. Here's how to add security to every layer.
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Crafting a reliable IIoT design is all about building on foundational architecture layers and customizing them for specific network needs. How an IIoT network is organized influences performance, optimization, and security. You can ensure you get the most out of your IIoT devices by integrating them into a well-designed network architecture.
The Foundations of IIoT Design
IIoT technology has advanced significantly over recent years, gaining more capabilities and applications. Adopting it on a large scale requires you to organize your network strategically. Before crafting your IIoT design, you must know precisely what you want to use the IIoT for, as it will influence your organization's ideal network architecture arrangement. Different use cases require alternate architecture layers.
Layers of IIoT Architecture
The three most basic layers are device, network, and application. Of course, your unique design can have more layers, but starting with these three is essential.
The device layer includes the IIoT devices themselves, such as sensors, smart cameras, or wearables. Any physically connected smart device is part of this layer.
The network layer serves as a bridge between the device layer and the rest of the IIoT design. It includes the devices and protocols for network communication, such as Wi-Fi, 5G, Bluetooth, or Ethernet. Your network layer is part of your IIoT architecture that allows the device layer to communicate with the rest of the network.
The application layer is the final destination for data collected and transmitted throughout the other layers of the IIoT design. Infrastructure like physical data servers or cloud storage is part of this layer. This is where data is ultimately stored for use in other applications.
Breaking Down Architecture Layers
The three-layer IIoT architecture design is mainly a starting point for more complex structures today. Refining your IIoT design is a key part of building resilience. There are additional layers you can define to make your architecture more organized and further clarify how everything connects.
The network layer can break down into transport and processing layers. In this configuration, data transport technology like LTE or 5G gets its own category. At the same time, the processing side of the larger network layer acts as a bridge to the application layer. In addition, the processing layer includes technologies like cloud storage and AI, which might otherwise be part of the application layer.
If you have a lot of networking technology in your IIoT design or want to use advanced processing tools like AI, breaking up the layer may be wise. However, it's also important to thoroughly test and evaluate how different technologies work together. This will allow you to define interactions between your data transport and data processing technologies in greater detail. It will also ensure there aren't any bugs or errors when connecting new technologies.
Similarly, you can further refine your processing organization by adding an analytics or visualization layer between the network and application layers. For example, IIoT devices collect data in the device layer, transmit it through the network layer and send it to the cloud for processing.
This configuration is often used with edge or cloud computing for rapid data processing. However, the edge or a cloud server can also be isolated as its own individual layers. This elevates the important role those technologies might play in your IIoT design.
An analytics or visualization layer makes sense of the raw data — it's essentially a translator between the data from the device layers and the end users or applications. You may analyze it for critical metrics or convert it into digestible graphs or charts. It formats data in a way a human could comprehend, or an app could utilize.
The IIRA Framework
In addition to purely technical layers, you can connect your IIoT design to your organization's goals. The Industry IoT Consortium has developed a unique framework for defining business-oriented layers in IIoT architecture. This model uses more open "viewpoints" rather than rigid layers.
The four viewpoints are implementation, functional, usage, and business. The implementation layer includes the purely technical outline of the devices in an IIoT architecture, while the functional viewpoint defines how the devices and components in the implementation layer connect. You could fold a technical-focused IIoT architecture design into these first two viewpoints.
The usage layer acts much like the application layer in a standard three-layer architecture. It outlines how to use the interconnected technologies in the first two layers for different tasks or activities. This is also where basic architecture capabilities are defined.
Finally, the business viewpoint connects the devices, connections, and capabilities of the IIoT design to their business goals. It outlines exactly how the architecture contributes to stakeholders' goals and priorities or resolves their concerns.
This layer can be helpful if you adopt IIoT with a specific business end goal in mind. For example, your company might be using IIoT to reduce operating costs. Defining a business layer in your IIoT design establishes concrete connections between how your IIoT network functions and how you will achieve those goals.
Prioritize Security in Every Layer
Experts estimate there are over 10 million IoT cyber attacks every month as of Q4 2022. While IIoT devices have many advantages for businesses, they are notorious for their poor security. Therefore, you must ensure your IIoT design includes proactive security measures.
In 2020, the U.S. Congress passed the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act, establishing minimum IoT security standards. The regulations outlined in this act will strengthen the minimum security protocols on newly manufactured IoT devices.
Additionally, you can use network segmentation — or splitting the network layer of your architecture into isolated silos with dedicated security protocols. Network segmentation limits a hacker's damage to the single silo they compromise rather than the whole network.
Building a Secure, Reliable IoT Design
Crafting a reliable IoT design is all about understanding your unique IIoT needs and applying those to your network organization. Start with the three basic layers and add more to your architecture to refine it for your needs. At every architecture layer, make sure to prioritize cybersecurity measures to build network resiliency.
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