Cloud integration, IT/OT convergence, and the overall need to feed data from the field to enterprise-level applications are central to achieving these business objectives. In both automation and infrastructure environments, the network architecture provides the core platform for fulfilling these requirements. Ethernet switches, routers, and gateways, as well as wireless access points (WAPs), are and will continue to be the network infrastructure workhorses that enable this necessary connectivity.
Cloud integration remains an important task for the industrial network edge, but for most infrastructure devices this is largely true from the perspective of serving data to and from the field. While industrial Ethernet switches (IES) and other components of the network edge serve an infrastructure role in serving up field data to enterprise applications, in these early days of IIoT/I4.0 development and adoption, ARC sees an interim hourglass architecture emerging with gateways as the focal point for cloud integration.
The Gateway-Centric Approach to Edge-to-Cloud Integration
Numerous causal factors are at play for what may be an interim strategy, including using the gateway or router as the focal point for IT/OT convergence, cloud integration, IPv6-based connectivity, and security. This is evident in the positioning associated with products such as the Intel IoT gateway platform, OEMed by providers such as Advantech, Dell, GE, HPE, etc., where the gateway plays a crucial role in providing these functionalities.
Reliance on gateways for cloud integration during this interim stretch is offsetting the immediate need for other network edge infrastructure devices, such as switches and routers, to migrate to the standard microprocessors and operating systems necessary to achieve cloud integration, support IT-oriented integration protocols, and ultimately host IIoT platform agents and edge computing applications. Instead, the emphasis in the current market is more on delivering the escalating amount of device data to gateways and other components of the IIoT architecture. This migration is already underway in some quarters, however, with edge infrastructure products increasingly incorporating standard, COTS-based hardware, and operating system platforms in preparation for anticipated demand.