Enabling the Industrial IoT with Virtualisation

14-07-2015 |   |  By Rob Sheppard

Intel’s Rob Sheppard discusses the benefits of virtualisation technology for the industrial IoT, bringing the advantages of low risk and time-to-market for those looking to consolidate systems with different operating requirements.

While we see much discussion about what the Internet of Things (IoT) might mean to us as individuals and consumers, it is also a technological revolution that can transform business operations and perhaps none more so than in the industrial automation environment. The IoT has been brought about by the confluence of cloud computing, rapidly growing data volumes and data analytics processing, along with widespread network connectivity, machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies, availability of increasingly low-cost components such as sensors, and the growing multitude of online-connected equipment and devices. According to recent research from Berg Insight, a dedicated M2M/IoT market research firm, the installed base of wireless IoT devices in industrial automation reached 10.3 million in 2014, with the number of wireless IoT devices in automation networks predicted to grow at a CAGR of 27.2% to reach 43.5 million by 2020, while the number of all devices connected to the Internet by this time is expected to be in the billions.

Industrial IoT

There are a number of key elements required for the industrial IoT (see figure 1), including the cloud or data centre, which hosts the processing of data analytics, and the IoT gateways, which enable devices at the network ‘edge’ to connect to each other and also into the network and up into the cloud. In the industrial environment, this presents a major opportunity to connect up previously unconnected equipment.


Figure 1. Key elements needed for the industrial IoT.

Challenges and Consolidation

The key challenges on a daily basis for companies operating in the industrial environment are asset availability, yield, throughput and inventory costs: all of which can be addressed by the latest industrial IoT solutions. A central enabling technology in the IoT for many applications as well as in the industrial automation sector is virtualisation, which essentially enables previously discrete subsystems to be consolidated into a single system. Some industrial control systems are designed with multiple boards because they support varying applications such as a control console, data acquisition, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), motion control, and machine vision, each coming with a different set of requirements. For example, PLCs and motion control are time-critical applications that are best served by a real-time operating system (RTOS) delivering deterministic performance, whereas developers of control console and data-acquisition applications may require an embedded OS for general ease of use. But as automation expands in the ‘smart factory’, companies are increasingly looking to consolidate these previously discrete functions into a single system.


There are a number of benefits for industrial automation companies moving toward a consolidated model and combining functions into one controller. Top of the list is likely to be reduced BOM cost: the combination of functions that previously had their own chassis, PCB and thermal cooling solution into a single controller eliminates a significant amount of redundant hardware following consolidation. It also means a reduction in system equipment footprint, potentially resulting in significant savings.

In addition, improvements come in the area of cost and complexity of factory integration. All of these systems require infrastructure including networking, cabling and power, which is expensive in terms of energy consumption as well as cost. Then there is security: each piece of equipment has its own security vulnerabilities, and reducing the number of systems thereby reduces the exploitative opportunities for hackers. Each system requires protection with its own security solution and so the reduced number of systems enables the security architecture to be unified to protect the consolidated system. Also, with fewer systems installed, there are fewer devices to be managed with fewer patches, upgrades and a smaller replacement inventory.

Finally, simplifying the system architecture can significantly improve equipment reliability. Fewer subsystems means there are fewer devices that can fail, resulting in a better MTBF and reliability for the final product with easier maintenance and repair procedures, and ultimately, less downtime.

IoT Building Block

The Intel Industrial System Consolidation Series is a fundamental IoT building block that pre-integrates key software and hardware components including gateway and device functionality, enabling the consolidation of many industrial applications in a single unified platform (see figure 2). These applications, such as PLCs, machine-vision, robotics and HMI, today will most likely work on across different platforms on the factory floor.


Figure 2. Integration of gateways and device functionality.

The Intel solution uses virtualisation technology to enable the consolidation of many systems that may have different operating requirements such as real-time, embedded and general-purpose OSes. It integrates a production-ready virtualisation software stack with three preconfigured virtual machines (VMs) running a combination of real-time and embedded operating systems.Developers can use the two instances of Wind River VxWorks RTOS to run applications with real-time performance requirements while simultaneously running embedded and/or general-purpose applications on Wind River Linux 5.0. In addition, to help developers port their applications to a multi-OS environment, the System Consolidation Series development kit also provides the Wind River Workbench development environment.


The example system (see figure 3) shows Intel multicore processors with virtualisation technology allowing systems to simultaneously run multiple RTOSs and embedded OSs, each on dedicated processor cores, running above the Wind River Hypervisor layer. This configuration enables the deterministic behavior of time-critical applications, which allows them to run unencumbered by non-real-time tasks that would otherwise compete for CPU resources on a non-virtualised system. Developers can build systems with applications running on all the OSs simultaneously or choose to port applications to only a subset of the OSs depending on requirements.


Figure 3. Industrial Solutions System Consolidation Series example virtualisation solution.

Additionally, Intel’s hardware-assisted virtualisation technology, called Intel VT, enhances the capabilities of software-based virtualisation technology and performs various virtualisation tasks in hardware such as memory address translation, which reduces the overhead and footprint of virtualisation software and improves its performance, security and reliability. Memory access time is also significantly faster when virtual-to-physical memory address translation is performed in hardware rather than software. Intel VT also increases the robustness of virtualised environments by using hardware to prevent the software running in one virtual machine from interfering with the software running in another VM.

Application Ready

The key benefits (figure 4) of using an application-ready platformare faster time-to-market and reduced development cost and risk. Sourcing the hardware and software, integrating the hypervisor, OSes and security software, and validation of the overall solution can take between six to nine months. This means that solution providers can avoid the cost and time required to stitch these low-level components together and focus upon providing a full solution to customers in a faster time-to-market. In addition, an IoT service provider may want to add further value by introducing analytics to a legacy application. The integration of an analytics application and the legacy application on one platform should be a highly attractive solution. INTEA005-Figure4

Figure 4. The benefits of an application-ready platform.

Industrial IoT Realisation

Virtualisation technology can significantly help reduce cost and complexity through the consolidation of typical industrial functions. In addition, IoT building block solutions such as the Intel Industrial System Consolidation Series can dramatically lower risk and development time for developers and can be a highly attractive path for manufacturers looking to gain lower operating expenses, factory footprint, energy consumption, and integration and support effort.



By Rob Sheppard

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