A Look Inside the Industrial Internet Consortium

For the Industrial Internet and Industry 4.0 to reach its full potential, there needs to a transformational shift in how industrial information networks are designed, managed, and secured. Security in particular needs to be baked at all levels into the new frameworks that ultimately become the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Encouragingly, major technology providers are working together to find the gaps in current technology, and to work toward the new reference architectures and security measures that will be required. Beyond technological hurdles, there is also a need for a common vocabulary, cooperation, and collaboration among a diverse set of technology, software, networking, and device suppliers.

A Consortium Pushes Groundwork

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) is an IIoT industry group founded last March with five founding members -- GE, AT&T, IBM, Intel, and Cisco. The membership has since grown to more than 130 companies covering the entire stack from industrial applications at the top to chips and servers at the bottom.

"The consortium is focused on Industrial Internet of Things, and applications that require industrial-strength solutions for industrial processes," Stephen Mellor, chief technology officer for the IIC, told Design News. "That includes applications such as aircraft engines, healthcare, and connected cars. Our goal is to ensure that everything we make happen will fit together with other technology developments, and we want to have maximum feasible commonality between the consumer Internet and the Industrial Internet."

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The IIC is not a standards organization, and does not create standards. But, examining the scope of technologies the IIC is involved with, which is very deep and very wide, it's easy to understand why. Instead the goal is to construct the requirements for standards, and understand how all of the pieces fit together.

"We are focused on the technical work, and becoming a liaison to standards bodies, open-source communities, and alliances of interested parties," Mellor said. "Basically, our big thing is cooperation and collaboration. We don't want to compete because there's too much to do. What we want to do is to grow the pie as much as we possibly can. And the best way to do that is to grow and not focus on which bit is yours and which bit is mine."

Gaps in Technology Solutions

To achieve its goals, the IIC has a series of working committees that include legal, marketing, and membership, but the real focus is the engineering working groups: technology, security and testbeds.

The technology group is a central committee, chartered with determining the gaps in current technology solutions and developing written requirements and reference architectures that lay out how a particular industrial Internet solution can be integrated.

One team is establishing use cases and trying to understand exactly what kind of systems people would be building. The purpose is to ensure that the architecture is able to implement the Industrial Internet use cases that have been identified. The framework team's very first job, for example, was to define a framework and, over time, their work has migrated into a team that is constructing the reference architecture.

"We also have a vocabulary team which is concerned that every document that we publish uses the same words in the same way," Mellor said. "The word 'framework' means different things to different people. So within the group, we need to be sure that each term has a specific technical meaning. We are trying our very best not to invent terms. We go to the dictionary first, and then to other standards bodies and other entities that work in this area; we pick a definition and then stick with it."

IIC also includes clean slate and liaison teams. The clean slate team is charged with looking at the landscape, and imagining that there is nothing happening now and forever to sort out the problem. The goal is to develop a longer-term view, and to understand where the group might want to head, as well as deal with today's problems and today's products. The liaison team is a new group with the goal of establishing relationships with other organizations.

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Technology drives the majority of the IIC's efforts, although Mellor said that security is a fundamental part of that. "Security needs to be considered right from the beginning," Mellor added. "When I worked at CERN in Geneva, we were interested in transmitting information; security was not in our hearts. But as we construct this reference architecture, we have to ensure that security is fundamentally a part of it. There is important work to make sure that the three threads are working together, including security, the reference architecture, and data management."

He continued, "The security work spans over all of these activities. Our goal is to have security-tinted or security-polarized glasses looking at every single thing we do." The ICC is currently developing a technical document that weaves together how it will do security in testbeds, to be sure that every testbed has security in it. "We will be extending that once we know how we will be moving forward with the reference architectures," Mellor said.

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