IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Reducing Risk in Industrial IoT Deployments

An IIoT connection layer between existing automation and the network prolongs the useful life of legacy equipment while preventing business disruption and security breaches. By Jörg Hecke

IOT IS PAST THE PEAK of inflated expectations on the Gartner hype curve. It now generates announcements of successful deployments, particularly in the industrial sector. But industrial IoT (IIoT) is still a risky business: Cisco’s oft-quoted survey of 2017 found that three-quarters of IoT pilots founder. More recently, Gartner’s 2018 Magic Quadrant for IIoT found no platform companies yet in the positive column for execution.

Although there’s no shortage of new IIoT-enabled machinery for those willing to retire existing equipment, a rip-and-replace approach is clearly premature for many companies with industrial machines that have been doing their jobs acceptably for decades. Instead, companies should consider adding an IIoT connection layer to prevent business disruption without compromising security.

Tempting Price, Tempting Attack Surface

Some companies may be tempted by low-cost proof of concepts with a $30 Raspberry Pi and Arduino, placing that platform in charge of every monitored device while connecting it to the network. 

In terms of vulnerability, though, Raspberry Pis are identical to “full-grown” servers; they must be regularly monitored and maintained against compromise. Furthermore, extra software must be developed for these systems to convert IoT data and forward it in the appropriate format (preferably encrypted) over the network. On the other end, software is needed to receive the data.

These needs can only be met by trained IT staff. And while Raspberry Pis may not seem like a long-term IIoT strategy, and certainly aren’t suited to scale, they work long enough to become permanent, vulnerable components of the production environment in a surprising number of such installations.

More powerful edge devices, including edge routers and IoT gateways, have their own problems. Particularly in the large potential market of legacy serial industrial equipment, they are an inefficient way of bringing devices onto the network for dashboard reports, analytics, and remote administration. Nor are they needed for the small data volumes generated by much legacy automation.

The good news is there’s a way to perform proof-of-concept pilots—and even implement whole IIoT solutions—at much lower risk. That way inserts an IIoT connection layer between existing automation and the network. Dedicated, single-purpose hardware, in the form of serial adapters and industrial device servers, can connect and convert the serial data stream of legacy industrial equipment for connection to LAN or WAN.

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