The conversation with Scante’s Jon Prescott continues as he discusses and unpacks common misconceptions that are plaguing pilot projects and preventing reliability personnel from getting their operations and assets connected with the Internet of Reliability.
Welcome back to Noria’s new web series called “The Internet of Reliability.” I'm your host, Jeremy Drury of IoT Diagnostics. If you tuned in last time, you know that I have a co-host for these next couple of episodes. This is Jon Prescott, CEO of a top IoT customer-experience platform called Scante.net. We're getting deep into tough challenges and questions around the IoT platform space and getting all these devices connected. It's one thing to have a sensor; it's another thing to get the data going where it needs to go as cost effectively and as functionally as possible.
Jeremy: “Last time we took some time to hear a little more about what Jon does to help guide us into choosing the right IoT platform. This one's going to be a little bit tougher, Jon. I'm going to hit you with some fact/fiction kind of stuff, because we know if you spend five minutes on the internet, there is a lot of information out there when it comes to Industry 4.0, the internet of things, etc. There is certainly some crap out there. I'll just go ahead and say it. I'll be blunt. So, how do we actually find the truth in some of that?
“As I'm out on the shop floor, one of the main things that I often hear some cloud providers saying is, ‘Don't choose a big cloud service like AWS or Microsoft Azure. You should have a more intimate, smaller cloud platform provider because they can be more attentive to your needs.’ What's your take on it, Jon?”
Jon: “Well, there may be some arguments for it, but I think in most cases it's not a valid distinction to make. So many people are using Google, Azure or AWS as a cloud provider and then reselling those services on to you. The distinctions between a personal cloud and a large-scale cloud are very, very muddy.
“We use AWS as our prime cloud provider, and we use some other services that are based in the AWS platform and some that are outside of it. That's what most people are doing. They are stitching together the features that you need as an end user or a company trying to establish an IoT program.
“Most of the large-scale providers can support that extremely well without any real problems. There are some cost differences, but for reliability in an IT sense, the large providers are absolute best-practice vendors. You certainly don't have to be afraid of them, but they're just a platform.
“The real decisions are about what your vendor is doing on those platforms for you. Are you going to have your own data that's separated in a database? Is it going to be combined with a lot of other companies? That may scare you at first, but it actually may make your implementation much more affordable.
“So, there are a lot of trade-offs on the platforms versus cloud infrastructure. These kinds of questions are about the infrastructure. If you're doing this yourself and you're going to be implementing your own cloud, you can go with any of the major providers and get just what you need, or you can go with smaller providers. In 2002 and 2008, these questions were a lot more important than they are today.
“You can get what you need from the cloud vendors. They all have good support, and you can learn what you need. In fact, larger vendors may have more materials for you to access and more tools for you to control your own environment or to provide your vendor with capabilities that smaller ones wouldn't.”
Jeremy: “I have seen numerous articles that say the future of IoT is at ‘the edge.’ In an earlier video, we separated what the difference is between the edge and the cloud, such as where the data is being calculated and transmitted, etc. There certainly are plenty of voices out there that say everything will move to the edge or that the future of Industry 4.0 is at the edge of the network. Jon, what’s your take on that?”
Jon: “Like all the hard-core, absolute statements that people are making about IoT today, they are completely wrong. This is a vast technology environment. Basically, the answer to all these questions is yes, there's going to be a lot of edge computing and there's going to be a lot of consolidated cloud infrastructure. We do both. We work with a number of companies that provide high-security industrial gateways with lots of capabilities. We have other devices that are just sending us encrypted data.
“There's a continuum in between those things. As the sensors get smarter, they tend to do more processing at the device. That is an edge device. Whenever you're pushing data, analytic capabilities or processing capabilities out to the device, then you're doing some edge computing. That makes a lot of sense in many applications, particularly because it can control your data costs when you're consolidating a huge amount of data.
“The more processing we can do at the edge before we send it to a place that is going to charge us for every megabyte, the better. We're going to reduce our costs. But you have to keep in mind that there are some benefits to having that data centrally located, just as there are for doing some of the processing out at the edge. So, there are tradeoffs and real engineering questions about where you should be doing this.
“It is very application-specific. There's no magic bullet that says it's all going to be the edge. Conversely, there's the same thing on the cloud side. Anyone who says the edge is a marketing gimmick is completely wrong. There are valid reasons to be doing some filtering, especially in the case where you have machinery that has a local HMI with which the IoT device can interact. There can be some data display there and some immediate things that you want. When there's a fire or some kind of real condition, do you want your e-stop alarm to be going back to the cloud with all its latency, out to an app or pinging you for six different systems? There are all kinds of reasons that these various capabilities will be used in combination.”
Jeremy: “Since we love these marketing phrases, here's another one for you: ‘2G and 3G are dead. The future of IoT is 5G.’ We haven't gone too deep into 5G, so can you just take 30 seconds and explain the Gs?”
Jon: “I'm not actually a networking expert. I live in this world and work in it all the time, but what we see is that the platforms for IoT data are being driven by the needs of Netflix browsers or people who are sitting on their couch watching movies on their tablets via their cell connections and so on. IoT today is a bystander in those kinds of situations. As 4G and 5G IoT devices come online, it does change the costs, the connectivity speeds and the reliability of IoT device connections, but that doesn't mean that 2G and 3G devices are going to be gone. They may just have lower costs and be reused in certain applications.
“The interesting stuff in IoT connectivity right now is less on the cell networks’ evolution to 4G and 5G platforms than it is on things like narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and very low data rate, slower and less expensive connections. That doesn't work for everybody. Those systems were designed first primarily for meter reading, smart street lights, smart cities, oil field applications, etc. They're great for that, but there's going to be movement from both the top end and the bottom end toward the middle on those things in the technology platform. Between the high end and the low end, it’s going to fill in. It's great because it just gives us a lot more opportunities to use different technologies. The economics also change. This is really positive moving forward. There's going to be a lot of options for people.”
Jeremy: “In an upcoming video, we're going to get deeper into low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), NB-IoT and some of the vocabulary about the different ways to connect, so that was a great teaser for that. Before we wrap up here, are there any fiction kind of things you would say are big red alarms for our reliability listeners out there that they should be leery of?”
Jon: “We're probably going to have more detailed discussions about security coming up in the next episode, but that is a big issue and legitimately so. There's also a lot of hype around security issues in these scenarios. There are some companies that are almost breeding paranoia about these, which we have to negotiate and figure out.”
Jeremy: “I literally read an article with the title of ‘How to Control Your IoT Infestation.’ That’s where we are at this point. Of course, we’re really not.”
Jon: “That is a scenario that works very well for people marketing high-security solutions.”
Jeremy: “Thank you for joining us today. This is Noria’s new web series called ‘The Internet of Reliability.’ I'm your host, Jeremy Drury, here with guest host Jon Prescott, CEO of Scante.net. We're excited to be helping you navigate this migration into Industry 4.0 and your connected reliability operations. Tune in next time to talk more about cybersecurity, which is everyone's favorite topic.”