Our previous blog discussed IoT as a new paradigm for a new world, requiring a new reference architecture to guide the development of IoT enterprise solutions – a common framework that provides consistent definitions for the decompositions and design patterns of the system of interest.
The reference architecture should be vendor-neutral and not specific to any set of technologies. Developing a single architecture that covers all the requirements of the connected ecosystem is a big challenge. The reference architecture covers multiple aspects of the enterprise-wide backend layers, including domain-specific applications and decision support systems that consume data from the IoT devices.
When in place, the reference architecture’s principles, standards, reference models, and best practices ensure that the new system’s aligned investments have the greatest possible likelihood of success: lower cost in both the short and long term (TCO), better policy implementation and better service delivery to end users.
The 7 high-level architecture requirements for an IoT-based system
- Context: Captures the context at all times, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year
- Standards: Uses standard communication protocols between IoT devices and enterprise systems
- Scalability: Responds to increased load by a decline in performance, not failure; increases capacity proportionally as resources are added
- Data Management: Efficiently manages huge volumes of data
- Connectivity: Provides high network connectivity for large data payloads and continuous streaming
- Security: Moves and encrypts information securely even as IoT introduces new risks and vulnerabilities
- Interoperability: Networks all systems together and ensures interoperability of all data
The 3 tiers of IoT logical reference architecture
The following diagram depicts the IoT logical reference architecture as three tiers: 1. Edge; 2. Platform; and 3. Enterprise. These tiers process the data flows and control flows based on usage activities across the enterprise systems. They Span three networks, as shown in Figure 1 below:
Fig 1: IoT Logical Reference Architecture
Consists of IoT devices and the IoT gateway. The architectural characteristics of this tier, including its breadth of distribution and location, depend on the specific use cases of the enterprise. It is common for IoT devices to communicate using a relatively short range and specialised proximity network, due to power and processing limitations. The IoT gateway contains a data store for IoT device data, one or more services to analyse data streaming from the IoT devices or from the data store, and control applications. The IoT gateway provides endpoints for device connectivity, facilitating bidirectional communication with the enterprise systems. It also implements edge intelligence with different levels of processing capabilities.
Receives, processes and forwards control commands from the Enterprise tier to the Edge tier. The Platform tier consolidates, processes and analyses data flows from the Edge tier, and provides management functions for devices and assets. It also offers non-domain-specific services such as data operations and analytics.
Receives data flows from the Edge and Platform tiers, and issues control commands to these tiers. The Enterprise tier implements enterprise domain-specific applications and decision support systems, and provides interfaces to end users, including operations.
The different networks used to connect these three tiers are:
- The proximity network connects the sensors, actuators, devices, control systems and assets, collectively called edge nodes. It typically connects these edge nodes in one or more clusters to a gateway that bridges to other networks.
- The access network enables data and control flows between the Edge and the Platform tiers. It may be a corporate network, or a private network overlaid over the public Internet or a 4G/5G network.
- The service network enables connectivity between the services in the platform tier and the enterprise tier, and the services within each tier. It may be an overlay private network over the public Internet, or the Internet itself, allowing enterprise-grade security between end-users and various services.
Users of the IoT system include both humans and digital users. Humans typically interact with the IoT system using one or more kinds of user devices – smartphones, personal computers, tablets or specialised devices. In all cases, the IoT system provides some form of application that connects the human user with the rest of the IoT system.
The 11 layers within the connected enterprise
The following diagram illustrates where IoT fits in an enterprise ecosystem:
Fig 2: IoT in Connected Enterprise
1) Access Layer
End users – both internal and external to the enterprise – interact with channel(s) and play a role in the overall customer journey.
2) Channel Layer
End users use media to interact with the enterprise over multiple channels, both physical and digital.
3) Customer Experience Layer
A collection of presentation components and services – the critical systems the enterprise uses to engage with end users.
4) Consumer Layer
Acts as a gateway for channels, and aggregates functionalities through composition and orchestration, mediation, and routing. Its key capabilities are:
- API Gateway: a single point of entry giving consumers access to backend services, as provided by API Management platforms. The composition and orchestration of these services are based on customer journey and context.
- State Management: manages state and transition. Control logic is decoupled from the user interface and managed at the customer experience layer.
5) Business and Information Services Layer
Provides cross-channel capabilities. Its design is based on micro-services architecture principles. A business service system is responsible for realising traditional or new Internet-specific business functions, including: Enterprise Resource Management (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), asset management, service lifecycle management, payment processing, human resource activities, work planning and scheduling systems.
6) Information Management and Analytics Services Layer
Focuses on data ingestion, processing, complex event processing and real-time analytics and insights. A basic service system provides fundamental data services, including (but not limited to): data access, data processing, data fusion, data storage, identity resolution, geographic information services, user management and inventory management.
7) Enterprise Integration Layer
This layer is a key enabler: it provides mediation, transformation, protocol and routing capabilities, and acts as a gateway to integrate with core enterprise systems. It also provides aggregation and broker communications.
The Enterprise Integration layer is responsible for integrating the IoT environment into the enterprise’s business processes. The IoT solution ties into existing line-of-business applications and standard software solutions through adapters or Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and business-to-business (B2B) gateway capabilities.
8) Enterprise Systems Layer
This layer is a collection of enterprise back-office core systems and applications that house business logic and data.
9) IoT Layer
This layer consists of the following:
- IoT Operations: A collection of capabilities and systems for provisioning, management and monitoring
- Platform Layer: A collection of information management / analytics and enterprise integration capabilities which can capture and process events and generate insights
- Network Layer: Connects sensors, actuators, controllers, and gateways with Platform Layer capabilities
- Control and Sensing Layer: A collection of capabilities to read sensor data, apply necessary rules/logic and deliver data and control signals to actuators
- Physical Devices Layer: A collection of physical systems such as smart sensors, devices and machines.
This layer handles single sign-in, authentication, encryption and authorisation capabilities
11) Collaboration & Management
This layer leverages infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-service technologies, as it requires large computing capabilities.
There are many opportunities for enterprises to use IoT to make business services more efficient and customer-centric. IoT can help enterprises achieve their most important goals:
- Create significant impact on customer experience and deliver unified product and service experience
- Huge cost savings/revenue
- Improving employee productivity
- Improving customer requests and service delivery
- Improving innovation
The effectiveness of IoT cannot be realised without the collaboration of Industry, Enterprise and Agencies. Enterprises and Agencies work together to build a consistent set of standards that everyone must follow. This Enterprise Reference Architecture can guide the development of systems that can manage the large number of IoT devices and the volume of data they emit. This large volume of new information allows a new collaboration of enterprise, industry and customer. It enables the rapid development of IoT-focused preventive and predictive analytics.