Mastering Industrial IoT: A Practical 10-Step Guide

In today’s tech landscape, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), also known as Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory, is revolutionizing industries. By linking billions of devices, IIoT boosts seamless communication and data exchange, driving automation and efficiency in industrial processes. Amidst this wave, understanding IIoT’s complexities is essential. Alex Sergeyev, Senior Technical Lead at HiQ, shares ten vital lessons for IIoT implementation and management.

Over the past 13 years, Alex Sergeyev has closely observed the evolution of IoT, gaining invaluable experience from a front-row perspective. In the world of IIoT, he emphasizes the notably higher risks compared to traditional software development, naming potential challenges such as delays and increased development costs. These risks arise from the intricate interplay between hardware and software, stringent security requirements, and the integration challenges of these sophisticated systems into existing industrial environments. 

Highlighting the need for a strategic and well-informed approach, Sergeyev emphasizes the crucial balance between innovation and risk management. 

“As IoT technologies become more common in industrial operations, skilled managing these systems becomes central for success. Companies can optimize benefits and minimize risks by having a profound understanding of the core aspects and challenges of Industrial IoT.”  

His insights cover critical facets of IIoT, spanning development, operation, security, and strategy. These lessons provide you with the knowledge and perspective needed to navigate the intricate and dynamic landscape of Industrial IoT, offering a compelling guide for mastering this transformative technology. 

1. Firmware Development: The Core of IoT Devices – Own
2. Device Longevity: Planning for the Future – Sustain
3. Communication Reliability: Ensuring Consistent Data Flow – Buffer
4. Data Efficiency: Optimizing Resource Use – Batch
5. Network Flexibility: Enhancing Endpoint Management – Route
6. Safeguarding IoT with Phased Firmware Releases – Rollout
7. Network Traffic Management: Distributing Communication – Scatter 
8. Connectivity Metrics: Proactive Firmware Management – Monitor 
9. Data Security Essentials: Implementing Strong Encryption – Secure
10. Vendor Strategy: Ensuring Supply Chain Resilience – Diversify

1. Firmware Development: The Core of IoT Devices – Own 

Owning the firmware development process is crucial in IoT, as it entails more than coding – it requires a comprehensive understanding of the device ecosystem. While offering adaptability, it introduces risks such as security vulnerabilities and compatibility issues with evolving technology. To navigate these challenges effectively, consistent updates and thorough testing are crucial. 

Turning to the potential pitfalls of outsourcing or using unmodified vendor firmware, Sergeyev warns against the loss of control and misalignment with specific needs and security standards. This approach may lead to the development of non-optimal firmware for device requirements. 

“Vendor firmware, often generic, might not meet specific security or efficiency needs, leading to performance or compatibility issues. It may also include redundant features posing security risks and relying on vendor-timed updates, exposing devices to prolonged vulnerabilities.”  

In both scenarios, relying on external parties for updates and support jeopardizes the long-term security and adaptability of the IoT ecosystem, especially if vendors change their priorities or business focus. 

Vendor firmware, often generic, might not meet specific security or efficiency needs, leading to performance or compatibility issues. It may also include redundant features posing security risks and relying on vendor-timed updates, exposing devices to prolonged vulnerabilities.

Alex Sergeyev

2. Enhetens livslängd: Planera för framtiden – Sustain 

IoT devices frequently exceed expected lifespans, particularly when replacements prove challenging or costly. Sergeyev advises making devices last longer by adding extra hardware capacity right from the beginning. 

“Even though there are upfront expenses, planning ahead increases the device’s lifespan and has environmental benefits. Designing for longer device longevity reduces electronic waste and the need for frequent manufacturing of new devices.”  

This approach contributes to sustainable development and minimizes environmental impact, resulting in a more responsible IoT ecosystem that conserves resources and reduces the overall carbon footprint. 

3. Communication Reliability: Ensuring Consistent Data Flow – Buffer  

Even devices equipped with Wifi, 5G, and satellite communications may face connectivity issues. Sergeyev recommends safeguarding data processing by separating it from direct communication with the gateway. 

“Store data on the device before transmitting it to the gateway. This method creates a buffer against unstable transmission, ensuring continuous operations and preventing data loss during brief offline periods.” 

Additionally, this approach simplifies the demands on gateway availability, allowing for maintenance periods or restarts without compromising data. Since cloud infrastructure can’t ensure 100% availability, adopting this method improves system resilience and preserves data integrity in your IoT network. 

4. Data Efficiency: Optimizing Resource Use – Batch

Efficient data handling is crucial, and Sergeyev suggests incorporating batch processing wherever possible instead of writing or sending each measurement individually. 

“This approach conserves resources and optimizes traffic on the device and the gateway. The primary load on the gateway is determined by the number of requests, not the volume of measurements.”  

Batch processing also enhances data compression efficiency, a critical factor for maintaining low communication costs in 4G/5G networks. By aggregating data before transmission, you significantly improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your IoT infrastructure. 

Additionally, integrating edge computing into the IoT framework allows measurement aggregation, generating metrics and insights directly on the device before transmission. This approach minimizes the need for raw data to be sent over the network, reducing bandwidth usage and enhancing real-time data processing capabilities.  

“By processing data on the device or at the “edge”, operational efficiency is significantly improved, with benefits including reduced latency, lowered communication costs, and enhanced privacy and security. When combined with batch processing, edge computing optimizes network resource use and supports a more sustainable, cost-effective IoT infrastructure.” 

By processing data on the device or at the “edge”, operational efficiency is significantly improved, with benefits including reduced latency, lowered communication costs, and enhanced privacy and security. When combined with batch processing, edge computing optimizes network resource use and supports a more sustainable, cost-effective IoT infrastructure.

Alex Sergeyev

5. Network Flexibility: Enhancing Endpoint Management – Route

Optimize your IoT network by avoiding hardcoded endpoints or IP addresses. Sergeyev recommends incorporating device-specific DNS routing for increased flexibility and streamlined endpoint management. 

Configure devices to connect to a DNS record using their internal ID, like DEVICE.gw.mydomain.org. For example, establish a distinct DNS zone for your gateway, such as gw.mydomain.org, and create records like:  

*.gw.mydomain.org       CNAME main.gw.domain.org 

DEVICE1.gw.mydomain.org A     10.10.10.10.  

This device-specific routing approach not only enhances flexibility but also simplifies the tracking and management of individual devices within the network. 

6. Safeguarding IoT with Phased Firmware Releases – Rollout

Adopt a phased approach for firmware updates, starting with a small segment of devices and gradually expanding coverage.  

“This strategy allows time to identify and address unforeseen issues before they affect the entire network. It’s crucial to isolate communication and over-the-air update code from other device tasks, ensuring the device can handle updates even in cases of malfunctioning sensors or other internal subsystems.” 

Despite thorough testing, the recommendation is to begin with a canary release at 1%, then 5%, and 10%, before proceeding to a full rollout after a few days. Additionally, attention should be given to devices that may wake up after years of inactivity and attempt to update firmware. It’s advised to maintain firmware compatibility for these units for at least 1-2 years to ensure smooth transitions and system integrity. 

Devices reactivating after prolonged inactivity should first receive intermediate firmware updates. This prevents overloading and compatibility problems, ensuring their seamless reintroduction into the network. 

Maintaining an archive of past firmware versions and tracking device update histories helps manage these updates efficiently, preserving the integrity and security of the IoT ecosystem across all devices, active or inactive. 

A phased approach for firmware updates allows time to identify and address unforeseen issues before they affect the entire network. It’s crucial to isolate communication and over-the-air update code from other device tasks, ensuring the device can handle updates even in cases of malfunctioning sensors or other internal subsystems.

Alex Sergeyev

7. Network Traffic Management: Distributing Communication – Scatter 

Sergeyev highlights the importance of efficient network traffic management for optimal performance.  

“Imagine if all your devices are set to send data at the beginning of each minute and their clocks are synchronized. This simultaneous transmission creates significant load spikes, putting a higher demand on the gateway to manage the sudden surge in data.” 

To address this challenge, you should introduce a random delay in each device’s communication schedule. This desynchronization strategy spreads data transmission over time, resulting in a more evenly distributed network load. By ensuring devices don’t send data simultaneously, bottlenecks are prevented, and network efficiency is improved. This leads to a smoother and more manageable data flow, reducing strain on both devices and the gateway. 

8. Connectivity Metrics: Proactive Firmware Management – Monitor 

Ensuring firmware stability is crucial in IoT. To achieve this, you should monitor connectivity metrics tagged by firmware versions. Key metrics to track include: 

1. Connection Drop Frequency: Monitor how often connections are lost. Frequent connection drops can indicate firmware stability issues or network problems. 
2. Device Online Status: Keep track of the number of online devices at any given time. Fluctuations in this number can reveal connectivity or hardware issues. 
3. Traffic per Device: Measure the amount of data each device transmits. Unusual increases or decreases in traffic can indicate firmware performance or hardware issues. 

Sergeyev emphasizes the crucial role of proactive monitoring, stating, “Proactive monitoring enables early detection of issues before widespread firmware deployment, enabling timely responses to potential problems before they impact customers.” 

9. Data Security Essentials: Implementing Strong Encryption – Secure 

When designing IoT devices, data encryption should be prioritized from the start. This choice will influence hardware selection, such as the System on Chip (SoC) and communication protocols. 

“Stick to well-known encryption standards, such as TLS 1.2 or 1.3, for robust security. Ensure that chosen hardware can handle these protocols and securely store sensitive information, such as certificates.” 

For example, utilizing TrustZone technology in Cortex chips provides secure storage. Instead of pre-loading certificates, it’s better generating them dynamically and securely transferring authentication data after manufacturing. This strategy avoids the risks associated with using the same security credentials across multiple devices (flashed during the manufacturing process) and prevents the leakage of sensitive information to manufacturing partners. 

10. Vendor Strategy: Ensuring Supply Chain Resilience – Diversif

Sergeyev advocates for a thoughtful approach to vendor management – specifically diversifying your vendor pool. In addition to skilled negotiation with service providers, it’s wise to foster relationships with multiple vendors for specific tasks, like SIM cards or System on Chip (SoC) components. 

Diversifying the vendor pool is a proactive strategy to mitigate risks linked to dependence on a single supplier. This approach shields operations from potential challenges such as unexpected price hikes, supply disruptions, or alterations in agreements, ensuring more stable and reliable procurement. 

By distributing dependencies across several vendors, businesses gain enhanced operational flexibility and greater bargaining power, essential for long-term resilience and success.

The key takeaways  

Succeeding in the fast-paced Internet of Things (IoT), especially when implemented in industrial operations with high risks and complexity, requires having a highly adaptable team and a well-defined, flexible roadmap with backup plans. The focus should be assembling a team adept in IoT technologies, capable of swiftly responding to industry shifts and incorporating these insights into product development.  

The plan should also include backup strategies for possible vendor changes and shortages of components is vital. So, your team is always ready to tackle and conquer challenges in the ever-shifting world IoT. 

– Own your firmware development to ensure security and adaptability 
– Extend the lifespan of IoT devices by incorporating additional hardware capacity 
– Store data on the device first, then transmit it to the gateway for improved efficiency 
– Implement batch processing for streamlined and efficient data handling 
– Optimize your IoT network by steering clear of hardcoded endpoints or IP addresses 
– Adopt a phased approach for firmware updates to address issues before a full rollout 
– Enhance network performance by avoiding synchronized communication across all devices 
– Enable early detection of issues by monitoring key connectivity metrics 
– Prioritize data encryption from the beginning 
– Diversify your vendor pool for increased reliability and resilience 

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