Cross-industry IoT group pushes for gear that works together

AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel kicked off the IIC to push for better standards

Five IT and equipment companies have formed a group to drive standards for the so-called Internet of Things, a network that would feed data back and forth between computers and all kinds of industrial gear.

AT&T, Cisco Systems, General Electric, IBM and Intel announced the Industrial Internet Consortium Thursday, vowing to help make equipment such as sensors, valves and motors talk to IT systems that can control the gear and analyze data from it. The IIC won't set standards but will work with existing standards bodies on ground rules for making products from all vendors work together, the group said.

The combination of IT and OT (operational technology) can make a wide range of industries more efficient and let companies tap into vast amounts of data generated by equipment in the field, IoT proponents say. Among other things, such streams of data can help to diagnose problems and show trends over time. But to make this a reality on a large scale, different types of industrial and IT gear will need to work together so enterprises can mix vendors and build systems more easily, the IIC members said.

"We're talking about a very heterogeneous world across multiple industry segments," said Ron Ambrosio, distinguished engineer and CTO in IBM's Smarter Energy Research division, on a conference call Thursday morning. Sectors where IoT can be used include transportation, manufacturing, oil and mining, and energy grids.

"Up until this point, many of the deployments in the Internet of Things have happened in a very siloed manner, and this has somewhat, as an industry, held us back," said Ton Steenman, vice president of the IoT Solutions Group at Intel.

Instead of setting standards itself, the IIC plans to define best practices and requirements for standards, as well as producing reference architectures and case studies. It will also create new industry test beds as well as using existing ones.

The group says it is open to anyone and has invited other players to participate. Though the initial membership includes some of the key enterprise hardware vendors and a major provider of industrial systems, its numbers are weighted toward IT and there is so far only one carrier. Invitations have been sent to more service providers as well as other potential members, said Richard Soley, executive director of the IIC and Chairman and CEO of the Object Management Group.

The IIC's work is at an early stage, and Soley gave no forecasts of when it will be done. The organization's architecture and technology group is already meeting to identify case studies to address, he said.

Another part of its work will be to identify the standards bodies it will need to work with and look at existing standards to see where they could be improved. The group is first going to decide on five initial industry testbeds it will build to demonstrate how IoT can work, said Bill Ruh, vice president of GE Software.

The IIC's founding members are already active in IoT. GE has long promoted the potential for using big data from systems in the field such as jet engines, which it says can generate as much as 1TB of data per hour. Last October, GE and AT&T said they would work together to network what could be millions of GE industrial products over a wireless network using global SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards from AT&T. Cisco sees a huge networking opportunity in IoT and is already developing products for it, including hardened routers equipped to process some data out in the field with industrial equipment.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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