OPC UA in the Internet of Things

The idea of connecting things other than dedicated computing devices to the Internet is by no means new. Various examples such as remotely controlled coffeemakers or refrigerators reporting their contents have circulated for several decades, but up until recently they have been little more than anecdotal in nature. However, recently there has been a clear and growing trend for ever-increasing connectivity, dubbed the Internet of Things (IoT). In essence, the idea is quite simple – connect objects and people to enable automatic communication of data without the need for human interaction. In practice of course, it requires many new technologies to implement it.

One underlying key technology of the coming change is IPv6. It solves the issue of providing a unique identity to all the billions of things which are to be connected via the Internet. The currently dominant version of the backbone of the Internet, known as the Internet Protocol version 4, cannot provide unique addresses for more than about 4 billion devices. The pool has already run out and has to be expanded by techniques such as NAT (Network Address Translation). For IoT, the pool of addresses has to be a lot larger. Fortunately, a new version called IPv6 is slowly but surely gaining ground, and it can provide up to 340 undecillion addresses that should last us a while.

But it is not enough to be able to simply communicate. Due to the possibly very sensitive nature of the data transferred, information security is an essential requirement as well. For this reason, a communication protocol that is lightweight enough to be deployed on various embedded devices while still providing state-of-the-art information security is required. OPC UA fits the bill perfectly, and provides additional benefits such as information modelling for more complex use cases.

Combined with the platform and language independent nature of OPC UA, the state-of-the-art security features mean that OPC UA will be a key technology in the first wave of IoT. And it is already happening – though our Raspberry Pi demo board using Prosys OPC UA Java SDK is a very simple example, it gives a glimpse of how massively distributed and low-cost data acquisition and control can be done. OPC UA provides secure communications also over the Internet, making use of 3G/4G modems possible so that dedicated communication lines or heavy VPN solutions are no longer necessary.

We are continuing our research and product development and would love to hear your ideas about how IoT will affect your business and what kind of new challenges it poses.

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