Time-Sensitive Networking Poised to Transform Industrial IoT

By Brandon Lewis

This article appeared on insight.tech

Early IoT proofs of concept were built on architectures that transmitted edge sensor data directly to cloud instances where it could be analyzed for operational insights. But those deployments emphasized data more than long-term outcomes—and data is helpful only if you can respond to it.

The actual value and perceived potential of IoT suffered as a result, and now the exit of Google and IBM from the IoT platform business has some wondering whether IoT has failed altogether. It undeniably has not, but the gap between insights and outcomes still exists because of disparate business and technology paradigms that govern the IT and OT sides of IoT infrastructure.

Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is a framework for synchronizing the timing of Ethernet data to flow throughout converged enterprise and operational environments. It enables near real-time decision-making between controller, sensors, and edge devices where outcomes can be realized. With TSN, information and value exchanges can happen over a single, low-latency network that maintains the ability to prioritize different types of traffic.

Now, new capabilities are coming to market to streamline the development, deployment, and configuration of TSN networks. When paired with virtualization-friendly infrastructure, these new solutions empower industrial operators to port workloads across IoT deployments and drive outcomes when, where, and how they need them.

Standardizing Time-Sensitive Networking for Seamless IoT Integration

TSN is not the first or only deterministic Ethernet technology, but others are largely proprietary and don’t provide the openness to move data seamlessly in both directions across an end-to-end IoT network. The key value of TSN is standardization. It replaces proprietary fieldbuses with a converged network that virtualizes the connection between entities on the network and satisfies the ranging requirements of industry IT and OT stakeholders. IEEE’s Time-Sensitive Networking Task Group, established in 2012, is working to finalize the set of standards.

“We’re more than 10 years in on TSN standards work, but we can’t get there until the foundational technology has been defined, implemented, and tested,” says Joel Morrissette, Product Manager at embedded software supplier TenAsys Corporation, a real-time software and service provider. “What does it mean to configure the network? What does the data structure look like? How do the hardware and software stacks need to be supported? What’s the division of duties? How do I access TSN, from an application perspective?”

The good news is that TSN standards-compatible hardware and software that streamline network deployment are finally coming to market. There is now a range of commercially available Ethernet hardware that provides native TSN offloading. Intel® CPUs provide TCC functionality that enables the software stack to achieve the real-time performance required for TSN with higher precision than non-TSN-enabled CPUs. For instance, Intel® Ethernet products, Intel Atom® processors x7000E Series, 13th Gen Intel® Core embedded processors, and Next-gen Intel® Xeon® D-1700/2700 processors are all equipped with Intel® Time Coordinated Computing (Intel® TCC) technology.

“Every node in the network gets the same information and synchronizes down to microseconds, ensuring everybody is in lockstep with respect to time,” Morrissette explains. “Because of that coordination, we’re able to prioritize traffic and ensure low latency and a high degree of determinism.”

Time-sensitive #networking technology can unify #IT and #OT systems to deliver industrial #IoT network interoperability and workload portability. TenAsys Corporation via @insightdottech

Industrial IoT Steps Forward

Intel TCC provides the hardware features and software tools to ensure applications can meet real-time constraints, and TSN-enabled hardware helps control when and how data packets move through a TSN network. But taking advantage of these capabilities in deterministic applications like those running on industrial IoT systems still requires a high level of expertise to configure the application and TSN network to meet real-time constraints.

TenAsys INtime IoT software supplies the missing link. It is a scalable portfolio of TSN- and TCC-compatible deterministic operating system (OS) solutions that can be deployed as either a standalone or distributed RTOS in support of applications that run on multiple nodes. It can even be implemented as a virtualized real-time companion OS to Windows or Linux hosts.

INtime abstracts the complexity of TSN network configuration through a suite of developer APIs. The software supports a variety of communications protocols that eliminate the need to understand different traffic classes and how they’re scheduled on the network. Plus, the INtime SDK provides developers with tools such as a timing analyzer that can be used to further optimize time-critical applications.

“TenAsys is taking care of the ‘how’ under the hood so developers can focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘when’ as they’re developing these applications,” Morrissette says.

INtime’s native support for TCC features and its API abstraction of underlying TSN networking capabilities are the key to unlocking the true value of IOT in time-critical industrial applications. Utilizing the native hardware virtualization features of multicore Intel processors, an instance of INtime can be allocated to a dedicated CPU core and run within a full-featured virtualized hardware environment with allocated memory, I/O, and other system resources. Applications built and deployed on the INtime platform can then be deployed in a distributed real-time OS (DRTOS) environment. This enables portability and flexibility for industrial IOT real-time applications delivering time-critical data capture, analysis, and decision-making at the edge.

Achieving a True IT/OT Convergence Strategy

Time-sensitive networking technology can unify IT and OT systems to deliver industrial IoT network interoperability and workload portability. With over 10 years of experience in the TSN space and decades as a provider of RTOS technology, TenAsys is uniquely positioned to deliver the technology convergence required to accelerate broad TSN adoption for industrial IOT.

By integrating and abstracting TSN and Intel TCC technologies, INtime can provide developers the tools to manage the complexity of configuring, deploying, and managing converged IT/OT time-sensitive networks. This will pivot the industrial digital transformation from data to information—a key element for delivering the results that will accelerate adoption and amplify the value of IOT at the industrial edge.

This article was edited by Teresa Meek, Contributor for insight.tech.

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