Intel, IoT and the Next Phase of Industrial Automation

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 4, 2017

For nearly 200 years, industrial and business progress has been sparked by replacing hands-on processes with mechanized, automated and intelligent alternatives. That was the case when powered looms replaced hand weaving, when assembly lines supplanted hand-crafted automobiles and when transactional computing systems replicated the work of armies of bookkeepers.

In fact, increasingly intelligent IT solutions have driven or underlaid much of the progress that businesses have achieved during the past five decades, including elemental shifts in manufacturing, communications, travel and commerce. But it seems possible that what most people call the Internet of Things (IoT) may dwarf previous IT achievements.

That’s because along with fully leveraging previous and emerging technological innovations, IoT deployments promise to be orders of magnitude larger, more complex and more widely dispersed than anything businesses or consumers have previously seen. IoT systems are also growing at remarkable speed with some projecting totals of 20B to 50B IoT sensors deployed by 2020.

But there are also significant practical tripping points littering the road to that cheerily optimistic future, particularly in how long it takes and how difficult it is to deploy, provision and secure IoT devices and infrastructures. That’s why the new IoT scaling and security offerings Intel announced at the IoT Solution World Congress are so intriguing.

IoT challenges meet Intel solutions

What exactly are the points Intel aims to address? The fact is that the vast majority of IoT devices are manually installed. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal on the face of it. After all, simplified software installation and updates, along with “plug and play” device recognition/implementation has taken much of the pain out of consumer technologies and many business IT solutions.

But as Intel noted in its announcement, IoT deployment, including coordinating the team efforts of installers, IT network tech and operations teams, typically takes 20+ minutes per device. That is, an effective team that faces minimal problems can install about 5,000 IoT endpoints, like so-called “smart” light bulbs per year. Factor that number into a single billion and the scope of scaling into tens of billions of IoT devices becomes exponentially clear.

So what is Intel doing to address these problems? The company’s new Secure Device Onboard (Intel SDO) speeds and automates IoT device provisioning with automated “Zero Touch” plug & play-style features that seamlessly work across hundreds or thousands of devices. As a result, Intel says that SDO can bring IoT devices online in seconds, drastically improving provisioning speed and efficiency while maintaining maximal security.

Securing IoT deployments is crucial, especially considering how well-organized and funded hackers are increasingly targeting corporate and public sector IT infrastructures. So how does that aspect of Intel’s solution work? SDO leverages Intel Enhanced Privacy ID (EPID) to anonymously authenticate IoT devices and establish encrypted tunnels for network communications.

Introduced in 2008, it has been used to secure over 2.7B security keys for Intel and non-Intel MCU processors. In other words, Intel’s SDO will notably speed IoT provisioning while maintaining network security with well-established, field-tested Intel EPID technologies.

Final analysis

Intel is also expanding the availability and use of SDO across IoT ecosystems. The company has inked agreements with silicon vendors, including Cypress Semiconductor, Infineon and Microchip to EPID identity capabilities into their own IoT solutions. Plus, cloud services providers, including AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Wind River Helix Device Cloud plan to support Intel SDO’s Zero Touch model for IoT.

The decided shift toward industrial IoT over the past 12-18 months is hardly surprising since the value of IoT to and investment capacity of businesses makes them attractive prospects to vendors. But there are problems ahead in IoT, especially in terms of efficiently scaling and speeding IoT deployments while securing customers’ networks and other resources.

Those challenges have seemed nearly insurmountable, especially if estimates of the IoT markets scaling to tens of billions of connected devices by 2020 are to be believed. That goal is clearly what Intel aims to help customers and partners achieve with its automated Secure Device Onboard Zero Touch model and Enhanced Privacy ID security features. Thanks to Intel, the future of industrial IoT just got a whole lot brighter.

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