The edge of industrial Internet-enabled architectures has emerged as one of the most diverse, dynamic components of these evolving ecosystems. Originally tasked with simple connectivity to the assets, devices, and data resident in operational processes and endpoints, the IIoT edge is increasingly viewed as the platform for local computation and application execution in service to IIoT- and I4.0-enabled business processes.
Industrial network gateways and routers have historically been used to interface between different networks, but their functionality is evolving to the point where they are now viewed as compute/connect platforms relied upon to both bridge the IT/OT connectivity gap and serve the cloud integration needs of both environments. Architectural visions of the edge’s role in future installations are still evolving, with increasing investment and constant introduction of newly capable offerings indicative of this trend. Developers now rely on the edge not only for device connectivity and enterprise cloud integration, but also as a solution to issues such as latency, security, isolation for production environments, and local processing. This profile continues to evolve as activities at the IIoT edge expand to incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and video analytics.
Functional Evolution in IIoT Gateways Mirrors Expanding Connect/Compute Requirements
IIoT-oriented gateways and routers are the current hardware focal point for edge functionality. Recognition of the rising importance of the edge is reflected in the spike of investments targeted at this space and the number of IT and OT suppliers alike introducing new IIoT-oriented gateway and router offerings. This investment extends into related equipment such as edge servers and fog nodes capable of serving increasing compute and storage requirements.
The edge computing environment relies on standard hardware and software tools and an application software execution environment. These characteristics increasingly provide the primary value add, leading IIoT gateway and router suppliers to incorporate COTS-based Intel and ARM microprocessors and standard operating systems such as Linux and, to a lesser extent, Windows. Robust development tools, including Java or Python support, are also increasingly offered to enable edge computing.
Strong growth potential in this segment will be offset by escalating competition, including new devices with improved price/performance marketed by both existing and new participants. IIoT gateway and router suppliers face concurrent challenges in areas such as offsetting hardware commoditization through incremental software capabilities, combatting the number of new competitive entrants from both OT and IT, and decisions regarding strategic IIoT ecosystem participation and associated development requirements. These demands are occurring simultaneously with the prospect for steep hardware price declines as incorporation of COTS-based hardware and software increases and competition intensifies.
Information for this blog was drawn from ARC’s recently released report, IIoT Gateways & Routers 2017-2022. For more information on this and other available ARC market research on the IIoT network edge, see our dedicated IIoT edge research webpage. You can also join the conversation about this exciting topic on ARC’s blog sites or LinkedIn Groups: IIoT and IIoT Network Edge.