the role of network protocols in manufacturing and the IIoT

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Throughout 2021 and 2022, MQTT has grown in popularity as a good data communication protocol for connecting factory data to a corporate IT department or the cloud.

Although MQTT has many qualities that make it an ideal fit in some respects, there is also room for improvement, especially for larger and more complex projects. If an organization uses MQTT for operations technology (OT), computing, or industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connectivity, they may consider making it smarter.

Originally, MQTT was developed to have a small resource footprint and to be quick to implement. It does a good job of connecting field devices to a central broker and providing apps with access to device data. But MQTT can struggle to connect entire factory systems to computing and the cloud. Often a variety of devices in larger systems need to communicate with each other via MQTT using different data formats. Additionally, the simple, direct device-to-client security model is not sufficient when networks need to be isolated using demilitarized zones (DMZs), which require multi-hop connections.

To meet these challenges, MQTT must become smarter. As a transport protocol, MQTT specifies that messages are simply transported as a letter to the post, rather than being read. But that doesn’t have to be the case. What if we gave an MQTT broker the ability to interpret the messages it conveys? It would be able to manage messages more intelligently, modifying protocols and message formats to meet different customer requirements, or perhaps even modify messages to add useful information.

With these features, an MQTT broker could aggregate messages in different formats into a single uniform stream. It could also intelligently queue incoming data, handling overload conditions in a way that ensures consistency. It could act as a gateway between MQTT and other standard protocols, convert custom data representations, and augment the data with connection quality information with each valuable update.

We take a closer look at these possibilities and a few more in a recently published white paper, For MQTT Smarter is Better. Those involved in designing or building an MQTT-based system for OT/IT and IIoT should consider using a smart MQTT broker as a good starting point.

Access the white paper at: https://bit.ly/38smoPY

Andrew Thomas is CEO and CTO of Skkynet Cloud Systems


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