The State of Zero Touch in Industrial IoT


With the ongoing growth of automated systems and the Industrial IoT, and with an increasing number of physically distributed systems in the transportation, agriculture, and other markets, the value of Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) and management is expanding.

Networking has become more complex, and at the same time more agile with increasing virtualization of network functions, which makes it more possible to create and roll out “programmable” IoT solutions with more control and security necessary as cyber threats also grow.

Integrating and configuring IoT devices takes significant time when provisioning is manual, and this extends into the management of these devices, including implementing updates and patches.

Given the popularity and success of early IoT and Industrial IoT solutions, we are seeing an endless supply of new network devices to connect, across multiple protocols, using sensors of all kinds, which makes the process of provisioning and management even more difficult, unless this is done using IoT platforms with automation built in.

What is zero touch provisioning and how does it enhance network automation? We asked Aaron Allsbrook, CTO of ClearBlade, an IoT platform and solutions company based in Austin who have rolled out large deployments using zero touch.

“Zero touch provisioning is one of our most popular features, and part of our overall productivity and security offerings,” Allsbrook said. “With it, switches and devices can be configured automatically, without the need for manual intervention, which is both expensive to use to originate systems, and even more so is complex and costly for the life of the project.”

Allsbrook explained that this is achieved through the use of automatic provisioning and configuration systems within the design of the device and is a valuable part of an overall systems architecture.

“Once a device has been physically installed and powered on, it securely reaches outward to its cloud or on-premise platform server.  The device sends not only its ID but other information that describes its location like GPS and neighboring wireless or LAN sensors.  Then the platform, which stores the configuration and profile of each device can dynamically alter the configuration to match the field environment and immediately load it in the field, Allsbrook said. “The beauty of one-touch is that once theconfiguration settings have been located, they are automatically installed upon and applied to the device, without the need for a network engineer to be onsite. We will see more and more network switches, industrial gateways and IoT devices equipped with some form of zero-touch provisioning in the future, which we have been leveraging for years. The economic benefits are huge.”

As IoT contributing technologies including cloud-based services, artificial intelligence (AI), mesh networks, and edge computing continue to shape the digital transformation of network architecture, more advanced solutions are required, Allsbrook said.

“The combination of zero touch provisioning and AI and 5G, for example, takes us closer to completely automated systems, which are especially valuable in large and distributed industrial IoT deployments,” Allsbrook said. “The more we automate and enhance, the more future-proof systems and investments become. Installing and configuring every connected device and network elements has been a painful experience in the past, requiring substantial effort and knowledge including engineers on site. Withautomated configuration of devices, we also give engineers time back to work on more important aspects of their jobs.”

“Besides the security labyrinth, zero-touch provisioning enables developers to bypass the complications associated with communication protocols and hardware compatibility issues,” Allsbrook wrote in an article earlier this year. “Last, but not least, it acts as a shield against human errors and software loopholes.”

“We enable developers to build in the cloud and push to the edge or develop independent edge applications where customers experience them. We offer data filtering and streaming, sync and state management, and the most adaptable and efficient deployment capabilities connecting all gateways, clouds, and devices across numerous protocols,” Allsbrook concluded. “And we make all of this – and more – simpler and more reliable using zero-touch provisioning software.”

Juhi Fadia is an engineer, analyst, researcher and writer covering advanced and emerging technologies.

Edited by Ken Briodagh


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