::: nBlog :::

Yesterday I, together with our chief engineer and chief architect were listening to a full-blown presentation about the German Industrie 4.0 initiative. Our host company in Zü rich is a firm believer in I4.0, and they’re gearing their infrastructure toward it, with us among others.

Apart from witnessing the brotherly German-French competition, it was interesting to learn that I4.0 architecture group is contemplating between two models, namely fully Cloud-based and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) including Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) mediation. Moreover, I was surprised that I4.0 is predominantly about increasing resource efficiency of existing industries, while introducing ‘Lot of 1’ (mass customization) as the only game changer.

The SOA/ESB model is considered more secure and compatible with existing architectures, but it is inflexible and expensive to implement. It also introduces not-so-obvious bottlenecks by predefining data models while e.g. communication technology underneath evolves. But as always, firewalls make some people feel safer.

The pure Cloud model, especially when hastily implemented, indeed introduces security challenges as most of the analysis and control might happen in a software defined, ever changing environment vulnerable to cyber attacks.

We believe in a unified architecture, implemented locally or in the Cloud, or, as in most cases, somewhere in between. This means that the ‘local’ implementation (or in-house as we call it) is running exactly the same components and interfaces as the larger Cloud infrastructure, just with fewer shared resources. This makes most code universal and reusable, which means less wheel-reinventing and faster code evolution. ESB, as an intra-company concept, should be shelved in favor of open methods such as SOAP and JSON.

In a wider view, what I’m missing in the whole I4.0 is the next generation service innovation happening with cyber-physical systems. As algorithms and real time usage data of all manufactured products becomes fully combinable in the Cloud, I foresee a myriad of new services and professions (jobs) emerging. We’ve already seen glimpses of this with e.g. Uber, the taxi-company-killer service which connects drivers and those in need of a ride in real time.

Adding open-ended service innovation to the architecture is critical, although it will rattle existing rules and regulations, just like Youtube and Uber have done. Let’s embrace the change.


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