Making the Case for OT Device Drivers

This is the beginning of a series of posts where we will describe the approach of democratizing the edge to enable vendors to compete on value based on data

We’re all familiar with device drivers—they enable us to plug our computers into any printer, keyboard  or other peripheral and just start working, without a thought about compatibility. Peripheral manufacturers have standardized the way their devices interoperate so they can focus on features and services, where the competitive value is.

In a recent article in Forbes, ABB Chief Security Officer Satish Gannu made the case for a similar standards-based approach for connecting factory devices to the edge, and then the cloud. If a standardized approach works for consumer devices, he suggests, why not for devices in the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?

I’d like to explore that concept just a bit.

Customers’ environments are always multi-vendor and that puts the burden of integration between the vendors on the customers instead of the suppliers.

But suppose operational technology (OT) device manufacturers created an open and vendor-neutral device driver model, along with a modern container-based architecture on the edge? This would allow for secure, efficient and reliable connectivity to any cloud vendor, enabling value-added services, applications, and analytical insights into the data in the cloud. Instead of focuing on interoperability, they would compete on value, where the competition needs to be.

The purpose of the device driver is to translate the device-specific protocol data (whether raw, binary, aggregated, or pre-processed) into a messaging model that is understood by a gateway that can help the drivers communicate with each other and/or with the cloud. Data can be processed near the source or further enriched and sent to the cloud for analytics and long-term storage.

Device drivers cover the entire lifecycle of a device, including device discovery or registration, configuration, enablement, file upload, and communication management. In addition, they provide a standard means for important cybersecurity measures such as certificate and patch management, firmware update, and maybe even remote management access.

This is the beginning of a series of posts where we will describe the approach of democratizing the edge to enable vendors to compete on value based on data instead of commodity hardware and connectivity. If you’d like to know more details on why and how to implement device drivers at the edge, please read the complete article.

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About the author

Tim Diekmann

Tim Diekmann joined ABB in 2017 as the Head of Architecture and Standards in the digital office. He is responsible for the ABB Ability™ platform architecture and its alignment with the ABB businesses and industry standards in the IIoT domain. In this role, he defines the strategic direction of the architecture for ABB Ability™ based solutions. Tim holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science and has worked in Silicon Valley for multiple companies.
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