IT and the plant: the role of network protocols in manufacturing and IIoT

IT and the plant: the role of network protocols in manufacturing and IIoT

MQTT could be improved to interpret messages and handle them more intelligently 

Andrew Thomas |

Throughout 2021 and 2022, MQTT has been increasing in popularity as a good data communications protocol for connecting plant data to a corporate IT department or the cloud.

While MQTT has many good qualities that make it an ideal fit in some ways, there is also room for improvement, especially for larger, more complex projects. If an organisation is using MQTT for operation technology (OT), IT or industrial internet of things (IIoT) connectivity, they might want to 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 applications with access to the device data. But MQTT can struggle to connect entire plant systems to IT 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 security model of device-to-client is not sufficient when networks need to be isolated using demilitarised zones (DMZs), which require multiple-hop connections.  

To meet these challenges, MQTT must get smarter. As a transport protocol, MQTT specifies that messages are simply carried like a letter in 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 carries? It would be able to handle messages more intelligently, changing protocols and message formats to accommodate different client requirements, or perhaps even modify the messages to add useful information.  

With those capabilities, an MQTT broker could aggregate messages in different formats into a single, uniform stream. It could also queue incoming data intelligently, handling overload conditions in a way that guarantees consistency. It could act as a gateway between MQTT and other standard protocols, convert among custom data representations and augment the data with connection quality information on each value 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 place to start.  

Access the white paper at:  

Andrew Thomas is CEO and chief technology officer of Skkynet Cloud Systems 

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