Do we need an OPC UA replacement?

I’ve gone from one trip to another and had some allergy attacks in the middle. That’s my excuse. So I’m catching up on Hannover news plus my experience as an ERP analyst (not) at the QAD user conference

I didn’t intend to lead with this one, but for the first time in a while I’ve hit a bit of controversy. My YouTube video essay on the subject garnered my first “like” and first “dislike”. Read and listen and decide who might not like the analysis.

CIP Cloud Interface

In surely the most discussed announcement in automation at Hannover, ODVA announced a “significant” new area of technical work to develop standards for the gateway and interface technology needed to transport data between the cloud and CIP-enabled industrial control systems (ICS) populated with EtherNet/IP and DeviceNet devices. “Ultimately, this work will result in The Common Industrial Cloud Interface Specification, a major new addition to ODVA’s technology portfolio.”

This is from the press release: ODVA’s scope of work for developing the Common Industrial Cloud Interface will encompass two elements in the ecosystem for the industrial cloud: a cloud gateway appliance (Gateway) and an application program interface (API) for the transport of data from the Gateway to the cloud and from the cloud back to the ICS and its devices. Based on open and interoperable standards supported by multiple vendors, ODVA’s new Common Industrial Cloud Interface will accelerate an architectural transformation inclusive of cloud computing to support device management, process analytics, notifications, remote access, virtualization, visualization and, in the future, control.

“The Common Industrial Cloud Interface will enable an enterprise architecture inclusive of cloud computing resources, based on industry standards, and will optimize high performance, secure communications between devices, an ICS and the cloud, as well as simplify common tasks that must be performed by the Gateway. ODVA’s view of its cloud ecosystem is agnostic with respect to the deployment of cloud computing resources in off-premise, on premise, public, private and/or hybrid models. Furthermore, ODVA‘s scope of work for its Common Industrial Cloud Interface excludes services and applications within the cloud itself.“

Replacing OPC UA Embedded?

As the press conference proceeded, attendees became aware that this work is a direct attack on OPC UA. Several major automation technology vendors have voiced disappointment with the embedded version of UA seeing it a a threat to their own messaging protocols.

This is typical of the open standards movement. End users and owner/operators love them. Suppliers try to finesse them away. Only today I heard about a Microsoft response to IFTTT designed to give the same functionality while keeping users within the Microsoft ecosystem. It’s a never-ending battle for users of technology. I think for the 13 years I’ve been writing here that I’ve been consistently on the side of users. Suppliers can develop lots of value add while giving users some freedom for their own innovation.

I asked Rockwell Automation for comment since it is seen as the internal champion for this SIG. It sent this carefully constructed statement:

At Hannover last week, ODVA announced a significant new area of technical work to develop standards for the gateway and interface technology needed to transport data between the cloud and EtherNet/IP and DeviceNet devices. Ultimately, this work will result in The Common Industrial Cloud Interface Specification, a major new addition to ODVA’s technology portfolio.

ODVA’s cloud announcement does not diminish Rockwell Automation’s support for OPC – as demonstrated by Rockwell’s active role within the OPC UA Technical Advisory Committee and the Specifications Working Group. Similarly, it does not diminish Rockwell Automation’s support for other global standards, as it has experts, project leaders, conveners, secretaries and chairpersons on many of the global standards committees, such as the IEC Strategic Group (SG8) focused on Industry 4.0/Smart Manufacturing.

The ODVA announcement simply outlines ODVA’s plans to offer the best solution to connect the world of EtherNet/IP and DeviceNet with the cloud. This will further support EtherNet/IP and DeviceNet customers in configuring devices and streaming data. Because of the benefits this will bring customers, the initiative is supported by the full ODVA board, including Bosch Rexroth, Cisco, Endress+Hauser, OMRON, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, and Weidmuller.

This continued innovation is why recent studies by HMS, IHS, and others show that EtherNet/IP is the leading Ethernet network, followed by Profinet, EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and Powerlink.

A couple of comments. First, notice that Rockwell’s support for OPC and other open standards is limited to participating at the technical committee level. Therefore, it learns the technology, but notice nowhere in this statement is it suggested that Rockwell will actually implement these open standards.

And, in the end, will it really matter? If you are in the Rockwell Automation ecosystem, then it becomes easy to continue to tie yourself to it. If you are not, you’ll not use it. If you’re on the fence, you’ll have to decide. Probably a little of both.

You can see my comments on YouTube or listen on my podcast. And you can vote on YouTube thumbs up or down. It should be interesting.

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