ONF Announces Aether 5G Connected Edge Cloud Platform

Many industry pundits and observers seem to not understand all the ramifications and potentials for 5G. I’ve listened to podcasts from John Gruber at Daring Fireball and the guys at Accidental Tech Podcast talk about how 5G isn’t providing the anticipated boost for data speeds for their new iPhone 12s. But 5G provides for so much more than that.

I’ve had an opportunity to talk with people from the new Open Networking Foundation and check out this open-source community springing up. Here is a recent press release. Open source is burgeoning right now. Cynics say it’s just a way for big companies to cut development costs. I think it goes much deeper than that given licensing protocols and the spread of technology. This one is interesting and poised to take (among other things) Industrial Internet of Things to a deeper level.

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) announced that ONF’s Aether 5G Connected Edge Cloud platform is being used as the software platform for the $30M DARPA Pronto project, pursuing research to secure future 5G network infrastructure.

DARPA is funding ONF to build, deploy and operate the network to support research by Cornell, Princeton and Stanford universities in the areas of network verification and closed-loop control. ONF will enhance and deploy its open source Aether software platform as the foundation for the Pronto research work, and in turn the research results will be open sourced back into Aether to help advance Aether as a platform for future secure 5G network infrastructure.

Aether – 5G Connected Edge Cloud Platform

Aether is the first open source 5G Connected Edge Cloud platform. Aether provides mobile connectivity and edge cloud services for distributed enterprise networks as a cloud managed offering. Aether is an open source platform optimized for multi-cloud deployments, and it simultaneously supports wireless connectivity over licensed, unlicensed and lightly-licensed (CBRS) spectrum.

Aether is a platform for enabling enterprise digital transformation projects. Coupling robust cellular connectivity with connected edge cloud processing creates a platform for supporting Industrial Internet-of-Things (IIoT) and Operational Technology (OT) services like robotics control, onsite inference processing of video feeds, drone control and the like.

Given Aether’s end-to-end programmable architecture coupled with its 5G and edge cloud capabilities, Aether is well suited for supporting the Pronto research agenda.

Aether Beta Deployment

ONF has operationalized and is running a beta production deployment of Aether.  This deployment is a single unified cloud managed network interconnecting the project’s commercial partners AT&T, Ciena, Intel, Google, NTT, ONF and Telefonica. This initial deployment supports CBRS and/or 4G/LTE radio access at all sites, and is cloud managed from a shared core running in the Google public cloud.

The University campuses are being added to this Aether deployment in support of Pronto. Campus sites will be used by Pronto researchers to advance the Pronto research, serving as both a development platform and a testbed for use case experimentation. The Aether footprint is expected to grow on the university campuses as Aether’s 5G Connected Edge Cloud capabilities are leveraged both for research on additional use cases as well as for select campus operations.

Aether Ecosystem
A growing ecosystem is backing Aether, collectively supporting the development of a common open source platform that can serve as an enabler for digital transformation projects, while also serving as a common platform for advanced research poised to help unlock the potential of the programmable network for more secure future 5G infrastructure.

At Google Cloud, we are working closely with the telecom ecosystem to help enable 5G transformation, accelerated by the power of cloud computing. We are pleased to support the Open Networking Foundation’s work to extend the availability of 5G and edge capabilities via an open source platform.” 

Shailesh Shukla, VP and GM, Networking, Google Cloud

Cornell is deploying Aether on campus to bring private 5G/LTE connectivity services with edge cloud capabilities into our research facilities.  We expect private 5G/LTE with connected edge cloud to become an important and integral part of our research infrastructure for many research and operational groups on the campus.  We also see the value of interconnecting a nation-wide leading infrastructure with Stanford, Princeton and ONF for collaborative research among university researchers across the country.”

David Lifka, Vice President for Information Technologies and CIO, Cornell University

Princeton University is deploying Aether on campus in the Computer Science Department in order to support the Pronto research agenda and offer it as an experimental infrastructure for other research groups. This deployment will enable private 5G/LTE connectivity and edge cloud services and will complement Princeton’s existing P4 enabled infrastructure on campus. We plan to also explore how some of our mission critical production use cases can be supported on a private 5G Connected Edge Cloud.”

Jay Dominick, Vice President & CIO, Princeton University

Ciena is pleased to be an early collaborator on the ONF’s Aether project.  We have an Aether site running in our 5G lab in Montreal, and we are excited by the prospect of helping enterprises leverage the 5G and edge cloud capabilities of Aether to help build transformative solutions.”

Stephen Alexander, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Ciena

 “Intel is an active participant of the ONF’s innovative Aether project to advance the development of 5G and edge cloud solutions on high volume servers. ONF has been leading the industry with advanced open source implementations in the areas of disaggregated Mobile Core, e.g. the Open Mobile Evolved Core (OMEC), and we look forward to continuing to innovate by applying proven principles of disaggregation, open source and AI/ML with Aether, the Enterprise 5G/LTE Edge-Cloud-as-a-Service platform. As open source, Aether will help accelerate the availability of innovative edge applications. Aether will be optimized to leverage powerful performance, AI/ML, and security enhancements, which are essential for 5G and available in Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors, network adapters and switching technologies, including Data-Plane Development Kit (DPDK), Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel SGX), and Intel® Tofino™ Programmable Ethernet Switch.”

Pranav Mehta, Vice President of Systems and Software Research, Intel Labs

Learn More

The Aether ecosystem is open to researchers and other potential partners who wish to build upon Aether, and we welcome inquiries regarding collaboration.  You can learn more at the Aether website.

About the Open Networking Foundation:

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is an operator led consortium spearheading disruptive network transformation. Now the recognized leader for open source solutions for operators, the ONF first launched in 2011 as the standard bearer for Software Defined Networking (SDN). Led by its operator partners AT&T, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Google, NTT Group and Türk Telekom, the ONF is driving vast transformation across the operator space. For further information visit http://www.opennetworking.org

OPC Foundation In The News

OPC Foundation has released a lot of news at the end of 2020. Its working groups have been busy.

  • Cloud Library with CESMII
  • Field Level Communications
  • ECLASS Standard for M2M Communication
  • Update to PLCOpen 61131-3 specification

Cloud Library

The OPC Foundation, in collaboration with CESMII, is pleased to announce the launch of the “OPC UA Cloud Library” Joint Working Group (JWG). The goal of the JWG is to specify how OPC UA information models of machines, SCADA and Manufacturing Execution Systems will be stored in and accessed from a cloud-based database.  Such a database will enable manufacturers to draw from a wide range of OPC UA information models and profiles for use in their pre-built shopfloor and business digitalization applications.

Collaboration between the OPC Foundation and the Smart Manufacturing Institute is a natural fit given their complementary efforts. On one hand, the US government-backed Smart Manufacturing Institute sets out to help accelerate the adoption of Smart Manufacturing by businesses of all sizes by enabling frictionless movement of information (data and context) between real-time operations and the people and systems that create value in their organizations. On the other hand, the OPC Foundation created a globally adopted open data interoperability standard via its OPC UA specification. The specification’s information modeling capabilities and secure, scalable communications made it a cornerstone of Industrie 4.0 and virtually every other national Industrial IoT initiative. By working together, CESMII and the OPC Foundation aim to enable the broadest range of US manufacturers and beyond to innovate and go-to-market in their digital transformation using the right data modeling foundation.

Field Level Communications

OPC Foundation announces today that its Field Level Communications Initiative has accomplished a significant milestone in the ongoing project by completing their initial release candidate with the focus on the Controller-to-Controller (C2C) use case. In addition, a technical paper has been published that explains the technical approach and the basic concepts to extend OPC UA to the field level for all use cases and requirements in Factory and Process Automation.

Peter Lutz, Director Field Level Communications of the OPC Foundation says: “We are happy about the progress that our working groups have made over the last months, despite COVID-19 and the associated restrictions. The initial release candidate is a major achievement because it is used to build prototypes and to create test specifications that will be converted to corresponding test cases for the OPC UA certification tool (CTT). Furthermore, it lays the foundation for specification enhancements to also cover the Controller-to-Device (C2D) and Device-to-Device (D2D) use cases in the next step.”

Since the start of the Field Level Communications Initiative in November 2018 more than 300 experts from over 60 OPC Foundation member companies have signed up for the various technical working groups to create the technical concepts and elaborate the specification contents for extending the OPC UA framework for field level communications, including Determinism, Motion, Instruments and Functional Safety.

Cooperation with ECLASS

An important step for interoperability in the field of M2M communication: the OPC Foundation and ECLASS e.V. signed a cooperation agreement.

The goal of this cooperation is to combine the power of the OPC UA and ECLASS standards to better enable M2M interoperability via seamless communication of data and semantics using a standardized set of interfaces. To serve as the basis for semantic interoperability across full product life cycles in an international application environment, a manufacturer and industry independent standard for product description is needed. Once created, such a standard can serve as a semantic reference for the Internet of Things. The ECLASS standard, developed by ECLASS e.V. meets these requirements in a unique way.

The OPC UA standard enables secure transmission of data and facilitates the definition and dynamic exchange of its underlying structure via robust OPC UA information modeling functionality. Standardized information models implemented using OPC UA are called OPC UA Companion Specifications, which taken together can serve as common libraries of Information Models. Products utilizing OPC UA Companion Specifications enable seamless 3rd party data interoperability in the operating phase in the product lifecycle. Today, ECLASS identifiers are already being used in various Companion Specifications. 

Update to PLCOpen OPC UA for IEC61131-3

The OPC Foundation, in collaboration with PLCopen, announced the release of v1.02 of the “OPC UA for IEC61131-3” specification. Building on the first version of the specification, the joint working group added: 

  • support for all datatypes defined in the 3rd edition of IEC61131-3
  • an optimized, machine-readable version of the information model (i.e. nodesetfile) 
  • compliance with enhanced specification templates to support the tool chain used to generate validated information models
  • inclusion in the global online searchable specification reference 
  • OPC Foundation Compliance Test Tool (CTT)  test cases for validation of vendor implementations of “OPC UA for IEC61131-3”

Founded in 2008, this joint working group has the goal of expressing IEC 61131-3 information models using OPC UA.  By doing so, an IEC6-61131-3 PLC project that is loaded onto different control platforms can be displayed in a standardized form and made available for communication via the controllers’ OPC UA servers.

“This first step harmonizes the access of the project running in the controller” says Eelco van der Wal, Managing Director of the PLCopen organization. “With this an unprecedented transparency is created in the communication in industrial automation, enabling the configuration of the communication much faster and independent of the network and suppliers. For this reason, many suppliers have implemented this, providing their users with the ease of use in communication.”

In addition to the server specification “UA for IEC61131-3” the group also worked very successfully on the “client specification” which was originally released in 2014. The implementation of this functionality on a controller makes it possible to initiate a communication session to any other available OPC UA Server. The controller can exchange complex data structures horizontally with other controllers independent of the fieldbus system used, or vertically with other devices using an OPC UA server service oriented architecture, like an MES/ERP system in order to collect data or write new production orders to the cloud.

MESA Announces Version 7 Release of B2MML-BatchML Specifications

I was happy to see the group behind B2MML and BatchML find a home at MESA International after some abortive attempts with other organizations. Looks like the partnership has been good.  This month’s news is that MESA International announces the release of Version 7 of the B2MML and BatchML specifications. B2MML (Business to Manufacturing Markup Language) and BatchML (Batch Markup Language) are XML schema definitions that are implementations of the ISA-95 Enterprise/Control System Standard. The BatchML schemas were integrated into the B2MML namespace several versions ago, therefore the downloads and documentation of B2MML also includes BatchML files. Great leadership by Dave Emerson and Dennis Brandl and the group.

This major release supports the 2018/19 versions of the ISA-95 and IEC 62264 specifications. Version 7 adds important new elements to B2MML including spatial locations, material and other resource testing information, standardized error message handling, and work calendars. This version also includes the first B2MML-JSON schema definition, supporting transfers of JSON files in addition to XML files. 

Dennis Brandl, member of the MESA XML Committee responsible for the B2MML standard updates, states, “This version has undergone extensive testing and reviews to ensure that the ISA-95 standard is fully implemented in B2MML V7. We’re excited about the updates made to the specifications to bring them up to date with the ISA-95 standard, as well as the new features that have been added.” 

Companies interested in following ISA-95 for integration projects may use B2MML to integrate business systems such as ERP and supply chain management systems with manufacturing systems such as control systems and manufacturing execution systems. B2MML is a complete implementation of ISA-95. Any company may use B2MML royalty free provided credit is given to MESA.

Download the updated version for free by creating an account on MESA’s Online Learning & Resource Center.

Industrial Internet Consortium Technical Report Defines Framework for Distributed Edge Computing

The trend du jour no doubt includes computing at the edge to enhance the Industrial Internet. This news from the Industrial Internet Consortium shows how companies working together can develop a common set of standard frameworks to assure interoperability.

Moving computing from the cloud to the edge increases the performance, trustworthiness, and efficiency of industrial IoT applications

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) announced the publication of the Industrial Internet of Things Distributed Computing in the Edge Technical Report. Designed for IoT system architects and implementers, the report describes a distributed computing framework that moves the capabilities of data center-based cloud computing closer to intelligent IoT devices at the edge.

“In edge computing, data, networking, storage, and computing are distributed throughout layers of edge computing nodes from IoT devices to the data center – distributing the economies of scale of cloud capabilities throughout the system,” said Chuck Byers, Co-Chair, IIC Distributed Computing Task Group, and Associate CTO of IIC. “The migration of cloud capabilities into the edge allows data, storage, and computation to gravitate to where it can be handled most efficiently, whether in a data center or the edge.” 

The technical report includes: 

  • A structural and functional framework for distributing computing in the edge
  • Definitions of key architectural concepts employed in distributed edge computing 
  • Essential capabilities of an edge system’s elements 
  • Security and management functions 
  • Essential interfaces for these elements 

System architects can use the framework as a template to derive a concrete distributed computing architecture. Operations technologists, information technologists, network and business managers can use the report to learn more about the essential elements and advantages of distributed computing in the edge.

“Distributed computing, and the nodes and edge systems that form its key components are essential to the success of organization’s critical IoT systems and digital transformation plans,” said John Zao, Co-Chair, IIC Distributed Computing Task Group. “By moving to a distributed edge computing architecture, organizations across industries can reduce costs and meet critical performance, trustworthiness, and efficiency requirements for their IoT applications.”

The Industrial Internet of Things Distributed Computing in the Edge Technical Report is free of charge. The technical report and a list of authors who contributed to it can be found on the IIC website

The Industrial Internet Consortium has the goal of accelerating adoption of a trustworthy internet of things. The Industrial Internet Consortium is a program of the Object Management Group (OMG).

Industrial Enterprises to Achieve Step Change Operational Improvements

The Open Process Automation Forum strives for a software-defined industrial control system where the hardware and software are dissociated. The specific reason is that upgrades become less expensive. Software must be upgraded more often than hardware in a control system. If the two are tied together as in all proprietary control systems, then upgrades run on a continuum from painful to impossibly expensive.

I’ve been puzzling out this press release from Schneider Electric about a new control software dubbed EcoStruxure Automation Expert. The company says, “it is the world’s first software-centric industrial automation system.” I’m not sure that claim would stand up exactly, but it seems to me that this is a step on that journey toward dissociating software and hardware in the control system. Executives have told me in the past few years that achieving this is an essential long-term strategy. 

Any comments you all have about this are welcome (as long as they’re civil and enlightening).

The press release is written in the tone of a challenge to the rest of the industry to write “apps” that will run on this standards-based (IEC-61499) system.

Schneider Electric promises to unleash a new wave of innovation by championing the widespread adoption of open automation standards unveiling its vision for universal automation with EcoStruxure Automation Expert, “a new category of software-centric industrial automation system.”

Claims closed and proprietary automation platforms restrict the adoption of best-of-breed technologies, present challenges to integrate third-party components, and are expensive to upgrade and maintain. Industry has suffered from a lack of adaptability, modularization and interoperability, which is stunting innovation.

Universal automation is the world of plug and produce automation software components based on the IEC61499 standard that solve specific customer problems in a proven way. Adoption of an IEC61499-based standardized automation layer, common across vendors, will provide limitless opportunities for growth and modernization across industry.

By greatly extending the capabilities of existing IEC61131-based systems and enabling an app-store-like model for automation software components, Schneider Electric believes that the advancements possible in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fully realized. As its benefits become visible, Schneider Electric believes other vendors will adopt the universal automation approach, and end users will soon begin to demand it from their automation suppliers and ecosystem.

“The IT world has realized the benefits of open operating platforms; now it’s industry’s turn,” said Peter Herweck, executive vice president industrial automation, Schneider Electric. “Industrial automation architectures have done a good job of advancing industry to where we are today, but they are not capable of providing the agility and resilience that are paramount for modern industrial operations. To fully realize the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to reimagine our technology model by opening our platforms, decoupling software from hardware, and radically improving system agility and scalability.”

EcoStruxure Automation Expert is a new category of industrial automation system with IEC61499 at its core. EcoStruxure Automation Expert:

  1. Enables automation applications to be built using asset-centric, portable, proven-in-use software components, independent of the underlying hardware infrastructure.
  2. Allows the user to distribute applications to any system hardware architecture of choice —highly distributed, centralized, or both — with minimal to no additional programming effort.
  3. Supports established software best practices to simplify the creation of automation applications that interoperate with IT systems.

The first release of EcoStruxure Automation Expert supports traditional automation platforms, such as Modicon PLCs, and Altivar Variable Speed Drives and PCs. Completing the line-up, a virtualized software controller running in Docker-powered Linux containers supports distributed information and control systems across edge computing architectures.

Leveraging the object-oriented nature of IEC61499, software components known as Composite Automation Types (CATs) are used to model assets by combining real-time control functions with other facets, such as the human machine interface. This asset-centric approach delivers unprecedented cost and performance gains and frees engineers to innovate by automating low-value work and eliminating task duplication across tools. Benchmarking of EcoStruxure Automation Expert against today’s automation systems has demonstrated a 2 to 7X reduction in the time it takes to perform traditional automation tasks.

EcoStruxure Automation Expert’s support for mainstream IT best practices enables step-change improvements in asset and workforce efficiency using advanced technologies like predictive maintenance and digital twin. The system also reduces total cost of ownership by incorporating legacy systems with a wrap-and-reuse approach.

“EcoStruxure Automation Expert is the first step in the journey toward universal automation” said Fabrice Jadot, senior vice president, next generation automation, Schneider Electric. “To fully realize the potential of next-generation industries, we must embrace a new way of thinking. Working to common, open standards is vital to ensuring multivendor interoperability and seamless interfaces from supply chain through manufacturing and production to the end customer. Now is the time for all vendors to fully embrace open implementations with code and function portability to become more connected. Today is the first step in a new direction. We invite industrial developers everywhere to create their own software components and solutions based on the IEC61499 standard, which can easily interoperate with EcoStruxure Automation Expert.”

OPC Foundation Welcomes Emerson to Its Board of Directors

Emerson also joins the OPC Foundation Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative to drive a holistic approach to sensor and device level communications across process and factory automation industries.

This news could be a big win for the OPC Foundation. On the other hand, it sometimes happens that big companies join standards efforts in order to delay adoption. Sometimes, though, big companies see benefits for themselves from standards developments. It saves them a ton of internal development time and money. The news that Emerson is increasing its commitment to OPC and working with the field Level communications development can give a needed boost to the effort. We can hope.

The OPC Foundation is proud to announce Emerson has joined its Board of Directors and sincerely welcomes Peter Zornio, Chief Technology Officer for Emerson Automation Solutions, as Emerson’s representative on the Board of Directors. Emerson is one of the world’s largest automation suppliers, providing engineering services and automation technologies to process and discrete manufacturing industries.

Emerson has a long history with the OPC Foundation. As one of its founding members, Emerson played an important role in the development and adoption of the first OPC data connectivity standard and contributed to the development of OPC UA, today’s open data interoperability standard. Emerson supports OPC UA initiatives by participating in OPC Foundation working groups and by adopting OPC UA in a wide variety of its family of products.

Peter Zornio says: “OPC technology is well established in the automation space as the de facto standard for application-level communications.  It also provides integration between operations technology (OT) and the IT world, including cloud-based environments.  We look forward to growing that role, as well as working with the OPC FLC initiative on expanding OPC technology into real-time communications between control and field-connected devices.  OPC is the best candidate to have a single communication standard cover the entire scope of automation architecture from intelligent field devices to the cloud.”

Peter Lutz, Director FLC Initiative: “Currently, the OPC Foundation is extending use of OPC UA down to the level of sensors and devices on the shop floor via its Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative. The value that a major player like Emerson brings to this initiative is important from both technical and market messaging perspectives. First, OPC Foundation Working Groups benefit from extensive Emerson field level expertise. Second, with its strong support for ongoing OPC UA standard development for use in both process and discrete industries, Emerson helps send a clear message to the market: OPC UA plays an equally important role in both verticals.

Stefan Hoppe, President and Executive Director, OPC Foundation commented “It is gratifying to welcome a company of Emerson’s stature to the OPC Foundation Board of Directors. Working together with Emerson and our other valued board members, the OPC Foundation is now better positioned to deliver on its directive to provide the world with the best single data connectivity and interoperability standard for use throughout the enterprise, regardless of the industry sector.”