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Working Remotely to Stop Coronavirus

Companies using Skkynet software and services expect high security for their data communications. They know they can stop computer viruses by keeping all inbound firewall ports closed. Now, with the coronavirus looming large we must do pretty much the same thing in real life. We need to keep our distance and stay behind physical walls as much as possible. And yet work must go on. The data must get through. We need to work remotely, if possible.

The problem is, logging in remotely can be risky.  Typically, you need to expose your servers via the web or a VPN―and that’s a risk that our industrial control customers cannot take.  They need tighter security, to access to their process data without exposing the process servers and networks.  Skkynet’s unique tunnelling technology provides this kind of secure access.  It lets users securely push data from their plants to our SkkyHub service, where they can access it in real time, all without opening firewalls to the outside world.

A Helping Hand

We are now offering this service at no cost to help our customers weather the coronavirus storm. For the next three months any DataHub user can connect to SkkyHub free of charge. A simple tunnel connection provides a way to access data remotely, even through DMZs and proxies. The SkkyHub service includes a web-based interface, SkkyHub WebView, that lets people build dashboards to access their data and interact with their systems from home. Those who are new to WebView can quickly get up to speed, designing pages through its web interface.  With SkkyHub, users can view and operate their control systems remotely as quickly and easily as being right in the control room.

Let’s face it. These are not easy times. Some factories have been forced to shut down, and restarting will be difficult, as Matthew Littlefield at LNS Research explains in this blog, Closing Factories is Hard, Re-Opening will be Harder. Remote access can alleviate these problems to some degree, but it must be reliable and above all, secure.

In another blog, Coronavirus Lessons for Industrial Cybersecurity: Quarantines, Sid Snitkin at ARC Advisory Group compares quarantines for coronavirus to securing industrial systems, and suggests, “Use DMZs, firewalls, zero-trust access control, anti-malware software, awareness training, and security hygiene to reduce the likelihood of an initial compromise.” He also recommends system segmentation to limit lateral movement of viruses, continuous device and system monitoring, and strengthening tools to prevent future attacks.

Doesn’t that sound a little like social distancing, washing hands, not travelling, and keeping our immune systems strong? The social structures we have developed throughout history and the technical systems we have built recently are not as different as we might imagine. They both can serve us well, but we need to protect them and keep them, like ourselves, in good health.

Digital Twins Thrive on Data Integration

Digital twins. The term was coined only ten years ago, but the concept is rapidly becoming a must-have in the manufacturing sector. Last year a Gartner poll found that 62 percent of respondents expect to be using digital twin technology by the end of this year, although only 13 percent of them were actually using it at the time. A key factor in this sudden interest is that “digital twins are delivering business value and have become part of enterprise IoT and digital strategies.”

What exactly are digital twins, and why are they getting so much attention lately? A digital twin is made up of three basic components: a physical system, a virtual representation of it, and the data that flows between them. The physical system could be an individual device, a complex machine, a whole production line, or even an entire factory. The virtual representation can be as complex as necessary to represent the system. The data connection keeps the virtual twin as closely in sync as possible with the physical twin, often tracking and updating changes in real time.

The Value and Challenge of Data Integration

A digital twin operating in isolation is useful, but the real rewards come through making connections. Data integration between multiple sub-components of a digital twin, or between multiple digital twins, is key when advancing beyond simple pilot projects. “The ability to integrate digital twins with each other will be a differentiating factor in the future, as physical assets and equipment evolve,” says the Gartner report.

There are at least three types of relationships:

  • Hierarchical, in which digital twins can be grouped together into increasingly complex assemblies, such as when the digital twins for several pieces of equipment are grouped into a larger digital twin for a whole production line.
  • Associational, where a virtual twin for one system is connected to a virtual twin in another system, in the same way that their physical counterparts are interrelated, such as wind turbines connected to a power grid.
  • Peer-to-peer, for similar or identical equipment or systems working together, like the engines of a jet airplane.

Making these connections is not always easy. A recent publication from the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), titled A Short Introduction to Digital Twins puts it this way, “Since the information comes from different sources, at different points in time and in different formats, establishing such relations in an automatic way is one of the major challenges in designing digital twins.”

The IIC article briefly discusses some of the technical aspects this kind of integration, such as:

  • Connectivity, the necessary first step for data integration.
  • Information synchronization keeps a virtual twin in sync with its physical twin, and among multiple connected twins, maintaining a history and/or real-time status, as required.
  • APIs allow digital twins to interact with other components of a system, and possibly with other digital twins as well.
  • Deployment between the edge and the cloud pushes data beyond the OT (Operations Technology) domain to the IT domain, that is, from the physical twin to the virtual twin.
  • Interoperability between systems from different vendors may be necessary to gain a more complete picture of the total system functionality.

Another useful resource, Digital Twin Demystified from ARC Advisory Group, identifes data connectivity, collection, tracking volume & fidelity, and ensuring the quality of real-time data as being “key challenges associated with using real-time and operational data” in digital twins.

A Good Fit

Skkynet’s software and services are well-positioned to provide the kind of data integration that digital twins require. Most data on an industrial system is available to an OPC client like the DataHub, which ensures robust connectivity. Virtually any other connection to or between digital twins, such as from legacy hardware or custom software, is possible using the DataHub’s open APIs.

Real-time data mirroring between DataHubs can handle the synchronization needed for tight correlation between the physical and virtual systems. The secure-by-design architecture of DHTP provides a proven way to connect twins across insecure networks or the Internet, even through a DMZ, to ensure the highest level of security for both the physical twin on the OT side, as well as the virtual twin on the IT side.

By supporting the most popular industrial communications protocols, and through secure, real-time data mirroring, Skkynet software and services are often used to build fully integrated systems out of components from different vendors. A recent example of this is in the TANAP project in which DataHub software was used to integrate OPC A&E (Alarm and Event) data from ABB systems with other suppliers, effectively creating a virtual digital twin of the entire 1800 km pipeline.

Digital twinning can be seen as one aspect of the whole area of digital transformation in industry. As companies move towards digitizing their operations, the ability to create a virtual twin of each component, machine, production line, or plant, and connecting that twin to their IT systems will put better control of production into the hands of managers and executives, leading to greater efficiencies. The success of this undertaking, at every step of the way, depends on secure data integration among the digital twins.

Skkynet and Siemens Mobility collaborate on Secure IIoT

Hardware/software combination provides secure access to industrial data, vendor-neutral connectivity, and support for main industrial protocols.

Mississauga, Ontario, September 16, 2019Skkynet Cloud Systems, Inc. (“Skkynet” or “the Company”) (OTCQB: SKKY), a global leader in real-time data communication for industrial systems, is pleased to announce a cooperative agreement with Siemens Mobility GmbH to provide a highly secure Industrial IoT hardware and software combination.  Siemens Mobility’s Data Capture Unit (DCU) ensures one-way data flow will be connected to industrial and corporate software using Skkynet’s DataHub real-time middleware, allowing secure access to plant data by corporate IT staff and cloud services in real time.

“Through digitalization, Siemens Mobility is providing transportation operators with intelligent infrastructure and this collaboration will expand our ability to bring secure connectivity to critical systems across industrial sectors,” said Andre Rodenbeck, CEO Mobility Management, Siemens Mobility. “We see value for and need within the Industrial IoT market to mitigate the risk of connectivity to the cloud as well as IT Networks.”

“This agreement couples the best features of both products,” said Harry Forbes, Research Director at ARC Advisory Group. “The Skkynet DataHub software has been designed to enable outbound data flow with no changes to corporate firewalls. Together with the Siemens DCU data diode functionality, the combination provides real-time asset data with security from both hardware and software.”

The Data Capture Unit (DCU) from Siemens Mobility is a small, reliable and cost-effective hardware implementation of data diode technology designed for Industrial Internet connectivity. It is designed to eliminate any direct wired (optical or copper) physical connections.  This allows the DCU to meet all major cybersecurity regulations for critical infrastructure and to operate in rugged environmental conditions (industrial and transportation).  Typically located on the edge of the network, the DCU provides boundary protection for the Operations Technology (OT) network, and a secure bridge when connected to the Information Technology (IT) network.

The DataHub from Skkynet has been extensively tested by Siemens Mobility to act as a secure and easy-to-configure One-Way Gateway (OWG) for the DCU.  The DataHub software collects and filters data on the OT side, supporting protocols OPC UA, OPC DA, OPC A&E, and Modbus. The data is then sent via the DCU to a second DataHub on the IT side, which pushes it along by TCP or ODBC to IT applications, or by MQTT to Siemens’ IoT platform MindSphere or other cloud services. The DataHub’s secure-by-design architecture is fully compatible with the DCU’s one-way model, and allows industrial protocols like OPC UA and others to function seamlessly with the DCU.

“This collaboration offers industrial users in all sectors—healthcare, energy, oil & gas, and transportation to name a few—a highly secure and cost-effective Internet gateway,” said Paul Thomas, President of Skkynet.  “Equally effective for both new and legacy systems, it allows virtually any company to easily make secure connections to the Industrial IoT.”

Working together, the DCU and DataHub provide a secure OT – IT bridge and vendor-neutral connectivity, supporting main industrial protocols. The DCU ensures the highest safety and security level for the protected assets, while the DataHub enables real-time secure connectivity across a wide range of protocols on both sides of the connection.  Both the hardware and software have been proven in the field for many years and are used in thousands of applications in virtually all industrial sectors.

About Skkynet

Skkynet Cloud Systems, Inc. (OTCQB: SKKY) is a global leader in real-time cloud information systems. The Skkynet Connected Systems platform includes the award-winning SkkyHub™ service, DataHub® middleware, and Embedded Toolkit (ETK) software. The platform enables real-time data connectivity for industrial, embedded, and financial systems, with no programming required. Skkynet’s platform is uniquely positioned for the “Internet of Things” and “Industry 4.0” because unlike the traditional approach for networked systems, SkkyHub is secure-by-design.  For more information, see https://skkynet.com.

Safe Harbor

This news release contains “forward-looking statements” as that term is defined in the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Statements in this press release that are not purely historical are forward-looking statements, including beliefs, plans, expectations or intentions regarding the future, and results of new business opportunities. Actual results could differ from those projected in any forward-looking statements due to numerous factors, such as the inherent uncertainties associated with new business opportunities and development stage companies. Skkynet assumes no obligation to update the forward-looking statements. Although Skkynet believes that any beliefs, plans, expectations and intentions contained in this press release are reasonable, there can be no assurance that they will prove to be accurate. Investors should refer to the risk factors disclosure outlined in Skkynet’s annual report on Form 10-K for the most recent fiscal year, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and other periodic reports filed from time-to-time with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

All statements, information and recommendations in this document and on any provided material are believed to be accurate but are presented without warranty of any kind, expressed or implied. This is solely for informational purposes and Siemens does not warrant or represent that they will satisfy the specific requirements of any project. The information in this document may contain specifications or general descriptions related to technical possibilities of individual products which may not be available in certain cases (e.g. due to product changes). Siemens does not represent that the documents are complete regarding the planning steps that need to be taken for any project, or that they represent customer-specific solutions. They are only intended to provide basic information for typical applications. User waives and releases any rights of recovery against Siemens that it may have related to its use of these documents and agrees that Siemens shall not be liable for any form of loss, damage, claim or expense, irrespective of origin, including negligent acts or omissions, even if Siemens have been advised of the possibility of such damages.

Data Sharing Needed for Sustainable Energy

Sustainable energy can be profitable. That, in a nutshell, is the finding of a GreenBiz Research survey presented in the 2019 Corporate Energy & Sustainability Progress Report from Schneider Electric. And an important key to those profits is sharing data.

“Companies agree that sharing data is important, with those that share the most seeing significant benefit,” the report said. This importance of data sharing stands out in the context of the overall report findings, which are broken up into 5 main topics:

  • Funding: Executives that demonstrate ROI (return on investment) and provide strong leadership can overcome perceived obstacles, such as insufficient capital.
  • Data: The challenge is to ensure the quality of collected data, and to share it effectively.
  • Goals: Setting public targets or goals for energy conservation and sustainability drives motivation and success.
  • Energy: Strategic sourcing optimizes usage, yielding significant cost savings in a volatile energy landscape.
  • Technology: Energy efficiency and renewables, based on data-driven technologies, are a leading source of ROI.

Ultimately, for a sustainable energy project to succeed, it must provide a solid return on investment. This report affirms the experience of our customers in wind and solar that the better the quality of their data, and the more they are able to share it, the higher their ROI.

For example, a wind farm doesn’t operate in isolation. In addition to the electrical power it sends to the grid, each wind turbine also sends data for its rotor speed, operating state, power output, and more out to control engineers and automated systems to optimize performance. This data can also be integrated with other data arriving in real time. Weather and climate conditions can be introduced, along with real-time market pricing, to generate live, real-time cost/benefit analyses.

Seeking ways to share data

Sharing data like this takes both cooperation and technology. The various players involved have to agree on what to share and how. Reviewing last year’s survey, the report noted that “respondents indicated that 80% of their companies had energy and sustainability data collection projects underway.” And this year “the research finds that more companies are now seeking the most efficient ways to share the data that has been collected.”

We are pleased to see this growing level of awareness of the need for data sharing. At the same time, we actively encourage executives, managers and engineers who are looking for more efficiency in their data sharing practices to consider our approach. It could be just what they need to boost the ROI of their sustainable energy projects.

Embarking on the Journey of Digital Transformation

A Skkynet team attended the 23rd Annual ARC Industry Forum last week in Orlando, Florida, themed “Driving Digital Transformation in Industry and Cities”. They came back with a vision of how the digital transformation journey is shaping up—for those who are in the driver’s seat.

The main takeaway was that among this group of C-Level executives, VPs, directors and managers of some of the top manufacturing and process industries worldwide, everyone is on the journey. Some are starting out, others well underway, while still others have already completed some significant milestones. “People are realizing that this is something they have to do,” said Michael Quartarone, Skkynet’s Director of Channel Sales. “Everyone was interested in two things: What does the future state look like? and What can we learn from others that will help us on the journey?”

Expert guidance

Guiding them on this journey were digital transformation experts from major corporations like AVEVA, Ford, Schneider Electric, BP, Dow, and GE. In a series of keynotes on the first day, these seasoned veterans of IoT implementation shared their experiences of how they turned a lofty vision into concrete action. They told their stories of how they got started, where they got stuck, who helped them, what resources they tapped into, and what are the business cases that validate their efforts.

David Kramer of Ford gave a particularly compelling description of how they are taking a long view of digital transformation, the steps they are taking and how they look for quick wins as they execute on their vision. Steve Beamer at BP shared their challenges of ensuring that their digital transformation efforts deliver key process improvements where they can impact things like worker safety.

Forum Focus

The bulk of the conference consisted of forums that covered topics like IoT data communications, security, edge processing, OT-IT convergence, and more. The Skkynet team remarked on how receptive the industry leaders they met were to our technology, and how well they grasped the value of what we are doing. “There is a noticeable change in perception of IoT and its value,” said Xavier Mesrobian, Skkynet’s VP of Sales and Marketing. “People now understand more clearly the challenges of providing secure, remote access to OT systems in real time, and they appreciate what we offer.”

“Some big vendors are taking this journey,” said Quartarone. “Microsoft, Intel, SAP, GE, and other players are actively engaged in in the IoT space delivering innovation and solutions. They all had booths at the conference, demonstrating their level of commitment. We had some very fruitful and enlightening conversations.”

The forum was hosted by ARC Advisory Group, who offer advisory services, marketing analytics, and technology selection services at the corporate level for the manufacturing and process industries. Skkynet has been working closely with ARC for years now, and will continue to build our relationship, sharing our perspective and expertise in in this journey of IoT and digital transformation.

Industrial Product Servitization Via the IIoT

Now there’s a ten-dollar word for you: “servitization.” It has emerged from the trend of industrialized societies to move away from manufacturing-based economies towards service-based economies. Applying this trend to products, the term “servitization” was popularized by Tim Baines at Aston Business School, who sees a “product as a platform for delivering services.” IBM shifts its focus from selling computers to selling business services. Rolls Royce sells propulsion instead of jet engines. Alstom ties its railroad maintenance contracts not to reduced equipment failures, but to fewer “lost customer hours.” These are just a few examples of servitization—a transition from selling products to selling services.

In a recent article, Servitization for Industrial Products, Ralph Rio at ARC Advisory Group shows how the trend of servitization is now impacting the factory floor itself. As production machinery grows increasingly sophisticated, plant managers find their staff less able to maintain and repair it by themselves. They need more services from vendors. Machine builders and OEMs are providing more training, more extensive maintenance contracts, and better condition monitoring of the equipment they supply. “Services have become an inseparable component of the product,” Rio says.

Benefits

The benefits are significant. Predictive maintenance offered as a service means reduced stoppages due to equipment failure, and fewer but more efficient service calls when problems do arise. A growing trend is to provide condition monitoring services, which guide operators to run their machinery more effectively, increasing the lifespan of the equipment and improving output and product quality.

To be most effective, condition monitoring needs to run 24/7 in real time, ideally via a connection to the equipment vendor or supplier. Thus, the Industrial IoT is the logical choice for data communication. “To implement servitization, suppliers will need to adopt Industrial IoT for condition monitoring,” Rio predicts.

Two-way street

As we see it, this level of service works best as a two-way street. Data related to the condition of the machine flows to the supplier, while guidance and adjustments coming from the supplier can flow back the plant staff and equipment. This kind of feedback is invaluable for optimizing machine performance. A one-way IoT model that simply collects data for off-line analysis may not be adequate for many use cases. Technically more sophisticated, bidirectional data flow is useful in many condition monitoring scenarios, and thus has always been an option for Skkynet customers.

If the lessons of the past few decades are any indicator, the servitization trend will continue to grow, both among industrialized and emerging nations. And the Industrial IoT will almost certainly play an important role in providing data communications. As long as those communications are robust and secure, we can expect to see more and more IoT-based industrial product servitization, even though that term itself may never become a household word.