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What is Container Technology and How Does it Accelerate Industrial IoT (IIoT)?

01/08/2022

What is Container Technology?

A container is a software unit that contains all of the code, system libraries, system settings, and elements needed to operate in a computing environment. Containers can be deployed, and ran wherever needed — including on personal laptops, private data centers, or in a public cloud. Containerization enables developers to deploy software faster and more efficiently. This in turn accelerates the horizontal and vertical integration of the same application across thousands of IoT platforms at an unprecedented scale.

Why use Container Technology with IIoT Devices?

Most embedded devices are built for a single purpose and have a fixed functionality. As such, hardware constraints sometimes make supporting the increasing workloads and rapidly evolving demands of the automation and computing markets difficult. Conversely, applying the same devices to different platforms can also create non-homogenized conditions that yield challenges and barriers to entry.

Adopting a distributed cloud architecture is the most effective way to extend device performance and system integration capabilities. Indeed, doing so enables the deployment of lightweight and scalable cloud-native approaches on embedded IoT devices that surpass physical constraints and reduce the platform dependencies associated with traditional embedded devices.

Containerization is an important part of DevOps concept implementation, and enables the development, testing, and delivery of consistent apps in large-scale IoT systems. Containerization facilitates this through the provision of sandboxed environments and agile design principles. When compared to virtual machines, which enable developers to run software in the simulator of particular hardware system, containers ensure portability and security during IoT development. Containerization provides enterprises with other diverse benefits — including flexibility, cost savings, efficiency, and the ability to scale services for a shorter time-to-market.

Docker Technology and the Advantages it Presents for IIoT

Docker is an open software platform that helps develop and run software packages as standardized container units. It provides the ability to separate individual apps from infrastructure, allowing developers to migrate, deploy, update, and/or unload applications on different platforms with ease. In essence, Docker is a toolbox that provides a single API with simple commands and automation procedures for building highly reliable container applications. Many manufacturing organizations are piloting digital initiatives that leverage industrial IoT — for example in electricity and water distribution and other modern industrial control systems. These systems are designed to run multiple applications alongside hundreds of devices and hardware platforms.

Developers can significantly reduce the delay and effort between writing code and running it in production by leveraging Docker and container methodologies. Each Docker container runs a single virtualized application in isolation. Doing so, enables developers to package the specific application code and dependencies with ease. Moreover, this isolation contributes to better security and overall higher service availability by effectively preventing the entire system from breaking down. When containers fail or apps within them crash, other containers will keep running without interruption. This feature also empowers developers to apply security patches and updates quickly, minimizing errant bugs or inconsistent system conflicts during the integration of myriad IoT devices and applications.

Leveraging Containerization Approaches and Microservices for IIoT

Containerization has already been adopted by several IIoT applications. A well-known example is the application of cloud computing capabilities to embedded devices using microservices. Microservices are an architectural approach to developing applications as a collection of independent modules instead of building a monolithic software entity. Microservice architectures optimize the use of a given embedded device’s restricted RAM, storage, and computing resources. Containers with easy-deployed, independent, compact properties enable applications to be worked as microservices in different IoT devices and platforms. Most cloud providers, like Azure and AWS, provide container images as deployment models in edge devices in an effort to extend their AI and machine learning. In the past, high-level computers are essential for running such advanced services. However, microservices address problems of complexity by breaking down applications into a set of manageable services. This enables developers to use entry-level IoT devices for the same achievements. To summarize, containers make microservices serverless, scalable, and easy to deploy in diverse locations. Regarding these capabilities, container-based microservices can accelerate IoT digitalization transformation with edge computing.

The Advantech edge computing solution is a notable success case. Integrated with AWS and Azure cloud services, Advantech’s edge computing platforms extend cloud intelligence to the edge in order to facilitate IIoT applications. Advantech platforms feature edge container technology that supports third-party container-native applications and the deployment of AWS and Azure IoT services as decentralized computing resources. AWS Lambda and Azure IoT Edge functions are connected with a variety of PLCs and used to create serverless industrial IoT solutions. These solutions can conduct stream analytics, machine learning, image recognition, and other high-value AI functions at the edge. This matches production to demand when a real production model cannot be mathematically constructed.

Edge Services and Container Technology Best Practices

Advantech’s Platform Portal was developed for aggregating all process and application information at the edge and visualizing the data on an easily accessible webpage. The Platform Portal employs container technology that can be implemented on all Advantech IT gateway devices. Moreover, the Portal’s secure open-software architecture enables users/developers to access the system via a HTML browser and integrate unique analytics and connectors. These solutions provide device control, edge monitoring, and software management services to facilitate the scaling of digitalization by accelerating deployment and integration.

For more information about Advantech's edge services and related product offerings, please visit www.advantech.com or reach out to us at [email protected].

Want to Learn More About Edge Service Trends?

Find out more information at the campaign site, “Scaling Digitalization with IoT-Enabling Applications”.