The Internet has migrated from a conduit for data to a vehicle for Voice over IP, video, and commerce. This transformation offers unique sales and application opportunities for embedded-system developers, provided they can seamlessly harness their devices to a secure Web services interface.
But many embedded-system developers aren't familiar with the specifications, security requirements, and features of IT organizations and Web services applications. The steep learning curve associated with these applications dissuades many embedded-system developers from interfacing their products with enterprise applications, despite the competitive advantages promised by remote monitoring or data exchange.
The recent availability of commercial interfaces that directly connect embedded devices and the Internet has remedied this situation. The illustration shows a typical device of this sort—Echelon's i.LON 100 Internet Server. Such interfaces enable embedded devices to communicate with enterprise applications.
It connects to the Internet via 10/100BaseT Ethernet, a V.90 landline modem, or a GSM or GPRS wireless modem. Some of these devices use Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)/XML messaging to interface Web-services-based enterprise applications with embedded control systems.
The interface to the embedded control systems can include discrete I/O, proprietary networks, M-Bus (European metering bus protocol), or other protocols. The result is a seamless transfer of data between the enterprise and the devices: The interface serves as the universal translator linking the world of IT with the world of embedded systems.
Typical applications include SCADA, telemetry, process control, fault monitoring, energy management, security, home automation, and inventory tracking. Status information, alarms, and updates flow back and forth between applications and devices using SOAP/XML as the Esperanto of the enterprise.
Both the Web services applications and the devices themselves then can be standard products, with the heavy lifting done by the Web services engine inside of the interface device. As a result, embedded developers can implement remote device supervision today, using off-the-shelf products, without launching a large development effort. Web-services-based commerce can be a practical and profitable reality today.