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IoT Reference Architecture Guide

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AVP, IT Engineering, Vice President, IoT,
Merck & Co., Inc. HCL Technologies

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Director, IT Innovation, Solution Director, IoT,
Merck & Co., Inc. HCL Technologies

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Associate Director,
IT Architecture,
Merck & Co., Inc.

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The Internet of Things (IoT), allows physical objects – for

example, heavy equipment, mobile and wearable devices,
vehicles, physical structures, and appliances – to connect,
interact and share data with one another or with a central
system through the Internet. These capabilities are
transforming people's lives and empowering the competitive

forces that drive business. As organizations across industry
sectors examine and evaluate how the utilization of IoT In order to realize the true
capabilities can improve the way they manufacture products, benefit of IoT, enterprises
provide services, and manage their supply chains, the should consider adoption of
pharmaceutical industry has a compelling opportunity to
a platform-based approach
adopt and profit from these game-changing technologies.
Some early adopters have already started exploring IoT to
enable end-to-end digital integration across the value chain.

There are multiple use cases in pharma manufacturing and

supply chain management where the Internet of Things can
help clear bottlenecks, ensure greater GMP/GDP compliance,
and reduce operational expenses. In Pharma R&D, IoT can
help in automation of clinical trials with the benefit of saving
cost and reducing risk in trials. This is empowered by the

ability of IoT to collect huge amount of data and provide
relevant insights.

As enterprises are adopting IoT, a commonly observed trend

is the emergence of a variety of point solutions built by
leveraging some connectivity mechanism and available
devices. With the advent of ubiquitous computing and the
heterogeneous nature of the edge devices coming into the
market, these point solutions are only going to increase and
become unmanageable. If there is no common
understanding of the IoT domain or attempt at
standardization, these solutions will be costlier to implement,
have a higher likelihood of failure, and provide limited
interoperability. Additionally, many of these solutions are
based on ineffective models of governance, fundamentally
neglect privacy and security in their design, and have
challenges in terms of scalability.

In order to realize the true benefit of IoT, enterprises should

consider the adoption of platform-based strategies. These
platforms provide the essential building blocks for integrated
scalable solutions supported by a reference architecture and
definitions of robust mechanisms for security, privacy,
performance, scalability, interoperability, and edge device
management & monitoring.

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Need for Reference Architecture

The main goal of an IoT Reference Architecture is to provide

a template for a specific IoT solution or use case. When in
place, the reference architecture’s principles, standards,

reference models, and best practices improve the success
rate of investments on new solutions, ensure lower cost in Improvement in the success
both short and long terms (Total Cost of Ownership), provide rate of investments on new
a frame for policy implementation and improve service solutions, lower cost (Total
delivery to end users. Here are some key reasons for building
Cost of Ownership),
a reference architecture in an enterprise context:
a frame for policy
implementation and
To converge silo IoT initiatives/solutions with
corporate IT solutions
improved service delivery
to end users
Most of the business units within large enterprises are
building their own IoT solutions as point solutions, without
adhering to the standards. This hinders the possibility of
cross-leveraging the solutions across other business units. As
a long-term and strategic solution, we often recommend our
customers to take a ‘Federated’ approach (as depicted in the
below diagram) to build IoT solutions. According to this
approach, the Corporate IT team should take the
responsibility of building the best practices, architecture
guidelines, multi-modal data structures, security and
governance practices, etc., which would be common across
business units. In a nutshell, the Corporate IT team should
incorporate all these common guidelines and best practices
in the form a Reference Architecture and ensure its adoption
across business units. This will take away a lot of burden
from the individual business units and they can focus on
building their specific use cases leveraging the platform
reference architecture. This also helps in providing a
level-playing ground for all the business units, irrespective of
their maturity levels, to pursue their IoT initiatives.

which will be relevant to the business. For instance,
Corporate IT / Central IT
creating a device category list based on the
connectivity supported by the device (as shown below):
Reference Architecture
Standardized Information Model (Patient & Asset)
Standard Platform Services (Hot Path, Cold Path) DEVICE FEATURE EXAMPLE
Standard Gateway
Type 1 Non IP Capable - Analog Sensors
Security and Governance
& Digital Output Sensors
Best Practices and Architecture Guidelines and Attached Devices

Type 2 Non IP Capable - Low PAN Devices

Power Personal Area
...... ,' ......
' 'I
·-· ·-· ,. ·-· .. Network (PAN) Devices
Business Unit IT (1) Business Unit IT (2)

Type 3 IP Capable - Digital Digital Devices

Choice of technology and deployment model Devices
for implementation
BU-specific device integration Type 4 IP Capable - Smart Smart Devices
Applications specific to BU use cases Devices
Analytics specific to BUs

The reference architecture should encompass various

Varying IoT standards and protocols protocol adapters, device management features,
security needs, data models, and the required hooks
IoT covers a huge range of industries and use cases that and connectors for these device categories. This will
scale from a single constrained device to massive help in standardizing the device onboarding (to the
cross-platform deployments of embedded technologies IoT platform) process.
and cloud systems connecting in real time. Tying it all
together are numerous legacy and emerging
Quicker time to value
communication protocols that allow devices and servers to
talk to each other in new, more interconnected ways.
Leveraging an established IoT reference architecture
and taking a platform-based approach supported by
At the same time, dozens of alliances (e.g., Allseen, Open
reusable micro services, enables on-demand
Mobile Alliance, IIC, etc.) and coalitions are being formed
onboarding of application rather than making ad-hoc
with the hope of unifying the disparate and organic IoT
investments on a project-by-project basis. This helps
in reducing the concept to market lead time for every
new IoT solution/use case.
At present, there are two well-known reference
architectures related to the Internet of Things:

• Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) by

Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)
Reference Architectural Model for Industry 4.0 (RAMI 4.0)
by Platform 4.0 driving the Industry 4.0 initiative

Given the lack of standards, choosing the right protocol &

architecture standards and following the guidelines from a
specific alliance for every use case will be a very
cumbersome task. Our recommended approach to address
this complexity is to build a reference architecture that
incorporates the best aspects from each of these standards

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Capabilities addressed by
IoT Reference Architecture
At its core, an IoT platform offers the following capabilities:

1. Connectivity Management – To connect various devices, systems, and networks in an IoT ecosystem
2. Data Aggregation and Storage – To collect data from devices & systems, and store them for further processing
3. Application Enablement – To build custom IoT solutions for the chosen business use case

The below mentioned diagram provides more details on each of these capabilities:


Device management Multi-modal database support Rule engine and event

such as relational, key value, management
• Bidirectional communication
document and graph
support API integration for business apps
Stream processing
• Support for multiple protocols and Vendor-specific endpoint API/SDK
data formats Remote data synchronization for plug 'n' play compatibility
Support for secure authentication Enable scaling of storage Device shadowing management
and authorization at the edge for device control
Ability to monitor network data 'Integrated Development'
usage and generate alerts and environment to build and test IoT
notifications applications

These capabilities can be delivered through a 3-tier IoT logical reference architecture as depicted below:


~-------------------, ····························, --------------------------·,

Big Data/BI
IoT Device Field Gateway IoT Services
► Data Transformation
REST ► Offline Analytics
Sensors Application SOAP
Wi-Fi XMPP Analytics
Actuators Wired KAFKA BPM/SOA Platform
DB Operations
•................... ~◄---- Wi-Fi Services
.................... •◄--- Platform

o Device I
Control Flow
Control Flow

Custom Apps
'I Management Application
API Gateway
Rules & Control
: I
'····················~ '··-···-··--··-··--··-···-·· ··--------------------------
Edge Tier Platform Tier Enterprise Tier

Tier 1: Edge

This tier consists of IoT devices and field gateway. It is

common for IoT devices to communicate using a relatively
short range and specialized proximity network, due to power
and processing limitations. The field gateway contains a data
store for IoT device data, one or more services to analyze
data streaming from IoT devices or from data store, and
control applications. The field gateway provides endpoints
IoT reference architecture
provides guidance for
building secure and
scalable, device-centric
for device connectivity, facilitating bidirectional solutions for connecting
communication with Platform Tier and Enterprise Tier. From devices, conducting
a security perspective, it acts as a barrier between Edge Tier analysis, and integrating
and enterprise network, thus reducing the network attack with backend systems
surface by reducing the data hops. It also enforces security
policies and performs edge analytics with different levels of
processing capabilities.

The Edge Tier is complemented by a strong device

management component which helps in provisioning the
devices and remotely managing the software & applications
on the devices/field gateway. This component is
implemented in a hybrid approach with a server-side service
residing in the platform and a client-side agent residing in
the device/field gateway,

Tier 2: Platform
The Platform Tier consolidates, processes, and analyses data
flows from the Edge Tier and provides management
functions for devices and field gateways. This tier receives,
processes, and forwards control commands from the
Enterprise Tier to the Edge Tier. It also offers
non-domain-specific services, such as data operations and

Tier 3: Enterprise

Receives data flows from Edge & Platform tiers and issues
control commands to these tiers. The Enterprise Tier
implements enterprise domain-specific applications and
decision support systems and provides interfaces to end
users, including operations.

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Key design considerations

The IoT reference architecture provides guidance for Agility: With IoT becoming mainstream with new
building secure and scalable, device-centric solutions for requirements and opportunities arising over time,
connecting devices, conducting analysis, and integrating the architecture must aid in the quick launch of new
with backend systems. Here are the key considerations in data services and applications.
building a reference architecture that can be used to build
scalable IoT Solutions. Modular and loosely coupled: Each of the layers in
the IoT reference architecture must be designed in a
Security: IoT solutions often integrate with existing modular way and should be independent of each
technologies and processes that are vital to the core other. This will help to leverage best of the breed
operation of the business. As a result, the resilience of supplier technologies for each layer and also for
these systems is important and security is deeply linked each of the features supported by a layer.
with resilience. As mentioned in the previous diagram, the
reference architecture should take into account security Based on open standards: Communication between

and privacy measures across all areas, including device the layers of the reference architecture must be

and user identity, authentication and authorization, data based on open standards to ensure interoperability.

protection for data at rest and data in motion. In an

Living technical artifact: To be of real use, the
enterprise context, it is very important to apply
reference architecture must be continually updated
certificate-based authentication while onboarding IoT
and refined, not only with information in prior
devices in the corporate network. For extremely critical
project artifacts, but also with data gathered
environments (e.g., production areas), it is vital to ensure
from managing applications in a production
the data flows out (from production floor) only in one
direction. Bidirectional communication to these critical
infrastructures should be avoided as much as possible or
supported with stringent authorization to avoid any
potential security compromise.

Diversity: The IoT reference architecture must

accommodate for a vast variety of use cases, operating
environments, devices, data processing patterns, and
standards. It should be able to handle vast hardware and
software diversity.

Scalability: The reference architecture must be able to

support millions of devices and scale across geographies
without compromising on the performance. It should
enable the organization to start small in the form of
PoCs/Prototype and scale quickly to hyperscale
deployment. Many types of data need to be ingested and
stored from a wide array of assets spread across the
globe. The architecture needs to support large data
volumes, a high but intermittent data rate, different types
of communication protocols and non-linear data growth.

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Technology choices for implementing
IoT Reference Architecture
The choice of right technology and platform for the
development of IoT solutions is vital for any organization to
succeed in its IoT journey.

To begin with, our recommendation is to select a platform
management, data
which offers all three IoT capabilities outlined previously -
connectivity management, data aggregation and storage,
aggregation and storage,
and application enablement. Having these elements in place and application
and fully integrated is important for building end-to-end IoT enablement are
solutions. important for building
end-to-end IoT solutions
The other important criterion is to consider openness and
ease of integration. We recommend selecting an IoT
platform that meets the business needs and permits
deployment with minimal disruption to existing systems. An
open framework will be modular, with easy-to-use APIs, and
an easy-to-integrate framework will fit smoothly with
existing IT architecture.

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Pharma Transformation led by IoT

For pharmaceuticals companies, IoT extends visibility in

virtually every area of the business, from development to
manufacturing, transport, distribution, dispensing and
consumption. Real time information, when coupled with
advanced analytics engines, can become the basis for
making faster, more accurate decisions; heightening
efficiencies, verifying product quality, and assuring
regulatory compliance.
For a pharma company,
adopting a new
technology is akin to
administering a drug
As the IoT becomes mainstream, it presents an opportunity
for pharmaceutical companies to accelerate their
implementation and utilization of IoT platforms and
solutions, beginning with their first milestone of establishing
a target IoT reference architecture. For a pharma company,
adopting a new technology is akin to administering a drug.
It's important to monitor reactions closely and anticipate
side effects. Establishing a reference architecture which will
continually evolve and grow, is one way to ensure that the
side effects will be much more manageable.

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Merck & Co., d.b.a. Merck Sharp & Dohme outside the United
States and Canada, is a leading research-driven
pharmaceutical products and services company. Merck
discovers, develops, manufactures and markets a broad
range of innovative products to improve human and animal
health, directly and through its joint ventures. In the business

of preserving and improving human life ethically and with
integrity, Merck’s mission is to provide society with superior
products and services by developing innovations and
solutions that improve the quality of life and satisfy
customer needs, and to provide employees with meaningful
work and advancement opportunities, and investors with a
superior rate of return.

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IoT WoRKSTM, a dedicated IoT business unit of HCL
Technologies, enables organizations to create best-in-class
business solutions by maximizing effectiveness and returns
on their asset investments. Rated as a global leader in IoT
consulting & services by top analysts, our solutions enable
IoT-led business transformation through creation of more
efficient business processes, new revenue streams and
business models that deliver measurable business outcomes.
The transformative impact of IoT is realized by IoT-izing the
‘things’, connect the assets to a data platform and then use
the data to derive business insights and take business
decisions which ultimately lead to change in enterprise
processes and people practices.

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