A Beginner’s Guide to Unified Namespace for IIoT

A Beginners Guide to Unified Namespace for IIoT

Industrial IoT allows manufacturers to track data points that simply weren’t available in the past. This unprecedented visibility creates huge opportunities for data-driven operations. Unfortunately, it also introduces new challenges for old IT infrastructures.

Traditional industrial computing architecture—such as the ISA 95 functional model, which dates back to the 1990s—relies on point-to-point, hierarchical data connections. Each layer of the stack only communicates with the next. 

This design makes it hard to introduce new components, limiting scalability. Even worse, traditional architectures rely on custom-engineered integrations, which are slow and expensive. Today’s IIoT systems must be flexible and scalable—which means they can’t depend on custom engineering to grow. 

A flexible, scalable, and effective IIoT architecture must be interoperable above all. Each component within the system must handle data the same way, through unified messaging protocols and naming conventions.

Unified Namespace (UNS) provides a framework for data interoperability that solves for the challenges of traditional IT infrastructures. That makes UNS the key that unlocks the promises of Industry 4.0.

An Introduction to Unified Namespace for IIoT 

It may be easiest to approach UNS by describing what it isn’t

It’s not a layer of the IIoT tech stack. It’s not a platform or a data lake or an M2M protocol, although it may incorporate all these things. Really, UNS is more of an idea than a technology. That leaves us with this definition: 

Unified Namespace (UNS) is an approach to IIoT architecture that standardizes protocols and naming conventions for data, allowing it to flow between nodes and across layers freely. 

“The idea is that all components can communicate using IIoT protocols such as MQTT, point to a central repository of information that holds your hierarchical enterprise structure, and publish their events under a category in which it makes sense for that data to live,” writes Kudzai Manditereza, Developer Advocate at HiveMQ. 

Unified Namespace eliminates data silos, so all your enterprise systems can operate more efficiently. It does this through two forms of standardization: 

First, UNS relies on a common communications protocol. We recommend MQTT Sparkplug, which is designed for IIoT interoperability. 

Secondly, UNS requires standardized naming conventions for all data. This naming convention is based on your business structure—starting with business units at the “top” and descending to individual control devices on the floor. Additionally, UNS architecture structures names such that they include registered system events. 

“This naming arrangement provides a ‘single source of truth’ containing all the data about the structure and current state of the entire enterprise,” writes Manditereza. 

With these two system elements standardized, the system offers free data exchange in a distributed manner—without the need for a single data lake. Put another way, the technologies system elements use to exchange data are standardized, so it doesn’t matter where data actually lives.  

Example IIoT Use Cases That Can Benefit From UNS  

Unified Namespace makes it a lot easier to connect nodes—new equipment, software, cloud services, and more—to an IIoT network infrastructure. It’s considerably less expensive than traditional architectures, because manufacturers don’t have to pay for custom-engineered integrations. And it offers real-time access to current states all across the tech stack, for a stronger information-to-insight pipeline. 

Unified Namespace is a good choice for any business that could use any of those benefits. 

More specifically, UNS provides a strong avenue toward digital transformation for the following industries: 

  • Manufacturing
  • Energy and Utilities
  • Healthcare
  • Smart Cities
  • Wastewater Management

As an example of that last industry, the UK’s largest water and water recycling company is using UNS—via an MQTT broker—to improve service delivery, data integration, and goal completion intervals. 

“The functionality offered has enabled us to make good and fast progress,” said the lead platform architect on the project

As this use case suggests, the UNS architecture is particularly helpful for businesses working toward more data-driven operations. And, like this water company, any industrial operation can implement UNS simply by finding the right MQTT broker.

How to Implement a Unified Namespace 

The simplest way to implement UNS is to use an MQTT broker, middleware that manages message traffic between all the nodes in your IIoT system. 

As we mentioned, MQTT Sparkplug is the ideal UNS protocol. Plain MQTT is the most commonly used IIoT protocol, and it’s open source, so most vendors use it for their IIoT components.

It’s also a lightweight, efficient technology, so it won’t overtax your network and processing systems. It handles bidirectional communication, essential for UNS. And it’s secured with transport layer security (TLS) encryption.

Sparkplug adds the benefits of auto-discovery and data-type definitions, making MQTT Sparkplug the best protocol for UNS. 

All you need to implement the MQTT Sparkplug protocol is the right MQTT broker—ideally one that reduces failure risk through advanced event-driven processing, standard monitoring providers, and an open extension system.

With the right MQTT broker, you can build a UNS-based IIoT system that reduces integration costs and provides unlimited scalability. In short, you can uproot your old data models to achieve true digital transformation.

Transform your business with the most trusted MQTT Platform.
Transform your business with the most trusted MQTT Platform.