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New Spec Sparks IIoT Consistency

Feb. 20, 2020
The Eclipse Foundation launches the Sparkplug working group to bring device communications standardization to the IIoT

At the ARC Advisory Group’s 24th Annual Industry Forum, the Eclipse Foundation announced the launch of the Sparkplug Working Group, which is driving the evolution and broad adoption of the its specification developed to enable the creation of open, interoperable, Industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions utilizing MQTT. In particular, the working group will encourage the definition of technical specifications and associated implementations that rationalize access to industrial data, improve the interoperability and scalability of IIoT solutions, and provide an overall framework for supporting Industry 4.0 for oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, smart cities and other related industries. Founding members include global leaders Chevron, Canary Labs, Cirrus Link Solutions, HiveMQ, Inductive Automation, and ORing.

“With the rapid adoption of Sparkplug within multiple markets critical to the IIoT, we are in an excellent position to bring industry leaders together to drive standardization around this transformative technology,” said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation. “Sparkplug leverages ubiquitous specifications already in use throughout the industry to provide standardized communications between devices. With the new working group’s ‘code first’ approach and the Eclipse Foundation’s vendor-neutral governance, we’re anticipating a great deal of progress very quickly.”

The industry already relies on the open source specification known as MQTT, which is a proven, standard machine-to-machine data transfer protocol that has become the leading messaging protocol for the IIoT. MQTT was originally designed as a message transport for real-time SCADA systems, but does not define the data format or address issues around interoperability. Sparkplug solves these issues.

Within a given industry segment, it is essential that all devices and software services share a common representation of the data format and operate according to the same lifecycle stages of the device information. The intent and purpose of the Sparkplug specification is to define an MQTT topic namespace, payload, and session state management that can be applied generically. By meeting the operational requirements for these systems, Sparkplug will enable MQTT-based infrastructures to provide more valuable real-time information to business stakeholders as well. In other words, Sparkplug augments MQTT devices to provide standardization for most devices “out of the box,” enabling vendors, manufacturers and other industrial end-users to develop an ecosystem of solutions and devices that can easily interoperate.

“The demand for interoperability of industrial systems has never been stronger,” said Jeff Knepper, working group member and executive director for Canary Labs. “An open source protocol that provides operations with access to the data they need while balancing IT’s mandate for security will deliver the adoption of IIoT solutions. MQTT is the necessary protocol, Sparkplug is the needed specification, and the Eclipse Foundation is the perfect steward for the community of developers that will maintain the solution.” 

Frédéric Desbiens, Eclipse Foundation’s program manager, IoT and edge computing, tells IndustryWeek that the main objective of the working group will be to keep evolving the specification. “However, we will introduce a compatibility program with a free test compatibility kit that anybody in the market will be able to download to certify their implementations against the Sparkplug standard,” he says. “Those who pass will be able to use the Sparkplug brand on their products to promote the fact that the support the specification.”

According to Desbiens, the defining characteristic of Sparkplug is its simplicity. “Our focus is to leverage the de-facto standard in the market and bring something that could solve specific problems for developers and implementers,” he says. “This Is about giving those with industry know-how an avenue to shape the specification.”

By design, Sparkplug defines three things: a standard topic namespace; standard payloads where any device or backend system that supports sparkplug will be able to interoperate; and session management.

The Eclipse Foundation has a proven track record of enabling developer-focused open source software collaboration and innovation earned over 15 years. Overall, the Foundation’s more than 375 collaborative projects have resulted in over 195 million lines of code — a $10 billion shared investment. Eclipse IoT projects have been adopted by world-leading companies across verticals to deliver commercial IoT solutions and services.

“Sparkplug is the ideal means to promote the successful use of MQTT in IIoT applications,” said Dominik Obermaier, working group member and HiveMQ’s CTO and co-Founder. “A big part of what we do is making it possible to build connected products for applications where safety is critical. As a result, we are excited to provide a highly reliable and highly scalable MQTT broker for customers who are deploying Sparkplug.” 

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