There was a time when a gateway was exactly what the term implies – a simple passage linking two networks and allowing bits of data to flow from one to the other. But as the number of networks increased and the nature of traffic over them grew more complex, ubiquitous and vital, the role of gateways has also expanded.
Today, there are all sorts of gateways – or rather, there are gateways that integrate many functions into a single device or package. There are simple routers that connect local networks to the Internet, and firewalls that inspect and filter inbound and outbound traffic to secure against threats. XML and SOA gateways specialize in parsing and processing the packaged data in these schemes, while security gateways offer robust authentication services and content filtering. In short, these days, there is a gateway for every occasion.
Sometimes called edge devices (dependent on their use), gateways commonly sit at the edge of the network and provide a point of contact between the local network and adjacent networks or the Internet. And just as important, these devices are used to place intelligence at the edge, enabling administrators to inspect, filter, manage and control the flow of data as it leaves and enters the network.
The Gateway’s Role in the Internet of Things
The role of gateways is expanding with the continued growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). Over the past decade, billions of connected devices have been deployed in the field, from security cameras and factory monitoring equipment to vehicle telemetry and medical devices. These devices produce large amounts of data and place real demands on network communication infrastructure, especially in remote and mobile environments.
IoT gateways provide the glue that enable communication between IoT devices, their operators, and the cloud. They provide a way to gather, manage, process and access data before it goes to the cloud, giving administrators control over where and how data is stored and processed. In a fog computing model, for instance, streaming security video can be processed locally to avoid steep bandwidth costs. Later in the evening, when network demand is low, video clips flagged as significant – say, of people entering a secure facility – can be sent to the cloud for deep processing (such as facial recognition) and storage.
IoT, and the similarly expanding Industrial Internet of Things, has helped drive uptake of gateways in the industrial space. From factory floors to rail yards, the number and type of devices gathering and transacting data grows every day. Industrial gateways are hardened against the demands of remote and rugged environments, with fanless cooling and ventless chassis designs that resist temperature extremes, vibration and dust.
Industrial gateways are often deployed to add intelligence to legacy systems that were never designed to connect to the cloud. A rolling machine in a steel plant, for instance, can pass its raw material usage data to a gateway that passes it on to a local or remote control room, or processes the data to deliver run rates, production totals and diagnostic data to a remote endpoint.
As the demands for on-site and remote computing continue to grow, IoT gateway infrastructure will need to expand in kind. Ongoing conversations about standardizing IoT protocols will help ensure ongoing, efficient interoperability, but identifying and employing the right hardware solution for the job will help ensure the continued success of any gateway installation.