Putting the IoT to Work Via Device Twins

    The Internet of Things (IoT) and virtualization are combining in a very interesting way. The idea, which Forbes explains well, is called device twins. The basic concept is to create a virtual replica of a device. This replicate holds the static data about the device, such as serial number and make, and links to sensors on the real device for constant updates in terms of performance and health.

    The key is that the main interface for device management is the virtual twin, not the actual machine:

    Repeatedly querying the current state of devices can prove to be expensive. In some occasions, the device may not be online to respond to the query. Similarly, when an application sends a command, the device may not be able to change the state immediately.

    In September, Gartner posted a blog that said by 2021, half of large industrial companies will use device twins. The firm said that the economic value of the device twin approach will vary widely. The difference in value isn’t tied directly to the efficacy of the device twin approach, but to the overall value of the use case. In other words, the device is merely a tool in deployment of the IoT if the decision is made to do so.

    Tanja Rueckert, the president of IoT and Device Supply Chain at SAP, wrote at Manufacturing Business Technology that the device twin concept was pioneered 15 years ago by NASA. It has taken on an entirely new life in the age of the IoT. The key change between the early days of device twin technology and now is, quite simply, that it is moving from design to being “brought to life in an operational context.” She refers to an IDC study that predicts a 30 percent improvement in critical process cycle times by 2018.

    Rueckert illustrates the potential value of device twins:

    For example, Artic Wind, Norway’s most northern wind farm, is leveraging device twin technology to monitor the health of their wind turbines. These turbines require constant monitoring, but maintenance is extremely challenging because of low temperatures and extended periods of darkness. To combat the elements, they’ve installed sensors on their wind turbines. The sensor data is then transported over 1,000 miles away, where it can be analyzed in a more comfortable and accessible environment. That data feeds a device twin in real-time, enabling employees to visualize any structural stresses as they happen. It also provides the company with future prognoses, which enables employees to run simulations of how the turbines will perform in an upcoming storm, for example, so they know whether to shut down operations or not.

    Device twins are a natural outgrowth of the explosion in IoT technology. The promise that they enable physical devices to be monitored and controlled more cheaply and efficiently than direct control of the device is clever and likely will be a key element of the IT and telecom operations going forward.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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