Enable IT/OT Convergence with Intel® Real-Time Technologies

Discover how Intel® technologies help converged IT/OT environments deliver on real-time system and application demands.

Key Takeaways

  • Intel® technologies help manufacturers converge IT and OT while meeting hard real-time requirements.

  • Intel® TCC Tools, support for Time-Sensitive Networking solutions, and real-time optimized processors combine to support real-time computing across the network and between multiple devices and systems.

  • Organizations can save operating costs by running time-sensitive workloads over a single network converging IT and real-time traffic.



IT/OT Convergence Demands Real-Time Performance

As part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—also known as Industry 4.0—organizations want to enhance existing computing and automation in operational technology (OT) with smart and autonomous systems that leverage modern IT approaches, including data-driven machine learning. There is also a continual trend to integrate manufacturing functions with IT infrastructure for a connected factory. To achieve this goal, they’re pursuing IT/OT convergence, where OT systems and applications run on IT hardware, often with multiple OT devices consolidated onto a single node. Doing so, organizations can realize new efficiencies on the plant floor while tearing down the traditional proprietary data silos that hold back connected operations.

Since industrial automation and OT have evolved separately from traditional IT, it is important when consolidating OT and IT onto a single hardware platform to have temporal isolation between IT and OT activities to ensure that all timing and performance requirements are met in a system that is running both OT and IT processes.

Traditionally, OT systems have employed different hardware and software platforms with OT relying more on a variety of controllers and sensors feeding real-time data across proprietary networks and into vendor-specific systems. As a result, silos of information have arisen, making it difficult for divergent systems to interoperate and often preventing the move to more-flexible manufacturing environments required to achieve new automation and production goals.

Disparate systems make it more difficult to incorporate IT administration and analysis into OT tasks. Additionally, single-function OT systems, by definition, lack flexible, software-defined infrastructure that could enable changing applications easily to meet multiple needs.

By converging IT and OT, you can manage OT resources like IT systems—eliminating the OT information siloes that impede management, upgrades, and monitoring. Bringing IT and OT together makes it simple for equipment data to be collected, stored in the cloud, and accessed from any network device for predictive maintenance, quality inspections, and resource utilization monitoring.

However, the extremely stringent time demands of OT systems and equipment mean that IT hardware and applications must be able to support real-time computing and use cases that require hard real-time performance in converged IT/OT systems.

Intel® TCC Tools: Real-Time Optimizer

IT/OT convergence puts new strains on development teams who often struggle to ensure that both OT and IT tasks perform well without negatively impacting each other’s performance. Finding hotspots throughout the hardware, firmware, and software layers can present difficult challenges. 

Intel® Time Coordinated Computing Tools (Intel® TCC Tools) is designed to simplify creation and debugging of real-time systems and applications by providing multiple optimization points, from out-of-the-box optimizations to BIOS options and progressively sophisticated fine-tuning tools. 

Intel® TCC Tools aids in IT/OT convergence by providing an easy interface to optimize the timing of task processing between components within a system. This tuning helps minimize the latency in each OT node to ensure applications fulfill the real-time performance demanded by IT administrations. 

Intel® TCC Tools provides value for developers by helping to determine where performance leaks may be in the stack. By optimizing hardware, firmware, middleware, and up to the application layer, Intel® TCC Tools can save effort that would have been expended to hand-tune every level of the stack.

Intel® TCC Tools provides a set of real-time tuning features that ensure the system meets real-time requirements. These features include:

  • Power management tuning that allows processors and I/O components to perform at the highest possible speed for high-priority tasks. Power management tuning can be further refined with Intel® TCC Tools to strike the desired balance between performance and power.
  • Intel® TCC mode, a set of BIOS options that disables those features that negatively impact latency and jitter and enables features that increase temporal isolation.
  • Cache Allocation Technology (CAT), a feature that optimizes partitioning of shared cache resources.
Figure 1. Intel® TCC Software Stack
Figure 1. Intel® TCC Software Stack 


For every supported device, the Intel® platform board support packages (BSPs) on real-time-enabled platforms boost real-time performance with the inclusion of a Linux preempt real-time kernel and optimized drivers, allowing developers to optimize systems from the hardware level up. If the out-of-the-box functionality is enough to meet the timing deadlines for an application, no further adjustments of firmware, middleware, application, or data streams is needed. For many applications, the out-of-the box defaults and presets for the Intel® TCC mode of the hardware can achieve real-time goals without the need for highly specialized expertise or trial-and-error debugging.

Figure 2. Illustration of BSP, Intel TCC Mode in the BIOS, and Intel TCC Tools tuning process.

Further tuning could include:

  • Enabling Intel® TCC BIOS mode
  • Using Intel® TCC Tools data streams optimizer to customize real-time tuning for specific workloads
  • Optimizing cache management using software SRAM and cache configuration capability of Intel® TCC Tools
  • Custom tuning using the Real-Time Tuning Guide

Time-Sensitive Networking with Intel: Networks Matter

Intel® IoT networking solutions support many key specifications adhering to the Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) standard that enables the real-time communications required by IT/OT convergence. TSN is a set of new capabilities added to the established, standard networking ecosystems (Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and 5G) that enable communication of time-sensitive data (e.g., audio/video, control, etc.) for distributed time-sensitive (real-time) applications. Intel® products support several key TSN specifications, enabling open, interoperable, and real-time communication for industrial automation functions. TSN is applicable to many markets, including the industrial sector. Different sectors have different requirements for TSN specifications. Currently, the industrial sector’s IEEE 60802 profile is leading in several areas, but it is expected that other markets will eventually follow.

Real-time protocols supported include:

  • IEEE 802.1AS Generalized Precision Time Protocol
  • IEEE 802.1Qbv Time-Aware Shaper
  • IEEE 802.1Qav Credit-Based Shaper
  • IEEE 802.1Qbu Frame Preemption
  • IEEE 802.3br Interspersed Express Traffic (IET)
  • IEEE 802.1Qat Stream Reservation Protocol
  • IEEE 802.1Qcc Stream Reservation Protocol

TSN provides the foundation for interoperability between industrial vendors in the same way that Ethernet does in enterprise IT infrastructure. By using standard Ethernet components, TSN can also integrate with existing brownfield applications. Intel® IoT endpoint solutions support all the relevant TSN specifications. While some of the specifications require actual support in the hardware and drivers, others are part of the application level. Intel’s TSN technologies provide a real-time network foundation for the evolution of smart, connected, and ultimately autonomous factories. Since TSN is based on standard Ethernet, it also provides the platform for a single communication fabric to enable IT and OT convergence.

Learn more about Intel’s TSN solutions

Intel® Architecture: Performance Advantages

Intel supports new solutions that deliver both high compute and real-time performance, allowing for the consolidation of real-time and non-real-time workloads on a single chip. As new workloads are added or the volume of OT data increases, more-powerful compute elements can be used without the need to rearchitect each application. When different applications and locations require different systems, the IT and OT environment can remain the same.

Intel investments in software allow temporal portability, providing an easy migration from Intel Atom® to Intel® Core™ to Intel® Xeon® processors and enabling the use of the same software and tools across different systems. Converging IT and OT also lets organizations do more with less by migrating workloads that previously ran on multiple discrete devices onto a single, industry-standard system. Multiple real-time workloads in temporal isolation from each other and from other non-real-time workloads on a single Intel-powered system can meet stringent real-time performance demands, even when multiple real-time applications are running concurrently on the same system. Integration of multiple capabilities onto a single platform drives down costs and increases design efficiency. 

IT/OT convergence allows developers to break out of data siloes and proprietary ecosystems that are challenged by emerging standards. The Intel® architecture stack is open platform ready, with support for Industry 4.0 standards including OPC UA.

Moving OT workloads to Intel® architecture delivers savings in several ways:

  • Temporal portability: TCC and TSN are platform-agnostic real-time capabilities that scale between different platforms so systems can grow with minimal impact to code, helping to future-proof designs.
  • More flexibility: Development teams can design, deploy, and upgrade via field updating to eliminate forklift upgrades and reduce the need for on-site visits.
  • Application agility: Switching between applications becomes much easier with a software-defined infrastructure. A robot that moves goods from a warehouse to the shipping department during the day can take inventory during the evening. See how this works in the real world.

Managing OT using IT methodologies and platforms offers several quantifiable benefits to developers and to the manufacturer, including:

  • Lower operational costs: By optimizing their use of resources, factories may reduce installation, energy, cooling, and management costs for a range of functions.
  • Lower capital costs: Reduced infrastructure means fewer systems to procure and maintain. Factories that bring OT and IT together may be able to lower their capital expenses and avoid future purchases when new capabilities are added.
  • Space savings: Consolidating many single-function devices into an integrated system can free up valuable floor space and optimize real estate.
  • Increased efficiency: Multiple functions can be consolidated into one console for a faster, improved user experience, and remote management capabilities can streamline maintenance tasks by enabling anytime, anywhere access to operational information.
  • Reduced downtime: By collecting real-time data from equipment, factory operators can predict maintenance issues and reduce unplanned downtime.
  • Increased scalability: Compute, memory, and storage resources can be scaled quickly and with little downtime.
  • Improved security profile: Converged IT/OT networks can be secured and monitored, with data collected across systems used to identify and mitigate potential threats.

Organization can use the workload convergence estimator to gauge the business value of IT/OT convergence.

IT and OT Together, Today

The promise of Industry 4.0 becomes a reality sooner when IT and OT are operating in tandem. Read the rest of the article series to learn more about Intel support for real time: ​