A decade ago, adding Ethernet to an embedded product was an expensive investment. Now, it can be done for $7.00 or less in hardware combined with embedded custom software development. What happened?
The number of transistors on integrated circuits has been doubling approximately every two years, as predicted by Moore’s Law. This has made it possible for IC manufacturers to embed Ethernet media access controllers into low-cost microcontrollers. Which, in turn, has made it possible to add Ethernet to an embedded product at a low hardware cost.
Now that the technology is within reach, manufacturers and product designers need to at least consider incorporating a cloud connection into every manufacture. Why?
1. Because it adds valuable functionality to your product.
With Ethernet installed you can connect your product to the cloud, allowing your product to:
· report data
· report status
· send alarms
· send configuration information
· receive commands
· receive new configurations
· update firmware remotely!
2. Because it makes your product more profitable.
Adding Internet connectivity to your product can expand its utility significantly at very little expense. Products can be monitored for indications of pending failure, and replaced before a failure occurs, avoiding costly downtime. As new firmware becomes available, firmware updates can be pushed to the field at a very low cost.
3. Because it is easier than ever.
Ethernet is a communication technology standardized in the 1980’s. Ethernet was expensive until about seven years ago, when semiconductor manufactures starting adding Media Access Controllers (MAC) to their microcontrollers. Currently, every major microcontroller manufacture includes a family of parts with built-in Ethernet MAC.
TCP/IP (h) is the communications protocol most commonly used over Ethernet. The TCP/IP software library, known as a “communication stack” was also very expensive until the recent past. Now, however, most semiconductor vendors provide free TCP/IP stacks for their products. Using TCP/IP and Ethernet, your product can communicate with any server in the world.
In TCP/IP terminology, client and server are two sides of a conversation. A client always starts the conversation with the server. A server is always listening for a client. After the client starts the conversation, communication between the client and server is bidirectional, with information traveling in both directions, almost simultaneously. The client knows which server to connect to because in TCP/IP every client and server has a unique IP address. The Internet backbone makes sure the client can find the server wherever it is in the world.
Thanks to Moore’s law, advanced circuit board design, embedded Media Access Controllers, and silicon vendor provided TCP/IP communication stacks, it is now easier and cheaper than ever to connect your embedded system product to the cloud. Once connected, the possibilities are as wide open as the clear blue skies.