What is the Unified Namespace (UNS)? Explained in simple words.

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The Unified Namespace (UNS) is a central concept of growing importance in the field of industrial communication and data processing. But what exactly is the Unified Namespace (UNS) and what advantages and disadvantages does it offer? The following article looks at the key features of the architecture concept.

 

What problems does the Unified Namespace (UNS) solve?

The Unified Namespace (UNS) solves several key problems in industrial communication between operational systems (OT) and information systems (IT). In addition to the diversity of systems and applications, proprietary interfaces lead to the following challenges in practice:

  1. Data silos: In many industrial environments, data exists in isolated silos that have difficulty communicating with each other. The UNS connects these silos and enables seamless data exchange.
  2. Interoperability: Different devices and systems from different manufacturers are often unable to communicate directly with each other. The UNS promotes interoperability by providing a common data interface for all devices and systems.
  3. Scalability: In traditional systems, scaling can be challenging due to the large number of individual integrations and connections. The UNS enables easier and more efficient scaling through a standardized structure.

 

What is the Unified Namespace (UNS)?

The UNS is an architectural concept that aims to make all of a company’s data centrally accessible in real time. The concept was largely coined by Walker Reynolds (LinkedIn), a system integrator and Industry 4.0 influencer. At its core, it is a standardized interface that makes it possible to integrate and distribute information from different sources. The UNS is therefore often compared to a digital nervous system that coordinates all of a company’s data streams. The UNS thus provides the architectural basis for the digital transformation of a company.

Concept Industrial Unified Namespace (UNS)

In summary, the UNS is:

  1. Single Source of Truth: The UNS is the central data source for the entire company. All departments and systems access the same data, avoiding inconsistencies and redundancies.
  2. Central data interface: The UNS is a central interface for distributing and coordinating all OT and IT data. This makes it much easier to manage and access data by providing a standardized data interface for all systems.
  3. Open Architecture: The UNS is based on an open architecture. This means that devices and systems from different manufacturers can be seamlessly integrated. This ensures expandability and flexibility when introducing new technologies.

 

How does the Unified Namespace (UNS) work?

The Unified Namespace (UNS) makes data from various sources available in a central message broker (e.g. MQTT). This data must first be brought into a uniform structure (data harmonization), which enables consuming systems to interpret and use this data without additional effort. Only then will there be added value for scaling. Different technologies and protocols are typically used to ensure interoperability between the systems.

  1. Data integration: The connection of different systems and devices in the network takes place either via a gateway (software or hardware) or – if the system to be connected supports MQTT natively – directly via MQTT Pub/Sub.
  2. Data harmonization: The connected data follows a uniform data structure and format to ensure compatibility with other systems and usability.
  3. Data distribution: The harmonized data is available in a central message broker. From there, the data can be subscribed to by any number of applications and systems.

MQTT Native Integration vs. Gateway

Data distribution in the message broker is controlled via publish/subscribe (pub/sub) mechanisms. Data producers (publishers) send data to the broker, which forwards it to all interested recipients (subscribers). This is also referred to as asynchronous communication. Senders and receivers can exchange data independently of each other without having to be online (or synchronous) at the same time. This enables flexible and decoupled interaction between systems.

 

Benefits at a glance

The benefits of the UNS are manifold. Essentially, the implementation of the architecture concept accelerates the digital transformation of companies and minimizes the effort required for basic work (such as sufficient data availability and quality). Further advantages are:

  1. Reduced costs: By reducing the need for individual interfaces and integration solutions, companies can significantly reduce the implementation and maintenance costs of their digital infrastructure.
  2. Independence from OT/IT system providers: By using open source technologies at the core of the architecture (e.g. MQTT), companies are no longer tied to specific providers or proprietary solutions. As a result, the data remains in the possession of the company and is no longer locked up in isolated silo applications. This minimizes the risks of vendor dependencies.
  3. Real-time data processing: By integrating all data sources in real time via publish/subscribe mechanisms, systems and companies can react more quickly to changes and make decisions.

 

Challenges and solutions during implementation

The UNS is a concept for the architectural design of a scalable data infrastructure. It is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution that is simply installed and ready for immediate use. Rather, it requires the right tools, organization, processes and approach to successfully implement a UNS. Two key challenges are:

  • Setup and operating costs: The costs of setting up and operating a UNS architecture, including integration costs, updates and adjustments, are often underestimated. As a general rule, the more systems and data there are in the company, the greater the benefits of the UNS. For a sustainably successful implementation, these benefits should significantly outweigh the costs. Tools such as i-flow can help to minimize the effort required for setup and operation and increase efficiency.
  • Integration of heterogeneous data sources: Traditionally, the integration of different systems and protocols requires a lot of manual work and individual adjustments. Although the UNS greatly simplifies data distribution through a standardized data interface, the initial integration into the UNS must still be carried out. The complexity of this integration is particularly challenging in the OT area. Here too, tools such as i-flow can help to minimize the effort and make integration more efficient.
  • Single point of failure: A UNS can be a single point of failure. If the UNS fails, this can have serious consequences for all connected systems. To avoid this, robust redundancy strategies are implemented in practice. These include, for example, distributed architectures and automatic failovers. Tools such as i-flow support the implementation of redundancies.

 

Conclusion

The Unified Namespace (UNS) is a central concept for solving data silos and interoperability problems in industrial communication. The concept provides a standardized, central data interface that enables real-time data processing and seamless integration of different systems. This promotes digital transformation and reduces costs in the long term. However, due to its complexity in practice, it can be challenging to implement the concept sustainably in the company organization. This requires the right tools, organization, processes and approach. You can find a step-by-step guide to successful implementation here.

About i-flow: At i-flow, we are dedicated to empowering manufacturers with the world’s most intuitive software to seamlessly connect factories at scale. Over 400 million data operations daily in production-critical environments not only demonstrate the scalability of the software, but also the deep trust our customers place in i-flow. Close cooperation with our customers and partners worldwide, including renowned Fortune 500 companies and industry leaders such as Bosch, Sto and Lenze, is at the heart of our business.

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