Digital twinning represents the ultimate convergence of the physical and digital worlds, making it the perfect technology for network design and management.
From 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence and quantum computing, the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to narrow the gap between the physical and digital worlds. That said, the ultimate objective of so many of these technologies is not so much to replace our lived reality (VR video gaming being the obvious exception), but to add depth and sophistication to our relationships with physical objects.
Until recently, the domains of physical, operational technology (OT) and virtual, information technology (IT) have remained clearly separated, even within complex business environments. The IoT has enabled businesses in fields as diverse as healthcare and petrochemical production to virtually monitor physical assets, but the bulk of these monitoring activities don’t yet feature cutting-edge IT like cloud-based processing or big data analytics.
Now, the emergence of digital twinning technology is changing all that. According to President of the Institution of Civil Engineers Tim Broyd, “By [allowing] many more design, manufacturing, and asset management parties to collaborate at a much earlier stage than usual, the use of digital twins has cut the cost of delivering capital built assets by around 20% over the last five years.” Research from Orbis indicates that up to 85% of IoT platforms will feature some sort of digital twinning capabilities by 2022, and Gartner predicts that “by 2021, half of large industrial companies will [be using] digital twins.”
The principle underlying digital twinning has actually been around for decades. In the early days of space exploration, NASA used highly-precise digital versions of their spacecraft to simulate various scenarios that might arise in space. This enabled them to test the integrity of their designs in a risk-free environment, and was only possible because of their painstaking efforts to create exact digital replicas of their spacecraft.
Decades later, many companies have fused NASA’s approach with modern IT to create digital twins of their physical assets. In short, a digital twin is a complex software model that mirrors — and is usually tethered to in some way, shape, or form — a physical object or system.
By providing it with an exact replica of its physical asset, a digital twin enables a company to understand, refine, and experiment with the asset in a more intelligent, data-informed way. For assets featuring IoT sensors, companies can integrate real-time performance data into their digital replicas, transforming them from static “snapshots” of an asset to dynamic, true-to-life “twins.”
Dynamic digital twins offer companies a host of benefits, from improved product quality to accelerated product development cycles. “Historically, designers had little opportunity to test and amend their prototypes,” explains EU Automation Marketing Director Jonathan Wilkins. “Digital twinning allows manufacturers to edit a virtual prototype throughout the production process. This model reduces development time and costs, as the final construction improves efficiency after analyzing simulations.”
Though it has yet to be realized at scale, digital twinning has tremendous potential beyond manufacturing and product development, where it’s primarily deployed today. According to Gartner Fellow David Clearley, “Over time, digital representations of virtually every aspect of our world will be connected dynamically with their real-world counterparts…City planners, digital marketers, healthcare professionals, and industrial planners will all benefit from this long-term shift to the integrated digital twin world.”
In my view, there’s at least one more group that could easily be added to the list of people likely to benefit from digital twinning: networking professionals. In today’s day and age, effective network configuration is defined first and foremost by flexibility — that is, by the ability to adapt to fluctuations in network traffic, resource demands, and security protocols.
Building, to say nothing of monitoring, a large network with this degree of flexibility is incredibly challenging, but digital twinning provides corporate IT teams with a low-risk, high-reward environment where they can experiment with novel solutions. In addition to facilitating better network design, a digital twin of a network gives an IT team the ability to run simulations for any event imaginable — a rapid influx of network connections, a specific kind of cybersecurity breach, etc. — and adjust its actual network configuration as needed.
Insofar as it brings together the digital and physical, digital twinning could very well represent a paradigm-shifting development in the networking world. That said, not only is mature digital twinning technology still several years away, but once it becomes commonplace, it will still take a fair share of networking expertise to deploy it effectively.
At Turn-key Technologies, we have over two decades of experience helping companies of all shapes and sizes build, monitor, and troubleshoot their networks. Our extensive knowledge base and myriad industry certifications make us the perfect partner for any company looking to either optimize its networks right now or prepare for the duplicative networking landscape of tomorrow.
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