K.I.S.S. for Better Network Planning and Increased Collaboration

Collaboration between Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) is becoming a necessity to design and deploy an industrial network architecture that follows IT best practices for security, high availability, and quality of service.

However, skills gaps still exist between IT and OT that can jeopardize effective planning and configuration of the physical and logical network fabric, especially at the switch level.  In the words of Panduit Solutions Manager Dan McGrath, “My contention is that two kinds of switches are found in many plants today: (1) unmanaged and (2) poorly managed!”

Dan makes a point worth considering, as unmanaged switches are often deployed to enable quick initial startup of the machine or process.  However, this short-term gain can turn into a long-term loss when the time comes to scale more nodes or integrate single machines into the wider factory network, in the form of increased time and materials costs.

Deploying managed switches is a definite step up, but can give plant teams a false sense of manageability and security. If managed switches are deployed as plug-and-play devices without attention to configuration and setup, IT/OT directors may be left with a network that works on Day 1 but is teetering on the edge of functionality or with major security flaws.

To update a famous acronym, I think there is a better approach that IT and OT teams can follow that will drive better network planning and increased team collaboration:  Know, Integrate, Simplify, and Standardize, or K.I.S.S.

Know – Do you have an up-to-date architecture plan and specifications when you plan network projects? Consulting services can provide training and implementation help to bridge any knowledge gaps, and white papers, case studies, and application/design reference architectures can provide guidance, examples and ROI information for IT and OT alike.

Integrate – Choose switches that integrate easily, simplifying management and deployment while being future ready.  Choose a configuration that can be understood by both IT staff and automation staff.  Use smart ports that have selectable configurations for the type of node you are connecting (i.e., HMI, automation device, wireless, etc.).  Consider small form factor pluggable (SFP) slots for fiber, a media which has proven benefits for resiliency and uptime when connecting switches.

Simplify – build your network on standard unmodified Internet Protocol and EtherNet/IP, which will simplify your network design in several ways:

a)     The selection of managed switches and designing a secure infrastructure becomes much easier without the worry of proprietary Ethernet variants and their complexities.

b)    Internet Protocol has the broadest footprint of tools and expertise for a secure, robust network from enterprise to plant.

c)     ODVA’s advancements of standard Internet Protocol extends EtherNet/IP architectures – motion, safety, process, and energy management.

Standardize – don’t reinvent the wheel! “System” solutions have seen real progress so IT/OT teams do not need to struggle as much with “component” design details.  Use reference designs, popular configuration drawings and design/configuration tools that have configuration rule checking to build your architecture.  Look for “building block” integrated solutions that have managed switches, UPS power, and structured cabling in a ready to deploy, fully wired enclosure optimized for industrial installation.

Although infrastructure, security and safety challenges can hinder successful industrial network deployment, a smarter, secure, managed network can be easier to deploy than you may think.  Click here to learn how Panduit and our partners together provide integrated solutions that reduce network-wide security risks, including unauthorized access and accidental breaches, so mission-critical operations are protected.

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