Perhaps a Case for IT and OT Convergence

Perhaps a Case for IT and OT Convergence

Ever wonder about the need for the elusive IT/OT convergence? Rockwell Automation announces Factory Talk Network Manager software for its Stratix line of managed (Ethernet) switches. Rockwell OEMs switches from Cisco built to its specifications. Cisco builds good equipment, but it is famous in the networking world for somewhat, shall we say, complex management software.

Control engineers and plant-floor technicians who have growing Ethernet networks to connect all this Internet of Things stuff need something that is closer to their language.

By the way, I still have plenty of catching up to do with things I learned both at Hannover (where I spent many hours with Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and the following week at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas. I’m finally home and getting organized.

This new management software enables engineers and technicians to monitor the health of their Allen-Bradley Stratix managed switches, troubleshoot switch issues, and quickly configure new managed switches all from one easy-to-use software interface.

“Many plant-floor personnel struggle to piece together information about managed switches and devices from different sources,” said Lorenzo Majewski, product manager, Rockwell Automation. “With the FactoryTalk Network Manager software, they can access this information in one collective spot. In addition, real-time alarms and events from network switches can help them conduct faster, more precise troubleshooting.”

FactoryTalk Network Manager software automatically discovers assets, their associated IP addresses, and creates a topology of these connected devices. The software’s intuitive interface offers grouping of equipment along with dashboard information, so users can organize devices into specific areas or analyze them individually.

The software also uses user-created configuration templates to get new switches up and running faster and more efficiently. These templates can be shared across an organization, or with OEMs and system integrators to further ease network deployments, commissions and maintenance efforts.

The FactoryTalk Network Manager software provides role-based access control with auditing capabilities to help track user-specific activities and changes. The software supports multiple protocols, including Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), Modbus, BACnet and PROFINET. Access to the web-based platform is available via a personal computer in a control room or a mobile device on the plant floor.

Networking and Industrial Software Partnerships

Networking and Industrial Software Partnerships

Partnerships are huge. Especially with industrial automation and software suppliers extending their reach into the enterprise. Here, press releases from rivals Rockwell Automation and Siemens exemplify the pattern. Additionally, this week, I’ve also interviewed Cisco and Intel. Things are getting interesting this spring. We’ll see what I can report back from next week’s Hannover Messe.

Rockwell Automation and Cisco have released new network design guides and white papers to help companies connect mobile devices and deploy end-to-end cloud connectivity while maintaining security best practices. The guides give companies best practices for wired and wireless network architectures when deploying cloud and mobile industrial IoT solutions. The free resources are the latest addition to the Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) program.

Secure Mobile Connections

The new Identity and Mobility Services guide will help companies connect mobile devices in a way that manages security risks. The guide, based on the Cisco Identity Services Engine platform, supports industrial security by identifying, authorizing and posturing mobile connections at three levels: device, application and user. The guide also helps users establish unified and autonomous WLAN architectures and manage self-service wireless access.

“Mobile devices are changing how we see and manage production,” said Gregory Wilcox, global technology and business development manager, Rockwell Automation. “Workers are accessing analytics on tablets to make better production decisions, even when they’re away from equipment. And they’re using innovations like the FactoryTalk TeamONE app from Rockwell Automation to collaborate through their smartphones. The Identity and Mobility Services guide will help bring these capabilities to life in their facilities while maintaining a strong security stance.”

Connect to the Cloud

The new Cloud Connectivity guide provides guidance for using the FactoryTalk Cloud gateway to establish a more secure connection from the plant floor to cloud-based applications, like FactoryTalk Analytics for Machines. This end-to-end connectivity is essential to deploying capabilities like remote monitoring and support. The design guide addresses the varying levels of security measures that should be considered for small to large companies.

“Industrial companies sometimes focus a lot of their attention on creating an information pathway to the cloud but overlook critical security needs,” said Todd Gurela, senior director, Industry Solutions Group, Cisco. “The Cloud Connectivity design guide will help companies establish end-to-end cloud connectivity while protecting both data paths and the plant network against cyber threats.”

Meanwhile Orange and Siemens

Orange Business Services and Siemens have joined forces to drive the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the industrial sector by simplifying integration and promoting IoT innovation. The initial focus will be to develop solutions around asset tracking and asset monitoring to optimize the supply chain and improve efficiencies, as well as to develop digitally enhanced products to increase customer satisfaction and create new business models.

The partnership will help businesses connect their machines and physical infrastructure to the digital world, allowing them to translate the wealth of data they produce into business results. Advanced analytics and digital services will help them increase productivity and efficiency across their business.

Orange Business Services brings its global cellular connectivity, consulting, system integration and application development skills to the partnership. The alliance is built around Siemens’ MindSphere, the cloud-based open IoT operating system, and Datavenue, the Orange IoT and data analytics modular offering.

Customers have the option of pre-packaged offerings such as asset tracking, or customized solutions and applications. Orange Business Services will initially provide connectivity components from Datavenue, including cellular and Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks. Other Datavenue components will follow.

The partnership will initially focus on Europe, starting with solutions to be rolled out in Germany and Austria.

Supplementing EtherCAT with TSN for Use in Heterogeneous Networks

Supplementing EtherCAT with TSN for Use in Heterogeneous Networks

Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) defines the future of networking. Most of the specifications have been agreed upon by the IEEE 802 committee, only a few remain to be completed. I have written a White Paper describing OPC UA over TSN for information communication. This corroborates the idea that information is where the new momentum lies within manufacturing and production technologies.

One topic of concern to many regards whether or not TSN will supplant current fieldbus technologies. Indeed, on the surface it appears that TSN can perform most, if not all, of those functions.

Therefore, it behooves the fieldbus groups to figure out how to work with this new technology in order to add value for users.

The EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) has taken the initiative and supplemented EtherCAT with Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) technologies, expanding the field of possible EtherCAT applications to include heterogeneous network environments. With the help of TSN, industrial controls can contact a number of different EtherCAT segments in real-time through Ethernet networks.

In doing so, no changes to the EtherCAT slave devices are required: the EtherCAT Device Protocol, including all high performance characteristics, is fully preserved. Also expanded by TSN is the EtherCAT Automation Protocol (EAP) for communication between controls, which will result in even more deterministic performance on this level.

The ETG has specified the technology expansion in the form of a profile, which highlights the fact that no changes to the TSN standards are needed. This approach also considerably simplifies the adaptation to the final versions of the TSN technologies, because specification in the IEEE is not yet fully complete.

The ETG has supported the development of TSN from the very beginning through active participation in the IEEE committee, and is coordinating the specifications through a liaison with the IEEE 802.1 Working Group. This ensures that the ETG will also be able to access the IEEE 802.1 specifications that have not yet been adopted. Therefore, the technology can be introduced almost at the same time as TSN.

EtherCAT uses the TSN streams with any data rates for real-time communication above EtherCAT device segments. In the segment itself nothing is changed – the unique performance of the EtherCAT protocol built upon processing on the fly, highly precise synchronization, flexible topology selection, excellent diagnostic capabilities and simplicity through fully automated addressing of devices are all fully preserved. Similarly, the thousands of different EtherCAT devices available worldwide do not need to be modified at all. The stream adaptation feature that connects the EtherCAT segment to the heterogeneous TSN network can be placed either in the last TSN switch or in the first EtherCAT slave device.

Dr. Guido Beckmann, Chairman of the ETG Technical Committee classifies the new specification as such: “The incorporation of TSN standards will significantly improve the real-time characteristics of generic Ethernet. With our technology expansion we make use of TSN in an ideal way, and exactly where TSN can offer significant advantages – in the factory networks. As one frame is sufficient for EtherCAT to communicate with a whole segment, and thus with the entire fieldbus network, EtherCAT is virtually predestined for integration with TSN networks. We achieve this without turning our technology inside out. EtherCAT together with TSN offers the ‘best of both worlds’. Therefore, this prepares EtherCAT for the future perfectly.”

Infrastructure-as-a-Service Simplifies and Accelerates Network Deployments

Infrastructure-as-a-Service Simplifies and Accelerates Network Deployments

Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Remember several years ago when Amazon started selling space and time on its servers? And people thought they were crazy. Is this a business?

Well, as the old vaudeville comedian and TV pioneer Jimmy Durante used to say, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”

We have lots of “–as-a-service” things going on over the past 15 years or so. Software, Application, Platform. Here Rockwell Automation leverages its partnerships with Cisco, Panduit, and Microsoft (who has its own Infrastructure-as-a-Service) to offer an extension to its longtime strategy of using Ethernet as a networking backbone to its Connected Enterprise vision.

Designing, deploying and maintaining this infrastructure can be complex and time consuming for many companies, and is often too costly for their capital budgets. Rockwell Automation has introduced its Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering to address these challenges.

Rockwell’s IaaS reduces the burden of network deployments by combining pre-engineered network solutions, on-site configuration and 24/7 remote monitoring into a single five-year contract. The result is simplified ordering and commissioning upfront, and can help improve network reliability long term. The service can also ease budgetary strains by shifting networking costs from a capital expense to an operating expense.

Rockwell’s Solution

All aspects of IaaS are aligned to the Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) reference architectures developed by Rockwell Automation and Cisco. Leveraging best-in-class technologies and architectures, companies can optimize their network infrastructure’s performance, efficiency and uptime, as well as address security risks.

“Companies of all sizes are eager to digitally transform their operations in a Connected Enterprise, but many are limited in their ability to connect their infrastructure,” said Sherman Joshua, connected services portfolio manager, Rockwell Automation. “Often, a combination of time, talent and budgetary constraints hold them back. IaaS helps relieve these pressures by combining turnkey networking solutions with our highest level of support.”

IaaS is offered with two Rockwell Automation pre-engineered network solutions, including the Industrial Data Center (IDC) and the Industrial Network Distribution Solution (INDS). These solutions are designed for industrial use and incorporate industry-leading technologies from Rockwell Automation Strategic Alliance partners Cisco, Panduit and Microsoft.

The IDC provides all the hardware and software needed to transition to a virtualized environment, and is designed to deliver high availability and fault tolerance. The INDS is a network distribution package that helps end users achieve secure, high-capacity connectivity between the control room and throughout the plant floor.

Under an IaaS contract, Rockwell Automation will size, assemble and test the infrastructure, including configuration and on-site deployment at the customer’s facility. Contracts include 24/7 remote monitoring of critical system parameters to help prevent outages and failures, as well as proactive system maintenance and checks to improve reliability. Support response is guaranteed within 10 minutes, but actual response times average three minutes.

New Technology Decoupling Hardware and Software

New Technology Decoupling Hardware and Software

Looks like there are some technology changes coming that established technology suppliers won’t like. But that has been the way of the world for centuries.

One of the goals of the Open Process Automation Forum includes the idea of decoupling control hardware and software. With that in the back of my mind, this news item from one of my new favorite news sources, The Information, stood out.

Looks like the AT&T CTO is trying to do what ExxonMobil is attempting—the decoupling of hardware and software to drive down initial costs plus the costs of maintenance and upgrade. Following are excerpts from the interview of Kevin McLaughlin of The Information with AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch. (The Information is a subscription based new media site. I don’t know if I’ve unlocked it or not.)

For big enterprise hardware companies like Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, AT&T has long been a valuable customer. The telecom behemoth spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year buying devices like switches and routers that transmit data around its network. But it recently began shifting toward cheaper, less-known—or “white-box”—switches from Taiwanese manufacturers that run open-source software.

In doing so, AT&T is following the playbook of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, which run software they have written on no-name hardware. This trend has forced Cisco and other networking companies like Arista Networks and Juniper Networks to re-evaluate the way they package products. For instance, instead of selling switch hardware with software together, networking companies may have to consider selling just the software, which would hurt profit margins.

THE TAKEAWAY

Why is AT&T making the move to white box switches instead of those made by firms like Cisco Systems?

AT&T has always had the networking expertise and capacity to do this, but we were just using [that expertise] to pick the right suppliers. We started seeing the big margins the [original equipment manufacturers] had, and how simple it was to build these boxes, and so we decided to build our own.

This has really woken up the traditional OEMs. Now they’re saying, ‘Maybe we should be in the business of not just selling a complete black box solution, but also selling our software and our hardware decoupled from each other.’

How does this decision affect longstanding relationships with suppliers like Cisco Systems?

I’m not going to comment on any specific vendor. But in general, I think it’s a really big wake-up call, and frankly, it’s going to cause vendors to change their model.

A big part of your focus these days is on “software-defined” networking (SDN), which separates high-end networking functions from hardware so they can run on cheaper hardware. At Stanford, you studied under Professor Nick McKeown, who co-founded SDN startup Nicira. What kind of impact has SDN had on the networking industry compared to what it could be in the future?

SDN has not only made networking cheaper but also more flexible—meaning you can do more things with the network, and do them more quickly.

Now the impact is getting cheaper solutions. We’ve also seen more flexibility and cycle time improvement when we develop new services. One example is mobile call recording, an application we developed for trading firms to handle Securities and Exchange Commission requirements. When you call your stockbroker and say you want to trade a stock, that voice communication has to be recorded. Before that meant the stock broker would have to take the call on their office phone. Now they can do it on mobile phones and have the recording sent back to their office recording system.

This kind of service would previously have taken us 12 to 18 months to build. But because all the network components have been turned into software, we were able to build the service in 12 weeks.

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