In my first blog in this series on purpose built switches, I detailed the robust hardware design of our Industrial Ethernet switches that enables them to withstand harsh environments. In this blog, I will focus on their software features – particularly the support of industrial communications protocols – further cementing the “purpose” in these purpose-built products.

Cisco’s IE (Industrial Ethernet) switches are designed to leverage as much of Cisco’s technology as possible. This includes hardware and software features. Customers expect our software features to behave consistently across product families, including the IE Switching products. Cisco IE switches also run IOS or IOS-XE. There are differences. One difference between Enterprise and Industrial Switching is support for industrial protocols.

What’s a protocol? Protocols define the set of rules by which devices communicate with each other. The internet runs on a protocol referred to an IP. Industrial communications have been using protocols since before IP became as popular as it is today. Every industry seems to have its own set of protocols. Cisco IE switches support a vast majority of these protocols enabling them to be part of any industrial networking solution.


Protocol support is one of many reasons that makes Cisco IE Switching popular

Our Industrial Ethernet (IE) switches are the global market leader in Industrial Ethernet Switching for several reasons:

  1. Offer a portfolio of din rail and rack mount of industrialized switching products to fit multiple use cases
  2. Have a high quality, built-to-purpose ruggedized hardware design for reliability in industrial deployments
  3. Leverage Cisco’s network management and security technologies
  4. Support of protocols that enables industrial customers to easily incorporate Cisco’s networking products into their deployments and solutions.


Why support industrial protocols?

In short, because these protocols are vital for the functionality of any modern industrial operation.

Cisco builds network devices to be deployed in a wide variety of industrial networks and solutions. No two industrial networks are alike. There’s a wide variety of requirements and use cases. And there is at least one protocol used in every industrial solution. The networking infrastructure must support all requirements, use cases, and protocols, no matter what they are.

We like to think we don’t have a technology bias. While focusing on our key competency, networking, we will build what customers want to deploy. This applies as well to support of industrial protocols. We are not promoting or supporting one industrial protocol over another. We are not bound to any one technology, solution set, or protocol.

End users, system integrators, and anyone putting together a solution want to use the tools and applications they know and trust and at the same time take advantage of the state-of-the-art networking technology. To enable the tools and applications used in industrial deployments, our IE switches support industrial protocols used to build solutions based on Ethernet networks. Failure to support an industrial protocol often eliminates a networking product as a viable option.


What does support for industrial protocol mean?

Just like the varied industries and protocols, support any one protocol means different things. Protocols differ widely, thus support does too. If you must have a single definition of support, support for an industrial protocol can be equated to ‘speaking the language’. Our IE switches support the communication of industrial protocols enabling end devices to communicate effectively and efficiently.

Figure 1: communication flow through the Cisco IE switch

PROFINET and Ethernet/IP CIP are two protocols commonly used by industrial automation and control systems (IACS). Our IE switches are certified compliant to these two protocols by including the software stacks for them. It’s the same software stack as the IACS components. For PROFINET and Ethernet/IP, the Cisco IE switches really do speak the language. Applications using PROFINET or Ethernet/IP can discover and automatically setup Cisco IE switches as a part of the solution, thus avoiding manual procedures.

For other protocols, support may mean recognition. GOOSE is a good example of such a protocol. Our IE switches do not need to support the GOOSE software stack. Protocols such as GOOSE use Layer2 Ethernet or Layer3 Internet protocol. Users can build quality of service policies to prioritize the communication of these protocols. The Cisco IE switch can recognize and prioritize industrial protocol running on standard Ethernet or Internet protocol based messages in the network ensuring end to end quality of service. Regardless of the interaction and support for industrial protocols, Cisco IE switches provide fast, reliable, and secured transport.

What about safety protocols?

Especially safety protocols. Such as PROFIsafe, and CIP Safety.

Support for any protocol implies support for the safety portion of the protocol. Industrial automation (eg: manufacturing) solutions prioritize support for safety protocols. If a protocol has a safety component, then our IE switches support the safety protocol. Most of the time this means recognizing the protocol or the safety messages in the protocol and building a quality-of-service policy to prioritize the communication end to end.


What about Cyber Vision?

Cisco Cyber Vision is an application that runs on Cisco IE switches and uses deep packet inspection to analyze all traffic passing through the switch and identify industrial protocols in use.

Cyber Vision does more than ‘speak the language’. Using its knowledge of industrial protocols, Cyber Vision can identify industrial assets and determine if the payload in these protocols is within operating bounds. It also provides security posture assessments of IACS components.

The application running on our IE switches report a summarized version of its findings to the Cyber Vision center, where end users get a real-time visual representation of all the communications on their operational network.

The figure below is an example of how Cyber Vision enables users to visualize communication between devices. It recognizes which device is speaking which protocol amongst other things.

Figure 2: Cisco Cyber Vision visualizes device communication flows

Cyber Vision is a security tool to increase visibility into operational networks. You can’t secure what you can’t see. To learn more, visit the Cyber Vision page on Cisco.com.



Ultimately, it’s about giving you, the customer, what you want and what you need. You want the latest and greatest technology because you’re investing for the long term. You want quality, which is why you’ve chosen IE switches from Cisco.  You want ease of use. You want to build systems and solutions with the tools you know, trust and which you already have invested in.

Failure to provide any of the above means the customer must compromise. Nobody wants that. With Cisco IE Switching, you don’t have to.


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Brief Description of select industrial protocols (with examples)

If you’re new to industrial networking, you can find a brief overview of the main industrial protocols below.

Why so many protocols? Different industries have different protocols they have developed over the years to meet their needs. Most industrial protocols leverage the Internet protocol (IP) for communication. But not always.

Table summarizing a few industrial protocols (not exhaustive)



Albert Mitchell

Sr. Technical Marketing Engineer

IoT Networking Group