How can manufacturers accelerate digitization? The payoffs are huge. Think predictive maintenance to reduce operational costs. Or, “digital twinning” to simulate changes to assets or processes and create new business opportunities. Using network devices as sensors to improve cybersecurity. With rewards like this at stake, what’s stopping manufacturers from going all-in on the industrial IoT?

The sticking point isn’t connecting assets like robots, cameras, and sensors to industrial switches. That’s now simple, thanks to interoperability standards like Profinet, ODVA, and OPC-UA. The tricky part is what comes next—network management. Operational technology (OT) teams need to prevent unplanned downtime, optimize network performance, and improve security. But they typically don’t have the network management skills or the tools. IT’s tools require lots of expertise to set up and use.

I can’t count the times I heard some version of the following from OT teams:

“I’m not a network expert. If I could automate industrial switch configuration, be assured that things are working right, and get concrete suggestions when they’re not, I’d be in heaven.”

 It’s high time to grant that wish. IT and OT need a common platform that meets both teams’ requirements.

Cisco DNA Center – common ground for OT and IT

The solution is now available with Cisco DNA Center. Cisco DNA Center is a network controller, proven in the largest IT networks over several years. It translates business intent into polices (aka intent-based networking) to automate network functions and improve performance. It’s made IT’s job much simpler—and it can do the same for OT.  Cisco DNA Center gives you the assurance and automation you need to manage the industrial network without deep network expertise. With a few clicks you can configure or update industrial switches, identify the source of problems – whether it’s a network device or connected system, and receive suggested actions for remediation.

Assurance: quickly see the source of problems, for swift remediation

Say a factory-floor scanner is acting erratically. The typical protocol today is to log into each industrial switch to look for the problem. Meanwhile, your expensive equipment remains idle for hours. With Cisco DNA Center, you can quickly spot important network problems and see suggested actions. In this case, you might see that that scanner’s port is going up and down more often than normal, a clue that the problem is in the scanner, not the network. Cisco DNA Center might recommend you check the scanner configuration.

You can also use Cisco DNA Center to spot brewing problems before they affect production. Using AI/ML, for instance, Cisco DNA Center might learn that network congestion is starting to impact industrial automation traffic and suggest bandwidth upgrades or quality-of-service setting enhancements to maintain network performance for critical industrial applications.

Network automation: configure industrial switches faster, consistently, and at scale

Cisco DNA automation also simplifies management. Imagine you’re adding three new manufacturing cells with 50 industrial switches during an overnight downtime window. Manual configuration might take so long you can’t finish on time, delaying production. And just one typo on one industrial switch configuration can cause security vulnerabilities or prevent equipment from connecting to the right VLAN or transmitting the right telemetry information.

With Cisco DNA Center, you create a configuration template with the right operating system version, access controls, and settings. Then you apply the template to all switches with a click. Consistent configuration helps OT keep the network working and gives IT the confidence that network and security policies are consistent.

Bring OT and IT together

OT teams need to know when network issues affect operations and fix problems quickly. IT teams have the experience and network understanding to help. Cisco DNA Center brings both teams together for collaborative solutions. Sounds like heaven to me.

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Paul Didier

Solution Architect

Manufacturing Industry