Industrial edge networks are everywhere—in factories, ports and terminals, roadways and intersections, mines, and even vineyards. They connect people, applications, and industrial assets like sensors, actuators, industrial control systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human-machine interfaces, robots, etc. These edge networks are the foundation for large-scale digital transformation programs that make operations and assets more efficient, introduce new services and revenue streams, reduce costs, and increase customer satisfaction.
An all-inclusive industrial network portfolio
A complete industrial network solution requires many kinds of hardware and software—including network infrastructure (routers, switches, and gateways), management software, and cybersecurity. Our industrial networking portfolio includes everything you need to build a scalable, high-performing, and secure industrial network. We’ve been perfecting our industrial edge technology for several years, and it’s gratifying to me that the analyst firm Omdia reported that Cisco leads every segment of the industrial networking market.
Must-haves for industrial network solutions
Industrial switches and routers share some requirements with enterprise devices. Performance, reliability, and security are essential. They must be easy to manage with capable management tools. (Edge locations like factories and utility substations typically don’t have highly skilled IT staff.) Industrial switches and routers also have some unique requirements, such as withstanding harsh environmental conditions and availability in form-factors such as DIN-Rail or wall mount rather than just rackmounts to fit in tight spaces. Here’s a good blog summarizing what’s different about industrial devices.
Five trends in industrial networking
In Omdia’s new report, Industrial Edge Networking Components: 2021 Analysis, an excerpt of which can be found here, Omdia points to several trends driving the growth of industrial networks.
1 – IT-OT convergence. Successful industrial networks are a joint project for IT and OT. IT brings the skills and tools for network management and cybersecurity. OT understands the role of each asset in production. How they need to connect to the network, how they need to talk to each other, how to take them safely offline, etc. Therefore, IT and OT must work together for a successful outcome. Cisco enables this partnership with a shared set of management and security tools. For example, read this solution brief to see how industrial networks can benefit from this convergence.
2 – Cloud-edge convergence. Organizations are combining cloud and edge computing—using each technology for different types of decisions. Consider a time-sensitive decision, like re-routing an autonomous mining vehicle when the camera detects an obstacle. Making the decision at the edge—on industrial routers running Cisco Edge Intelligence software—avoids delays while data travels to the cloud and the decision travels back. (Check out this blog on edge Intelligence in oil and gas.) On the other hand, networking devices can also collect relevant data from the network and connected endpoints to send to the cloud for decisions or analysis that requires high compute power or storage.
3 – Cybersecurity. More than 50% of manufacturing companies experienced a breach between 2017 to 2020, according to Omdia, and 40% of breaches affected production. To protect operations, we recommend creating and enforcing a consistent security policy across both IT and OT networks. We make that simpler with our comprehensive industrial cybersecurity solution, Cisco Industrial Security. For more, I recommend this blog on securing industrial networks.
4 – Visibility. Having an accurate inventory of all your industrial assets and monitoring them to spot potential issues sooner allows you to act faster—ideally before they affect operations. OT teams can spot abnormal device behavior with Cisco Cyber Vision. It brings visibility to connected assets to build inventory, continuously monitors asset behavior to assess their security postures, and helps operational teams troubleshoot issues to ensure production continuity, resilience, and safety. Cyber Vision is embedded into our industrial networking equipment.
IT teams have better visibility into the network and can keep tabs on its performance with NetFlow and telemetry data that our devices provide with network management tools like Cisco IoT Operations Dashboard, Cisco IoT Field Network Director, Cisco vManage, or Cisco DNA Center. Discovering issues early gives you a chance to solve them before they become problems.
5 – New technologies and open standards. Omdia gives a shout out to 5G wireless for low latency, reliable communications in industrial settings. Our industrial routers support open standards and have a replaceable communications module. So, if 5G isn’t available in your area today, you can start with another wireless module (3G, private or public 4G LTE, etc.) and swap out the module later. All these connectivity options can be managed from a single dashboard.
To Omdia’s top-5 trends powering the growth of industrial networks I’ll add one more: reliability. Downtime in industrial environments isn’t just an annoyance. It can decimate revenues and interrupt critical infrastructure services. We designed our industrial networking products with resilience in mind. Our switches use high-availability protocols to keep the network running with no downtime if a component fails. Our routers have redundant components. For example, a utility introducing advanced metering infrastructure and demand response can configure its routers with multiple transport modules (e.g., MPLS, broadband, 4G LTE, or 5G and FirstNet) and with dual SIMs to connect to different cellular providers.
Take the next step
Omdia expects industrial networks will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. To reach your goals faster, check out our solutions to make your industrial networks innovative, secure, reliable, and smart.
- Cisco industrial networking solution overview
- Why industrial Ethernet switches? Putting the “purpose” in purpose-built – blog
- Omdia report
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