Next generation industrial communication as a tool to solve network problems

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  Next-Generation Industrial Communications as a Tool for Solving Network Problems

By Benson Hougland, Vice President, Marketing and Product Strategy, Opto 22

Engineers and project managers are usually familiar with the "project triangle" represents constraints by "good "," fast "and" cheap "as the three points of the triangle with the heading" choose two "is displayed. Typical project limitations make it impossible to reach all three.

A similar concept applies to implementation of industrial communication, but with "reliability", "speed" and "security" as the points of the triangle. Good security often reduces speed, slows data transfer rates, and complicates implementation. Fast speeds can affect reliability and safety. Reliable network configurations often do not produce high-performance installations.

Even with the recent advances in Ethernet and industry protocols, many in the field of automation are coping with the ongoing challenges of industrial communications and accepting these limitations.

Challenges are particularly high for systems with geographically dispersed locations that often rely on weak network connections. Even where standard technologies can be used, several technical groups need to be coordinated. Finally, the additional burden of industrial communication can weigh on the company's network infrastructure, especially with the advent of big data and the associated increased traffic.

Fortunately, next generation technologies and improved methods become available to address these issues. Together, these technologies contribute to safe, fast and reliable industrial communication.

Value Added

Industrial communication solutions only make sense if they are of use for improved business performance. Intelligent sensors, intelligent devices and control systems contain a wealth of information. If you can successfully connect and access this information, you benefit in many ways.

Monitoring energy use, monitoring device performance, and identifying trends are examples of how data can help a business operate more efficiently. Users would prefer to focus on improving performance and increasing uptime rather than traveling to local research issues.

Unfortunately, in the past, industrial automation systems have been plagued with limited connectivity and proprietary protocols. These are issues that engineers have struggled to overcome, especially as companies have incorporated newer, packaged devices and automation systems that often leave behind automation islands that do not interact with each other.

The first hurdle of value creation therefore depends on the establishment of effective communication. Technologies and methods that result in reliable, fast, and secure networking allow you to focus on the new data available, not the means to maintain it.

Reliability comes first

Today's network landscape is better than ever, especially for industrial systems. Commercial off the shelf (COTS) Ethernet and wireless networks, based on consumer-driven technologies, are exceptionally fast, reliable and economical – and are well understood by many users. Communication protocols are relatively open, with a handful of widely used versions and options for more specialized needs. This hardware and software is not only easy to use but also reliable.

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The personnel of the operating technology (OT) developed traditionally own control and connection solutions for the used SPS and sensor devices, since the means and methods were often unique to these systems. The introduction of COTS network elements is a good thing for many reasons, but as a company's existing Ethernet infrastructure is often used to provide a solution, new problems may arise.

Nowadays, it is quite common for Business Information Technology (IT) personnel to work with OT networks. Coordinating basic network connections within a site is rarely a problem. However, with more complex configurations with multiple networks and remote sites being accessed over the Internet, IT support becomes much more critical.

The most common way to implement secure remote connections is to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection between sites. This is a good technical solution, but relatively difficult to create and maintain. Complexity like this tends to reduce reliability.

Because typical firewalls reject inbound communication but allow outbound communication, selecting devices and protocols that can only work with outbound connections is an attractive option. In this case, the remote device initiates an outbound conversation to reach the communication link (1)

1, Acme Ovens: The publish-subscribe model shown in this diagram initiates all communication as Outbound connections, maintaining security while avoiding IT complications.

As a result, OT has regained control, with a reliable solution that minimizes the required IT involvement. Not only that, but this approach is modular and scalable because smart devices can be easily inserted into the system as they become available.

Fast enough

Race car teams are always looking for improvements to provide more power and speed. Similarly, the technical community that implements industrial communications certainly welcomes newer technologies and standards that promote faster network speeds, but simply do not always need speed.

For slowly changing data sources, such as a level in a large container, oversampling makes no sense. With fast-changing data, overly aggressive communications that are not needed can overload and block a network so that other data can not be transferred quickly. This is particularly critical as many advanced industrial networks are located at sites or use products that offer limited bandwidth. Therefore, "fast enough" is often the best target for industrial applications.

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When communicating speed against network load, two important network communication models must be considered. The more typical model is called request-response where a client requests data from a server, which then responds. The client is usually a monitoring PC, while the servers are usually remote PLCs or smart devices. Request-response systems are constantly looking for new data.

Another model called publish-subscribe often provides better performance for popular industrial applications. In this model there is a central server called Broker. All related clients can publish data to the broker, and subscribe data treated by the broker

Publish-subscribe systems minimize network usage because clients publish data only if they change (aka exception report). An open-source publish-subscribe protocol is Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), designed specifically for use in low-bandwidth networks.

The differences between request-response and publish-subscribe become clearly apparent when representing network connectivity (Figure 2). In its most basic form, request-response requires that all clients constantly interact with all servers and put a heavy load on the network, regardless of whether data changes or not. In contrast, publish-subscribe minimizes network load by adhering to a "just enough" philosophy of transferring data only when changes are made.

Figure 2, MQTT Diagram: The request-response model on the left is a reliable, but brute-force approach, where everything abounds with everything and imposes network loads. The next generation publish-subscribe model on the right is a sleeker way with a centralized broker that can handle a lot of traffic without loading the network.

Another issue with request-response is the requirement of firewall access on all servers, which, as previously mentioned, requires significant implementation and maintenance efforts. In contrast, publish-subscribe can use the outbound communication initiated by each client, avoiding firewall and VPN issues. Applications that use the data are effectively decoupled from the devices that provide the data. This model is much easier to implement and also offers security benefits.

Secure Connections

On the surface, it seems obvious that the integration of many intelligent devices that communicate with each other is inherently less secure than the operation of individual intelligent devices. Creating so many paths allows for much more opportunities for attackers. The solution is a multi-layered approach that addresses the physical network, transport protocols, and applications.

From a physical point of view, either VPNs or outbound connection schemes have best practices for maintaining device security and general network security. However, the outbound connection model provides an easy way to ensure that only configured devices initiate communication without involving IT staff. Existing network infrastructure and firewalls persist and are managed by IT, while OT elements gain access to a local or cloud broker / server.

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The next level, the transport protocol level, should always be used by the industry standard Transport Layer Security (TLS). TLS provides authentication and data encryption and is the same method for online banking and payment gateways. TLS ensures that no external entity can intercept or influence the communication between the client and the broker.

MQTT provides an additional level of security for the publish / subscribe model. Users can specify client IDs and credentials that the broker uses to authenticate client connections. It is even possible that the data payloads that are transmitted using MQTT are also encrypted.

In many ways, industrial communications security measures also improve underlying network reliability and data integrity. Implementing security results in control performance because additional data and transactions must be processed to establish each secure connection. This drawback is minimized by the fact that the physical, transport, and application layers have standard and efficient precautions to ensure safety.

A Convenient Solution

Industrial automation engineers have recently benefited from the improved performance and interoperability of open hardware and software networking technologies. While many companies have come to terms with "islands of automation," the exploding availability of IIoT instruments and other smart devices delivers more potentially valuable data than ever before when these islands are connected. With that in mind, many companies are looking for ways to improve their automation connections to save more resources and make their employees more efficient.

Next generation communication solves these issues by balancing reliability and speed with security – often achievable using standard or open source networks. Some automation vendors publish products that incorporate these capabilities, such as: B. Opto 22 groov EPIC (Edge Programmable Industrial Controller, Figure 3). Using this type of controller in your automation system provides a scalable way to use next-generation communication.

Figure 3, groov EPIC: This groov EPIC from Opto 22 has the required capabilities that make it possible to use as the hub for a communication infrastructure the next Serving the generation.

About the Author

With 30 years of experience in IT and industrial automation, Benson Hougland is driving the strategy for Opto-22 products, which will be used in its role as the Vice President, Marketing and Product Strategy connecting the real world with computer networks. Benson speaks at trade shows and conferences, including IBM Think, ARC Forum and ISA. His TEDx-Talk 2014 puts non-technical people in the IoT. Benson can be reached at [email protected]

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