How Did Your Network Design Become a Nightmare?  

When it comes to network installation and management, more often than not it’s messy. It’s not a lack of understanding or desire for a more structured approach, but as the network grows in complexity with more devices, more machines, and more plants, rarely do we go back and optimize the network installation. In a perfect world, when you expand your operations – which is exactly what most manufacturers are trying to do – your network and security programs scale right along with it.

Since the launch of our Network Nightmares contest, we’ve already heard some scary OT network stories. The number of images pouring that look more like a nest of cable, some dust-covered, is unbelievable. We’re finding a common theme in that the physical management of the network has major room for improvement. After all, a sound cabling installation can significantly impact the reliability, security, and overall performance of an industrial networking system.

Efficient and reliable communication networks are essential for the seamless transfer of information between various devices and machines, which results in optimal performance and increased productivity. In industrial networking, data transmission is vital. Data needs to get from point A to point B quickly and accurately, with minimal or no interference. This is where the importance of sound cabling installations comes in. Cables play a crucial role in data transmission, and any failure in the cabling infrastructure can lead to costly downtime and lost productivity. For example, IT departments are often faced with dealing with network loops and broadcast storms that are caused by user error, faulty network devices, or incorrect configuration of network equipment. Network loops and broadcast storms can cause major network disruptions and therefore must be remediated as quickly as possible. These risks can lead to data loss, resulting in incorrect data interpretation, and ultimately leading to suboptimal performance and reduced efficiency.

In addition, optimized cabling installations can improve the security of an industrial networking system. An unsecured cabling infrastructure can be an easy target for cyber-attacks, leading to data breaches, loss of intellectual property, and other costly damages. A sound cabling installation can help mitigate these risks by ensuring that the cabling infrastructure is properly labeled, secured, and that data is transmitted as it was intended.

This is where software defined networking (SDN) best practices come into play for the ICS network. The traditional network architecture used in industrial settings can be complex, difficult to manage, and scale. SDN reduces the amount of risk associated with the ever-popular cabling nightmare. In many instances, business growth brings with it network expansion, and unfortunately – initial installation best practices may not be adhered to. If properly marking your cables happens to be a skipped step, SDN software can easily tell you which device is attached to which switch port. This reduces your risk of accidentally unplugging something you shouldn’t have. Whereas traditional network tools, like VLANs, require certain ports to be used with certain devices, SDN simplifies the solution and eliminates the risk that suboptimal cabling practices will take your production down.

With SDN, industrial network operators can have complete visibility and control over the network, making it easier to manage and optimize the system’s performance. You can also improve network security by implementing advanced security measures, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems. With SDN, industrial network operators can have a more secure and resilient network, reducing the risks of cyber-attacks and protecting the integrity of their data.

In summary, industrial networking operators should prioritize the use of high-quality cabling systems and ensure that the cabling installation is done properly. Adding an SDN software tool will also help minimize the risks of downtime, lost productivity, and cyber-attacks, resulting in optimal performance and increased productivity.


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