Is your OT network more like a Ford Taurus or a Tesla?

Is your OT network more like a Ford Taurus or a Tesla?

What do the Ford Taurus, Flip phones, Pentium processors, and Tamagotchi all have in common?  Give up? They were at the top of their popularity in the year 2000, which coincided with the introduction of Ethernet on the manufacturing floor. It was a great time in manufacturing, high-speed connectivity using standard protocols and wiring had become available. This new reality created fertile ground for the growth of device connectivity and massive amounts of data. Fast forward to today and over the past 20+ years the number of connected devices on the plant floor has exploded, as well as the databases and software created to maximize this new trove of information.   

In the early 2000s, with limited devices online and cellular communication in its adolescent years, it was relatively safe and reliable to air gap the OT network from the IT network and the greater internet. Network segmentation was a management tool whose sole purpose was to isolate network traffic and ensure enough bandwidth. Today the risks of ransomware and cyber threats are at the top of mind for most companies. With machine OEMs putting a cellular modem on their equipment for remote maintenance, potential attack vectors are expanding. The use case for network segmentation has morphed from a management tool to a cyber security tool to ensure that when a breach occurs it can be contained. In response, IT and OT vendors have created a myriad of solutions to layer on top of the network for management, security, and detection – however – in the OT environment the fundamental structure of the network has remained unchanged. After all, at the heart of every OT network is a bunch of switches that are independently managed and seldom touched once they are installed. When producing a product, the reality is that the demands on manufacturing and production dictate that you do not change, improve, or update anything without using great caution. Even the smallest change can have a high probability of halting production.

There must be a better way

Roughly 10 years ago cloud infrastructures started to exponentially grow in the IT environment. At that point in time the challenges of managing the servers and all the networks required to pass data between them came to a head. Manually managing all the switches, subnets, virtual LANS, and cabling created a need for a revolutionary improvement.  Software Defined Networking (SDN) was invented to solve these specific use cases and problems. The network switch was no longer an independently configured piece of the network that took laborious planning and setup to orchestrate with the rest of the network. SDN was able to take over control of the switches, data routing, segmentation, and security of the IT network. Utilizing software rules, cloud infrastructures could grow quickly, be updated with minimal work from network engineers, and easily manage any changes that were being made. SDN has changed the way IT networks are managed and secured, but what about OT?

Many have tried to simply apply IT technology to the OT space. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, using IT-focused technologies in the OT network is challenging because the goals and priorities of these networks are very different. In fact, if you consider the differences in infrastructure size and scale, asset locations, and workforce skills, I think you’ll agree that there is absolutely a need for OT-focused solutions. Today, Veracity Industrial Networks is bringing SDN to the industrial space by applying software defined networking technology to the OT network. This solution not only brings understanding of OT devices with their large variety and life span but also prioritizes production uptime first and foremost.

The Veracity OT Network Management Platform enables ICS network engineers to drastically simplify network management and gain a micro-segmented, highly secure network. Industrial networking technology has advanced in the last two decades– so why are you still using it to manage your OT network? Ask yourself, would you rather be driving a Taurus or a Tesla?

Contact us to see if OT-SDN is a fit for your network control application.

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