Bringing smarter networks to industrial world

A so-called "smart grid" is going to need smarter switches, and in fact all of industrial networking is headed in that direction, as Sixnet recently pointed out during the introduction of its latest switch.

Industrial environments require tougher equipment, to handle extremely high or low temperatures and to handle high levels of dust and vibrations. Industrial Ethernet is not all that new, but it has lagged the enterprise in sophistication and speed.

Sixnet’s roots are in automation, and the company has been right there as the industry has moved toward Ethernet. The company has been making Ethernet-connnected products since the 1990s, and switches since about 2000. These days, industrial Ethernet is the largest part of the company.

What makes Ethernet so attractive to the industrial sector is the same thing that makes it attractive to enterprise companies: low cost. The commonness of the technology helps, too. People have experience with Ethernet in other environments, so it is easier to find people who are familiar with Ethernet.

What makes its newest switch different, Sixnet says, is that it has enterprise-level capabilities and smarts. Industrial firms are reaching the point where they are ready for this, says Scott Killian, director of the Connectivity Division at Sixnet. They want something they can manage remotely, something that provides better diagnostics, even something that supports multicast video.

If the country is going to put the Smart Grid in place to better manage our usage of electricity, smarter and ruggedized equipment is going to be needed to connect it all. (My colleague Carolyn Duffy Marsan recently looked into whether the Smart Grid would use IPv6.) 

Sixnet’s latest product, the EL228, has 24 ports of Fast Ethernet using either copper or fiber optics, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports. It has security features including access control lists, authentication and encryption. It can be managed via SNMPv3 and configured using a Web interface or a command line. It supports quality-of-service levels, virtual LANs, link aggregation and jumbo frames.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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