Cisco switch taps into Time Sensitive Ethernet; software bolsters industrial network mgmt.

ethernet cables
Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

Cisco this week took the wraps off three products aimed at increasing the speed of communications while controlling and analyzing the substantial data stream of the factory floor.

The products build on Cisco’s Connected Factory portfolio which offers a variety of technologies from networking and security to analytics the company says will help customers quickly and more securely integrate industrial automation and control with business systems while improving industrial and manufacturing operational costs and efficiency.

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Cisco also says its new and existing industrial products help move factory customers towards the Industry 4.0 concept that signifies an industrial model move to cyber-physical systems over the water/steam power, mass production and automation that marked the previous three important revolutions.

The Industrial Internet of Things, millions of robots and the need for better control of all of these systems is driving dramatic changes in the industrial world, said Bryan Tantzen, a senior director at Cisco in the manufacturing vertical for the Internet of Things Technology Group. Look at what large industrial companies are doing, like the recent General Motors announcement that it has connected about a quarter of its 30,000 factory robots to the internet. In 2016, automotive factories installed 17,600 robots compared with 5,100 for electronics manufacturers and 1,900 for metal producers, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Those are the kinds of changes coming to the industrial world, Tantzen said.

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One of the requirements of that environment will be standardized and optimized Ethernet networks, which is where Time Sensitive Ethernet will play well, experts say.

“The IEEE 802.1 TSN (Time-Sensitive Network) standardization activity brings the prospect of true real-time operation to standard, unmodified Ethernet networks. TSN has numerous value propositions that address legacy industrial Ethernet drawbacks in terms of perceived reliability, fault tolerance, scalability, latency, and ability to configure deterministic control loops, while at the same time adding incremental benefits like central configuration and the prospect of network convergence,” said Chantal Polsonetti, vice president, Advisory Services for the ARC Advisory Group.

“True real-time industrial Ethernet has traditionally been the realm of vendor- or protocol-specific implementations like PROFINET IRT or EtherCAT. Among other drawbacks, this specificity limits the supply base, raises costs, and limits interoperability. Support for this activity through the core IEEE 802 standardization effort, rather than vendor-specific implementations, holds tremendous promise in industrial applications. IEEE 802.1 TSN promises to bring real-time deterministic behavior to IEEE standard Ethernet, eliminating the need for these vendor- or protocol-specific implementations. Because TSN addresses only Layer 1 and Layer 2 of the network stack, ARC believes that the industrial network protocol organizations will also play an important role in defining capabilities and guaranteeing interoperability.”

Specifically Cisco added support for TSN protocols to its Industrial Ethernet (IE) 4000 Series switches. The 4000 family features 20Gbps non-blocking switching capacity with up to 20 Gigabit Ethernet ports per switch. It supports high-density industrial PoE/PoE+ support offering in-line power to up to eight power devices, such as IP cameras, phones or wireless access points.

With the latest IOS s/w release (version 15.2) customers will be able to take full advantage of TSN, the company stated.

“Cisco entering the TSN fray is a very important development for the industrial Ethernet switch market due to their increasing market share in this segment in recent years and continuance of the ongoing convergence of IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operations Technology) in manufacturing applications. Traditionally an enterprise-level IT player, Cisco originally entered the industrial market with the Catalyst 2955 series switches that were essentially extensions of its enterprise offering, but that line has been largely sunsetted in favor of the IE series industrial products,” said Polsonetti. “Cisco’s industrial Ethernet switch offerings emphasize connectivity between IT and industrial automation environments by enabling advanced features and the use of IT-based tools for management and security while operating in harsh environments. Adoption of the IEEE 802.1 TSN standard in their industrial line furthers this convergence between IT and OT technologies, which brings significant value to customers in areas such as common technologies and skill sets, flatter architectures, and overall lower costs.”

Leading suppliers of industrial Ethernet switches by market share (revenues) in 2016 included: Belden, Siemens, Cisco and Moxa, according to Arc Advisory Group.

Beyond TSN, Cisco rolled out a cloud-based software package called Connected Asset Manager for IoT Intelligence designed to help industrial users get a handle on the devices and resources connected to their networks. According to Cisco, the software can let users mine data from a variety of sources and bring them together in the plant across legacy systems. Reporting is simple – just drag and drop data in a user-friendly interface designed for business users, not programmers, Cisco stated.

With the package users can monitor for activities such as energy usage, location tracking and resource trends via analytics and predictive analytics. Cisco says the package can also help customers detect and prevent theft through security surveillance, sensor alerts, alarms and policy integration.

The company also rolled out the Cisco Industrial Network Director, a Windows-based network management system for industrial automation networks. Industrial Network Director is specifically designed to help operations teams manage automation by providing full visibility and control of the Industrial Ethernet infrastructure.

“The Industrial Network Director is intended to provide a common framework for operations and IT personnel to manage and maintain the industrial network and quickly recover from unplanned downtime, furthering the company’s IT/OT Convergence strategy and Connected Enterprise vision. Examples of Industrial Network Director functionality include optimized alarm management with real-time alerts and monitoring of device metrics, traffic statistics, and network infrastructure status,” said Polsonetti.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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