Without question, the number of connected sensors and devices on your IIoT network are going to increase, and also without question, the volume of data created by these devices on your IIoT network are going to increase as well. Both increases are intended to improve operational efficiency and streamline business processes. As a result, your Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) departments will likely need to adopt new strategies. An increasingly popular strategy is IT/OT convergence.
The Bandwidth Burden
For many industries, SCADA and M2M networks have historically used serial communications for operational networks. This has changed and is changing for many. As networks transition from serial to Ethernet communications, data is now freed for routing to any business system.
There is a new twist for SCADA, M2M and now IIoT networks that have limited bandwidth capabilities. With more business systems needing critical data to improve business process, utilization of bandwidth on networks with already-limited bandwidth is also increasing based on the traditional Poll/Response or Request/Response model.
To reduce the bandwidth burden, systems are now transitioning from Poll/Response operation to a Publish/Subscribe model.
There are several benefits to the Publish/Subscribe model.
- Sensors or devices in bandwidth limited networks can publish data when events change or select criteria are met. This reduces the demand for network bandwidth in two ways; 1) there is no prerequisite Poll message, and 2) devices publish when needed.
- Publish data is routed to a Broker or Publish/Subscribe server that operates on networks where network bandwidth is not a limitation so any number of subscribers can subscribe needed data without burdening the IIoT network.
While the Publish/Subscribe model is a significant improvement to IIoT network efficiency, it is not a panacea for all operational information. Network monitoring systems, e.g. SNMP based systems, will still need to poll devices to gather operational, performance and prescriptive data; essential for proactively maintaining an efficient and operational IIoT network.
Secure Devices to Support Convergence
Newer sensors and devices are also being designed with security in mind because no legitimate manufacturer wants their IIoT device to be part of a DDoS attack, as we saw in 2016 with the Mirai DDoS attack.
While IIoT device security services and features are rapidly improving, it is still incumbent on OT and IT organizations to:
- Train personnel on network security because the human element can still be the weakest part of any network, e.g. phishing emails,
- Deploy networks with Defense in Depth so there are numerous barriers to obstruct and deter entry with timely audit trails to identify entry, and
- Perform periodic Risk Assessments and implement action plans.
SCADA, M2M and IIoT networks are operating more as IT networks thanks to the close work between OT and IT groups and their convergence. Want to learn more on this topic? Join my presentation at the ENTELEC conference on Thursday, April, 27, 2017 at 2 p.m.