Connectivity Considerations for Edge Applications in Industry 4.0 Deployments
In industrial settings, supervisory and data acquisition applications have long consumed data from various endpoints such as sensors, PLCs, and RTUs. What is changing is how these applications are increasingly becoming cloud-native, allowing for greater ease of deployment and lifecycle management. The connectivity network between edge applications and endpoints is also changing. Traditionally, the network was wired, but increasingly Wi-Fi and 5G are becoming common, because they provide flexibility, mobility, and reduce cost. This is not a simple upgrade – it’s a true evolution that can yield great outcomes, but any Industrial Edge Strategy that doesn’t fully consider this evolution in connectivity will not succeed.
OT teams well understand that the connectivity needs in industrial environments can be complex, differing in terms of bandwidth, latency, reliability, mobility, and power consumption. Industrial settings have traditionally relied on Ethernet but have been investing in wireless technology to yield greater mobility and deployment flexibility for certain applications. Now, wireless is transforming from only Wi-Fi to public and private 5G for its reliable connectivity with low latency and high reliability.
While new connectivity choices offer capabilities that translate to productivity and other improvements, they also create unnecessary challenges. A major impediment comes with the introduction of new devices and applications; challenges with available resources, security concerns, integration, and a tendency to work in half-measures as a form of proof of concept have led teams to create isolated networks that are difficult to manage and prone to configuration mismatches. These isolated networks are also challenging to upgrade and burden the OT team with security holes as well as costly and avoidable downtime.
The shift that needs to happen is clear: despite the multiple connectivity technologies that may be in use, industrial and plant networks should operate as one network with consistent security policies. This single industrial network should be able to be configured and reconfigured easily and securely as connectivity evolves, or with the addition of new devices or applications. Successful plant digitization depends on it.
What can leaders do to unify their industrial network? The first step is to embrace Universal Connectivity. The network architecture must be able to support different layer 2 connectivity technologies. Through this evolution, OT teams can manage the network with a single pane of glass and offer interesting new capabilities, such as delivering 5G-like QoS features over Wi-Fi and other legacy technologies. Second, it is critical to apply Zero Trust principles into the network implementation. That starts with micro segmentation using device and application identity attributes (as opposed to VLAN). Such a design enforces Zero Trust principles while still being flexible enough for multiple Layer 2 connectivity choices, new device types and cloud-native edge applications.
A Universal Connectivity Industrial network makes applications more powerful and drives greater productivity gains. Leaders need to prioritize key requirements, like:
- Reliable universal connectivity over wired and wireless (Wi-Fi, public and private 5G)
- Secure access based on Zero Trust principles
- Friendly and easy to use Network-Aware APIs that enable Edge applications to discover client identity, presence and on-demand QoS.
- Network Topology Abstraction that hides complexities associated with multiple geographical sites and zones
- The ability to provide secure multi-cloud access to customers
A single industrial network is achievable and is the path to realizing the true value of Industry 4.0. According to McKinsey & Co., the cost of challenges related to digital transformation such as this is estimated to be between USD $1.4 trillion and $3.3 trillion by 2030. Making these moves now will ensure your enterprise is on the upside of that cost curve.
About the author
This article was written by Rajesh Pazhyannur, CEO and Co-Founder, Ataya, a technology company focused on connectivity challenges associated with Industry 4.0. Pazhyannur has more than twenty-five years of wireless experience and was most recently CTO at Ruckus, where he led numerous strategic initiatives including an AI/ML-based platform to enable autonomous enterprise Wi-Fi networks.