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Cisco IIoT network solutions meet the needs of industrial organisations

May 9th, 2019

Many individuals still view the Internet of things (IoT) as a collection of Wi-Fi-enabled Internet-accessible devices, from coffee makers, fridges, lighting systems, to FitBits and other health trackers. They see them as fun, with a certain usefulness, but limited utility. They think the worst case scenario would be inconvenience, or infringement of privacy. This isn’t the case. They have can be used for devastating and life-threatening attacks.

Take for example the Mirai Botnet, that in 2016 launched the largest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to date, and resulted in portions of the Internet going down, including Reddit, CNN and Twitter. There have also been cases where implantable medical devices were found to have vulnerabilities that could enable an attacker to access them, and run the battery down, or mess with the rhythm.

Another case, the TRENDnet webcam hack, found that the company’s SecuView cameras that were used for a range of functions, including baby monitoring and household security, had flawed software that would enable any individual to obtained the devices IP address, being able to look through the camera, and even eavesdrop on conversations.

And this is just scratching the surface. While all these issues are significant, and could have dire consequences, they simply cannot compare to the catastrophic events that could unfold with industrial IoT (IIoT) devices. Although many might not know it, IIoT devices have been around for many years, running manufacturing plants and critical infrastructure, maintaining the operation of machines that keep the cogs of industry turning. These includes safety controllers, boilers, power relays, air traffic control, electricity grids, industrial control systems (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems in power plants, nuclear power plants, and the list goes on.

The ramifications should an attack be successful on one of these system, are severe. Attacks to water supply plants have halted water supply to many thousands of homes. Power grids have been shut down, and multiple nuclear plants have been attacked. And this is the tip of the iceberg.  And things are about to get worse. Analysts and experts alike, predict that by 2025, there will be as many as 75 billion connected IoT devices. Unfortunately, too many of these devices do not have security built in from the ground up, and the embedded firmware they run is insecure and highly vulnerable, leaving an unspecified number of critical systems and data across the globe at risk.

Every potential situation should raise considerable alarm. Any loss of critical services could raise major public health and safety concerns, and in the case of nuclear plants or air traffic control, the consequences are unthinkable.

Networking technologies are abundant in the industrial arena, but the nature of industrial networking deployments is vastly different to networking for consumers or corporates. The requirements from applications on industrial networks are incredibly diverse and can span a variety of industry sectors such as utilities, critical infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing and healthcare. Technical requirements can vary, from light, to incredibly demanding, and at the same time, deployment scenarios can vastly vary. For example, the physical conditions found in a mining operation couldn’t be more different to those found in healthcare. There are a host of operational factors that need to be taken into account, such as whether connected machinery will be static, or moving, such as with robots, or whether it might need reconfigurability, such as found with adaptable manufacturing cells. In addition, the lifecycle of technology in industrial applications, tends to be decades, not a few years, and has to be born in mind when formulating a technology strategy that is effective and long lasting. Technology is constantly evolving, and so are the networking infrastructures that support industrial entities. As new technologies come to market and are introduced to the system, capabilities evolve too, and alongside this,  new risks and threats are introduced to the mix. So the question is, what can be done to manage and protect these systems?

One thing we know, is that It is critical for administrators to have control of the systems and networks in industrial environments, and that includes an understanding of each and every device that is communicating within it. Successful IIoT protection strategies need to offer users  a manageable, secure network that will let them deploy IoT at a massive scale.

Cisco, realising the need for industrial networking and IIoT, has developed a family of solutions, including switches, software, developer tools and blueprints to combine IoT and industrial networking with intent-based networking and IT security, monitoring and application development support. IIoT devices are driving new requirements on ICS network infrastructure. These entities are dependent on high-speed connections and at the same time, incredibly low-latency application response. Industrial organisations require a wired and wireless network infrastructure that is both  flexible and scalable, in order to to easily deploy applications from the cloud all the way to the edge with fog computing.

Cisco IIoT network connectivity solutions bring resilience at scale, combining reliability with simplicity to help industrial organisations quickly scale to meet the expansive networking needs of IIoT without sacrificing any current infrastructure availability. The solutions also feature integrated security, with a network-as-a-sensor approach, to integrate cyber security throughout the network, vastly boosting visibility and control. Cisco networking solutions  also support IT and operational technology standards and protocols, enabling a consistent solution to be deployed across the extended network. Moreover, convergence was at the heart of solutions’ design, as the company understands that industrial entities must have IT and OT networks that can converge and offer seamless connectivity to support current, and future business applications.

Cisco IIoT network solutions were designed with the needs of industrial organisations in mind, across petro chemical, manufacturing, oil and gas, utilities, transportation, mining, public sector, and many more.

But it’s not all about the solutions. Any successful IIoT implementation starts with a good team, that includes IT, operations technology, security, production, logistics and finance. Find the right partners is crucial, particularly when it comes to integration. Remember, the vast majority of industrial projects, will be bogged down with outdated systems and legacy infrastructure, requiring a partner that can work across the board, and who truly understands the integration that is required. Axiz has the specific expertise to directly meet the needs of customers in a slew of industries that are investing in IIoT to build solutions.

Axiz is about building ecosystems. We identify and deliver outcomes that our customers want. We believe in injecting real value and transcending the technology by bringing complementary vendors into our stable, and building ecosystems with them. We started offering integrated products, software, services and capabilities, that provides a marketplace or ‘ecosystem’ offering a wide range of services and solutions from (and to) our vendors and customers.  It is a platform company business model, which differs vastly from the traditional distribution approach.