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Connect Operations to Business Systems with IoE

How the Internet of Everything (IoE) Closes the Gaps Between Systems and People

By Paul Studebaker

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From the steam engine to electrical power, the history of technological innovations shows that the Internet is a real step change, "that next big phase," said Greg Carter, general manager of Cisco's IoE Solutions Group. Thus far, its effect has been felt most in businesses and in offices. "Now it's stretching out into operational environments," Carter said in his presentation today at the Yokogawa Users Conference and Exhibition in Houston. The Internet of Everything (IoE) "extends the power of convergence to deliver business outcomes in operations by extending the network outside of IT and into the operational environment. All that data from all those processes is now available to business systems, and all those people are now connected."

Cisco's efforts to support IoE in industry are focused on oil and gas, manufacturing, utilities, transportation, cities and healthcare. Its developments include ruggedized routers and switches with form factors that can deal with vibration, noise and weather. They're designed to join disparate and proprietary networks, and above all, to ensure security. "It's a difficult problem, but it's worth doing to allow free flow for collaboration, analytics and intelligence," Carter said. "We're going to see huge improvements in productivity."

For example, connecting people, processes, data and things in industrial automation systems offers compelling advantages for unmanned and remote operations. "We're seeing huge investments in figuring out how to keep people out of dangerous environments, as well as leveraging limited resources to help deal with the lack of skilled people," Carter said.

IT/OT Integration

Connecting many different kinds of wired and wireless networks takes a lot of information technology (IT) and operation technology (OT) system integration, which means IT and OT people have to work together, Carter said, "bridging the culture gap between IT and OT."

Cisco studies show that 53% of industrial cyber attacks have been made on the energy industry. Only 20% are intentional, and 50% are from the inside, primarily from non-intentional malware introduced through USB media. "We used to think we could air-gap and be safe, but that's not true," Carter said. "Insiders will accidentally bring in a threat."

To help address the situation, Cisco's Secure Ops Solution brings access control inside the facility, delivered as a hosted managed service to help manage costs.

For example, Cisco has worked with Yokogawa and a key customer to secure an industrial IT control network. The solution addresses the most significant attack vectors within process control networks by establishing required controls associated with best-of-breed security practices. The solution is tuned to the special needs of control systems. For example, a commercial system might prioritize integrity and confidentiality over availability, requiring log-in authentication to allow access. But a safety system has to allow instant access to mitigate an incident, so its priorities are availability, then integrity, then confidentiality, Carter said. "Instead of a password that might delay upset response, we might put a better lock on the control room door."

Yokogawa and Cisco complement each other's strengths. "We don't have experience in automation; Yokogawa doesn't have our expertise in IT," Carter said. "We put our strengths together. The end customer sees a set of dashboards showing the health of their environments and their security. They have true situational awareness for industrial risk management."

Secure, Effective Remote Access

On another front, "Industrial customers are panicked, worrying about security, but pressured to give remote access and let contractors into their plants to perform monitoring and maintenance," Carter said. For this, Cisco offers Collaborative Operations Solutions (COS).

"We have a rich set of collaborative tools for businesses. For example, telepresence lets you have a real business meeting, with all the visual cues that let you progress much faster than just talking on a phone," Carter said. Meanwhile, on an oil rig in the ocean, all you have is a sat phone. "It's difficult to hear, the guys are speaking in accents—you have about a 60% chance of solving a problem over the phone. When you don't, you get on a plane and a helicopter and go out to the rig. You have lots of downtime."

People have told Carter, "I don't need to look the guy in the eye; I need to look through his eyes."

Cisco's response was that "We took assets that we have and rearranged them to work over satellite, to bring video from fixed or mobile cameras, on a hardhat or on the equipment, as well as audio from the phones of everyone that needs to collaborate," said Carter. The result is a Webex designed for operational environments, "with multiple screens with data from wherever it's needed," he added.

These are just a few examples of how IoE can be leveraged to improve operations. "We have the security to confidently connect IT and OT, and to bring big data in for collaboration and analysis," Carter said. "It's worth investing in security and network systems to unlock the potential and productivity."