Industrial Network Direction Set by Keynote Speakers

At ISA Expo: It's all Ethernet, but watch out for pirates


The industrial automation world may need to remind itself from time to time that much of its Ethernet traffic still strolls along on comparatively leisure 10-Mbit technology. But, as the need to make machine-to-enterprise data network connectivity as second nature as picking up a phone, the signs are there that Ethernet's relentless commercial performance improvements will have significant impact on industrial networking at all levels.

Kathy Hill, vice president and general manager of Cisco Systems' Desktop Switching business unit, presented the Day 2 keynote address at the ISA Expo and Conference in Houston last month. She focused on the move away from shared Ethernet, with its unacceptable data collision rates that prohibit deterministic behavior, to the growth of switched Ethernet, which largely solved the determinism problem, to the next phase: intelligent switching at 10-gigabit speeds. This will facilitate the speed and bandwidth to handle all aspects of enterprise data handling, from the smallest sensor (if so inclined) to the largest supply-chain systems.

Hill shared data that predicts shipments of device-level Ethernet nodes, largely as part of peer-to-peer configurations, will grow at a CAGR of 84% through 2007. Why has it become so dominant? Hill thinks it's simply part of a self-perpetuating loop. "Ethernet's openness, scalability, and simplicity enabled continuous innovation and technology advancement," said Hill. "As use grows, more networking and chip manufacturers get in and compete, creating more innovation. Customers embrace the advancements, and usage continues to increase." The advances that led to switched networks, which emerged in 2000, and intelligent switches that followed two years later, are, said Hill, due to the rapid advancements in programmable chips.

So, the enabling technologies will be there, but with this totally integrated connectivity, overriding security concerns will have to be relieved before the dream approaches reality. "The security levels needed to provide the confidence for that is through these intelligent switches," stated Hill.

Hill categorized intelligent switching as part of her view of "intelligent IT" services. "Intelligent services combine to provide a scalable architecture with a level of time-sensitive support to applications that enables high performance predictability, a quality of service that ensures dependable data prioritization, and a secure, but flexible security level," she summarized. "That also means manageability, high system visibility, and operational simplicity."

Throw the Hackers Overboard

IT security was precisely the theme of Dow Chemical's vice president and CIO David Kepler in his Day 1 Keynote address.

Kepler entertained an early morning audience with an analogy that compared the high-seas pirates of the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth-century with current-day software pirates and Internet hackers. In both cases, technology was the enabler.

Kepler introduced the analogy by suggesting better recognition of a third IT law, the Law of Unintended Consequences. It, said Kepler, should stand as an equal partner with Moore's law of computing power, and Metcalf's Law, which states the value of a network is proportional to the square of the total number of its nodes.

"This third law causes companies and individual users to move away from technology when the risks associated with using the technology exceed the perceived value," argued Kepler. "I believe the IT world is at a crossroads of decision about the unintended consequence of information technology."

Back to the pirates: Kepler detailed how technological advances in ocean navigation enabled tremendous increases in seafaring commerce. "Empowered by the same tools, the pirates of the day caused disruption to the trade routes and great losses to the overall trading economy," he said.

It took the resolve of the European maritime powers to eventually establish uniform rules of order on the sea to quell the threat. The alternative would have been to all but abandon the seas.

Today, said Kepler, the technology that enables businesses to use their data to operate efficiently, flexibly, and productively is being attacked by the pirate/hackers of today. "The cost has been great," he added. "Economic loss totaled something like $32 billion as a result of those high-intensity cyberattacks of last August."

He said business is at that crossroad where it must decide to develop enforceable uniform IT standards of use and protection that will ultimately sink today's digital pirates. "We have to make information technology safe, affordable, and readily available," he stressed.

Kepler said the IT industry would do well to take lessons from the chemical industry's efforts to increase safety and security at its plants. He offered several recommendations that included making software developers take fuller responsibility for the security levels for their products. He also stressed that companies must develop standards to share security information proactively, and become more appreciative of the dependencies they have on one another, competitors or not. "The solutions won't be proprietary," he stressed. "Rather, they'll be based on industry standards and best practices."

Kepler reminded the audience that there are some basic, common sense behaviors to keep in mind. "Just as your Mom told you not to talk to strangers, don't accept messages or programs from unknown senders," he chided. "She also told you to follow directions. Those company IT policies exist for a reason." Pushing the comparison further, he said, "just because you know the ABCs [of IT], doesn't mean you can read. You have to know how the entire enterprise IT system works as a whole."

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