Tune out the network noise

Editor in Chief Joe Feeley brushes aside the propaganda volley surrounding today’s networking environment as just another front in industrial automation’s version of the Hundred Years War.

Joe FeeleyBy Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief


WE HAD a choice to make when we thought about what the “hook” should be for this month’s cover story ("Floats All Boats"), which delves into the various networking and bus standards in industrial automation. 

Many in our biz want to describe today’s networking environment as another front in industrial automation’s version of the Hundred Years War among the various protocol promoters. It does seem that way sometimes, since much of the vendor community can’t resist a periodic propaganda volley at its competing camps, thinking we’ll all find it soap opera-ish enough to pay attention.

We decided, as we pretty much always do, not to take the bait. In fact, I hope you tune out the “we’re better, use us” rhetoric and expect us to stay focused on “what works.”

Executive editor Jim Montague decided to see what he could find and pass along that is actually and immediately useful to users who are in the process of figuring out what elements of the standards mess are best for their data transmission needs.

You’ll find some positive news from the article, despite the trade organization skirmishes, that describes how the buzz about wired-based and wireless Ethernet also is sparking big interest in fieldbus deployment. 

Jim points out there still is an enormous installed base of 4-20 mA and hard-wired systems that are moving into newer protocols. They see the potential savings; they see enough vendor support to ensure that they’ll be able to source the devices; so they brush aside the propaganda and get on with saving their company some money. That beats reporting on an ethereal war.

A preemptive word to those of you who might feel that FDT has been shortchanged in Jim’s cover story, compared with the mention that EDDL received. Jim says he found considerably more interest in EDDL, given the weight of support for it coming from the Fieldbus Foundation, Profibus, the OPC Foundation, and even HART Communication Group, which fieldbus expert Ian Verhappen says is quite accepting of FDT’s capabilities.

We’re hoping that we’ll soon be reporting the benefits that come from the interrelated complementary values of the two approaches since, as Jim says in this article, OPC, EDDL, and the FDT Group were planning technical collaboration as we went to press.

For those who would like a bit more FDT info right now, let me direct you to an article Ian wrote last year ("Is FDT good for fieldbus and device networks?"). In addition, I came across a helpful Yokogawa-originated whitepaper on the web site of the South African Institute of Measurement and Control ("Fieldbus moves into the next generation").

Speaking of Ian, he’s about to embark on a major career move, so we’re losing his invaluable insight as a columnist. So I’ll take a second and again encourage you to think about helping take up some of the networking expertise slack by writing the Terminator guest column one month. No vendors are allowed to participate, but we welcome users and system integrators from all corners of industrial automation to relate experiences, lessons learned, or your views on the current and future state of industrial networking as you see it. If you’re interested, just let me know.

Finally, considering those forward-looking thoughts that Ian offers up in his final Parity Check, and the likely, albeit painfully slow, evolution of standards reconciliation efforts in the cover story, it seemed a good time to balance the issue off with a solid back-to-basics piece from Mark Lamendola on the functional differences between hubs, routers, and switches ("A Hub is Not a Router Is Not a Switch"). It’s fun and necessary to give you a heads up on what the future might hold, but we always need to help with today’s problems too.

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