IT and OT in Industrial IoT applications

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IT and OT Systems – definitions and differences

IT and OT implementations emerged independently over time to tackle different problems utilizing different system designs and communication protocols. IT systems are open and standards-based since they were built to link applications and exchange data. Operational Technology control systems (OT) were initially meant to be standalone entities that could not be connected or accessed remotely. As a result, OT systems are often closed and proprietary. The table mentioned below outlines the key differences between the two disciplines.

It is important for a technologist to understand the differences as IoT modules cover a wide range of wireless technology standards and provide a variety of features that can impact the success of IoT applications. Choosing the right wireless IoT module simplifies development, speeds time to market, and ultimately improves return on investment. The table below shows the difference between M2M, IoT and IoE.

Table: IT and OT Comparison (Source: Avnet.com)

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (IT)OPERATIONAL TECHNOLOGY (OT)
FunctionSupports enterprise applications and office employeesSupports industrial and environmental monitoring and control
ScopeGeneralSpecialized
ExamplesERP, CRM, BIMES, EMS, SCADA
System approachInterconnected applicationsStandalone applications
Architectural modelOpen, Standard-basedClosed, proprietary

The IT network is typically based on Ethernet, but the OT network utilizes a range of technologies (e.g., OPC UA, DDS, and EtherCat). OT is composed of computing systems that govern industrial processes as well as equipment such as process machines, manufacturing equipment, and remote monitoring systems. PLCs are used for process control in industrial control systems (ICS), while Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are used to monitor and manage the process control system. Gateways, access points, and protocol converters connect the IT and OT networks in this legacy architecture.

A key trend that can now be seen in production units is the integration of individual components into a cohesive overall solution, which is driven by factors such as the Industry 4.0 initiative and concepts such as the IIoT. Companies are increasingly integrating outdated siloed applications from a variety of manufacturers to their enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES).

Architecture for IT/OT Convergence

For network solutions, industrial applications involve significant challenges. Actuators and sensors on the production line require real-time, low-latency, and deterministic communications to facilitate the manufacturing process.

Today’s challenge is to find out how to best migrate from tightly connected factory floor designs to the loosely coupled Web Services architecture of the IT world. Opportunities to ‘mine’ the factory floor for quality data, interrogate and build databases of maintenance data, feed dashboard reporting systems, acquire historical data, and feed enterprise analytic systems are uncertain due to the discontinuity between the factory floor and the Enterprise. Opportunities to enhance maintenance processes, minimise downtime, and compare performance across the enterprise’s facilities, lines, and cells across the enterprise are all lost. Convergence of IT and OT networks is required to address these challenges and enable the implementation of IIoT and Industry 4.0. TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) allows these networks to be converged, providing significant advantages in network connectivity, scalability, and cost of deployment and ownership.

The internet of things (IoT), particularly when combined with edge computing, enables the IT component of IT/OT convergence. However, newer smart sensors would be able to collect data from a source, such as a factory floor, and transmit it to an IoT hub or gateway, which would then transfer that information to an analytics application or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software platform, where it would be integrated into an organization’s unified system of business operations. When connected to a network, an OT device becomes an IoT device. The incorporation of IT technology into OT enables organisations to make better use of data provided by OT through IoT devices and edge computing.

The below diagram summarises the CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing) pyramid model, which serves as the architectural perspective of IT/OT convergence. We may see a few crucial aspects as the machine and controllers are near in terms of frequency and real-time deterministic response. As we move up the corporate data center hierarchy, the number and scope of data points gathered and analysed expands. This is one of the key drivers for IT/OT environment convergence, as organisations seek to generate value from data on edge infrastructure or in the cloud.

There are three main categories of IT/OT convergence. Process convergence, Software and data convergence and Physical convergence.

IT/OT convergence architecture

IT/OT convergence architecture

Benefits of IT and OT Systems

One of the primary advantages of integrating IT and OT systems together is that it allows an organisation to simplify its operations, allowing it to function more effectively. And, some of the advantages are listed below.

  • Digitalization – Every bit of data will be available digitally
  • Asset mapping/management – Assets are mapped to facilitate maintenance planning and asset monitoring
  • Centralization – Making decisions from a central location
  • Productivity enhancement – the reduction of breakdown due to prediction leads to increased productivity, which contributes to a shorter time to market with convergent technology
  • Data accuracy at all levels – Data from physical devices is transmitted without the need for human intervention, minimising mistakes and delivering correct data
  • Transparency – Data availability at various organisational levels provides transparency
  • Quick and Correct Decision Making – By monitoring load, quick decisions can be taken such as load scheduling and load shedding
  • By integrating IT and operations together, operational service-level agreement compliance may be improved
  • SAP/GIS (Geographic Information System) integration with OT-SAP and GIS are enterprise systems that may be integrated with SCADA/DMS
  • Improved customer service – Customer service executives who use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module will have access to SCADA and GIS and will be able to offer the accurate explanation for the outage as well as an expected time frame
  • Improved regulatory compliance due to the integration of IT to OT, which provides for more visibility

Bridging the gap between IT and OT

To reap the benefits of IT-OT integration, the conflicting requirements of availability and confidentiality must be addressed in a balanced manner. IT/OT convergence provides more direct control and comprehensive monitoring, as well as easier data analysis from complex systems located anywhere in the globe. IoT is fundamentally about connecting the dots and bridging the gap; whether it’s coordinating IT and OT systems, aligning technology and business goals, or simplifying various protocols for connecting devices, the purpose of IoT is to unify, simplify, and enhance these processes.

The IoT gateway is the cornerstone of the integrated OT/IT architecture. IoT gateways enhance intelligent system performance by receiving and processing real-time operational control data at the network edge. They are specifically intended to bridge the gap between field devices and centralised business and industrial applications. These gateways let smart systems scale by outsourcing data gathering and processing from the datacenter or cloud layer and delivering intelligence to the network edge. It enables simpler, lower-cost devices by lowering the requirements for endpoint processors, memory, and storage. It can provide an abstraction layer between devices and higher-level programmes to speed up project development. By separating devices and applications, IoT gateways reduce the time-to-market for new endpoints. Reduce communications costs by reducing machine-to-machine (M2M), wide area network (WAN) traffic. Furthermore, it reduces risk by isolating devices and protecting upstream connections. Optimise performance by decoupling data producers and consumers and lowering M2M latency. In addition, by interoperating with legacy devices and protocols, organizations can safeguard and expand prior investments.

Security consideration for OT and IT systems

The fundamental issue in the convergence of IT and OT systems is synchronizing each system’s security objectives. OT security is dominated by thinking that is focused on the processes under control of the OT system, displaying complete ignorance to the threats posed by network connectivity and outside concerns that do not directly influence the process under control. In the IT world, there’s many layers upon layers of controls that all work together to form a coordinated network of defense in depth. Many security measures are incorporated into applications, such as cryptographic agility, authentication systems, access control methods, and so on.

OT systems have two sources of security specification: one for general-purpose deployments and another set of requirements driven by infrastructure segmentation. There are industry/international models in the common area, such as IEC 62443/ANSI/ISA-99. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published OT-specific security measures in SP 800-53 and SP 800-82. NIST has also released a system protection profile (SPP) for industrial control systems, which provides guidance for these systems’ functional and security needs.

In IT, the typical security criteria are “CIA”: Confidentiality (of customer, financial, and recipe information), data integrity, and availability. For OT, the priority order is “AIC”: availability without data flows and controls, the “lights go out” (literally); then integrity of configuration data a critical quality control and subsequently confidentiality as the “lesser” of the three (even though still necessary).

Application information of IT/OT convergence

Sensors and connected systems such as wireless sensor and actuator networks (WSANs) are increasingly being incorporated into the management of industrial environments, such as water treatment, electric power, and factories. Automation, communications, and networking integration in industrial environments is an essential aspect of the expanding IoT.

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