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Insight into Mission Critical Network Design

The Hirschmann 2013 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar took place recently at Stamford Plaza Brisbane.

Combining lectures and hands-on labs, attendees had their choice of 15 technical sessions and five hands-on labs, covering a wide range of industrial automation and networking topics, with applications across the process sectors.

Seminar presenters included Hirschmann representatives from Australia, Germany and Singapore, experts with a combined experience of over 150 years.

In attendance were network design engineers, OEMs, Hirschmann distributors and integrators, and others who were interested in learning more about how to effectively reduce costs, installation time and implement resilient networks.

Technical sessions covered network design, from the fundamentals to detailed network planning and specification; network security; hardware selection; troubleshooting; as well as information on deploying and optimising IEC 61850 networks.

The hands-on labs looked at wireless setups; network redundancy/ management; security, and routing.

According to Chua Tek-Guan, Asia Pacific Regional Sales Director, Industrial Solutions, the seminar was not positioned as a product- or Hirschmann-oriented seminar, but rather, to focus on the solutions and technology.

"[Attendees] realised that with the products and solutions, they can do a lot of other things which they might not have known about earlier. There is also other knowledge that we share which they did not earlier realise existed," Chua said.

The 2013 seminars were focused on a number of key areas: substation automation with IEC 61850, the move towards Ethernet for the plant floor, wider applications for the 0 ms recovery Parallel Redundancy Protocol (PRP) found in their RSP switches, and security.

"PRP originated from substation automation. But after introducing the product, it opened a lot of other application possibilities for us," Chua explained.

THE Hirschmann 2013 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar took place at Stamford Plaza Brisbane from 6 to 8 March 2013.According to Justin Nga Senior Application Engineering Manager at Hirschmann, even though the company traditionally covers process automation, it is finding its scope expanding as it seeks to cater to newer trends and customer expectations.

"We have customers asking if they can use PRP for wireless as well. There's a lot of applications for that technology, so we are pushing for that, to show people those things are available for the market now," Nga said.

An example is the move towards Ethernet on the shop floor, which holds many implications in terms of both horizontal (application) and vertical (plant floor to board room) integration.

"We have branched out now to what we call critical infrastructure, with road and rail, CCTV, security, even with hospitals. The nurse-call buttons, for example, are now Ethernet-based and use PoE," Nga explained. "We are finding new avenues now, because so many things are going to Ethernet."

While the wide-spread use of Ethernet will enable even more applications to talk to each other, the Hirschmann team says customers need to be educated about the potential security and stability threats.

"The integration of everything, the plant floor, the critical infrastructure, everything is coming towards Ethernet," said Nga.

"But the vertical and horizontal integration is the dangerous bit. Once you are linked up to the enterprise side, the enterprise can start using software to scan the network, to do backups, or to push automatic updates to the Windows."

This can then lead to stability issues for mission-critical equipment and networks, and also the risk of web-originating security breaches.

"The Ethernet we are providing people is actually enabling this risk. It comes as a trade-off when people want more standardisation," Nga explained.

The hands-on labs looked at wireless setups and network redundancy and management.

The hands-on labs Mission Critical Network Design Seminar looked at wireless setups and network redundancy and management.

The high-profile Stuxnet case has made industrial networks, traditionally not connected to the Internet and thus non-secure, high profile soft targets, with new exploits for systems published on the web every week. The cat is out of the bag, and engineers need to adapt.

"At this seminar, we provide the education. We tell them they can't solve everything by putting in a box. The technology changes so quickly, so the applications pose different risks. Nowadays, you can see threat information on websites. The game has changed really fast," said Nga.

The seminars around security aim to educate engineers about security beyond simply slapping a firewall on the network and getting IT to configure it, which is risky, because IT technicians are not familiar with the operating rules of control networks.

"When we talk about security, many people immediately relate to the IT world – firewalls," Chua told PACE. "In reality, security is more than just a firewall."

To help boost engineers' confidence when dealing with the security of their network, Hirschmann's firewalls feature a learning mode which make it easy to create justified rules according to the true conditions on the network, minimising the complexity and risk of guessing rules.

According to Nga, many substations are now moving to newer technologies and automation, making the IEC 61850 more relevant than ever.

"[IEC 61850 has] been around for a fairly long time. It's just taken a while for an industry which is doing the right thing – if it works and it provides stable power to the country, why change it?" he said.

"They are slowly coming to the stage where the assets are reaching the end of their lifecycle, and they are thinking about redoing it. They are looking ahead, at what is becoming obsolete, and planning the next substation revamps."

Mick Di Bari, engineer and owner of Orthicon, told PACE he was at the seminar to develop the skills needed to maintain a client's Hirschmann- based network.

"I am interested in the management side of things, network architecture, and the routing hands-on lab as well," he added. He was also hoping to ask the Hirschmann team to clarify a few points, such as broadcast limiting for the switches, and Industrial HiVision pricing.

"The sessions have been excellent. They're really good. It's stuff I can take on-site and use," said Di Bari. "It's very handy, there's stuff I wasn't aware of until I came here."

[PACE Deputy Editor, Isaac Leung, attended the Hirschmann 2013 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar in Brisbane.]

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