Opening the black box of mission critical networks

Belden ran its Hirschmann 2011 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar at the balmy Gold Coast, Queensland, from 15 to 18 November. PACE was on hand to cover the event.

The event, held at the RACV Royal Pine Resort, represented the first such seminar held by Belden in Australia, and followed the successful Bangkok iteration, which took place at the end of June.

Belden, through its acquisition of Hirschmann in 2007, and GarrettCom in 2010, is now a leader in the industrial networking segment with 35 percent market share. The seminar covered the three platforms on which Belden runs: cable, connectivity and networking.

In all, 65 delegates took part in their choice of 14 technical sessions and nine hands-on labs. These sessions were presented by Belden and Hirschmann application engineers, technical support, competency centre managers, and product managers, who were flown in from as far afield as Singapore, China and Germany.

Belden’s Asia Pacific vice president of sales and marketing Keith Mauck pointed out that given the organisers only had six weeks to market the seminar, the turnout was exceptional, especially since the team had hoped for 40 attendees.

“We decided at the last minute that I wanted to do it this year rather than waiting,” Mauck explained. “I wanted to do it, but I didn’t have it in the plan until we saw that Bangkok was very successful. The feedback was very positive, and the team here indicated that we could get good responses from customers here in Australia.”

The main aim, according to Mauck, was to arm attendees with the knowledge needed to ask the right questions and cut through internal communication barriers and marketing fluff.

“This is not a commercial for Hirschmann and Belden. It is about the technology and in fact we have attendees that use competitive products,” Mauck pointed out.

“We want them to ask questions and understand the technology and the importance of having infrastructures, products, projects, planning and design that fit the requirements of truly mission critical networks.”

Chua Teck Guan, Belden’s director for South East Asia and North America, had also come to Australia for the event. According to Chua, the company was also looking for feedback from the customers on the ground, especially because of the specialist mining and oil and gas applications found in Australia.

Toward that end, a panel discussion was held on the third day, which featured Hirschmann and Belden product managers from Germany.

[Pictured alongside: Belden's Keith Mauck (L) and Chua Tek Guan.Belden’s Keith Mauck (L) and Chua Tek Guan.]

“We wanted to get all the product managers out to the panel, with the customers giving us feedback on trends, and where they see technology going,” Chua said. “The objective is to get feedback from the end market, and the product managers from Germany will take that on and put it in a product roadmap, or enhance existing products to make them more suited for local applications.”

Belden’s executives said that holding the seminar in Australia was an indication of the company’s support for the local market. In his opening address, Mauck emphasised that Belden has come a long way in understanding what its customers want.

In conversations with PACE, he said the Australian industry would continue to grow for the company.
“We want the market to know that Belden and Hirschmann are investing in the Australian market,” Mauck said. “The customers here want to learn, and they appreciate good training and quality. This is a very unique market, and it’s an exciting place to be.”

Each of the three days of the seminar commenced with a keynote session.

The first day featured Yokogawa Electric’s Kazuhiko Takeoka and Makoto Suda who spoke about their company’s cyber security initiative for industrial control systems it provides to clients.

The second day saw Luton Semple presenting on efforts to consolidate and upgrade Queensland Nickel’s process network.

Belden ran its Hirschmann 2011 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar at the balmy Gold Coast, Queensland, from 15 to 18 November.The third day featured Zoran Savic providing details on the new Hirschmann-certified training courses in Australia, to be offered by RMIT University, as announced in September.

The sessions at the event covered a variety of network-related topics, from choosing switches and cabling, to network management and design, to wireless and security.

Attendees who chose to attend the five sessions related to network design progressed from fundamentals to advanced topics like redundancy, multicast traffic management and network traffic isolation.

The practical lab sessions were extremely popular with delegates, with many of the sessions subscribed to capacity. The event was structured such that a lab would follow a theoretical session, allowing participants to consolidate their learning with practical experience.

The Belden team had initially planned to have only ten stations in the lab, but the response prompted an additional six stations, with another on standby. Despite the demand, the organisers made a conscious decision to restrict the numbers in the class to ensure quality teaching.

“Every two or three stations will have a trainer beside them, so when we tell the delegates how to navigate or setup or configure the equipment, someone is always there to support them or assist them,” Chua told PACE.

The delegates at the seminar consisted of local distributors, trainers from RMIT who would be running the Hirschmann certified courses, as well as representatives from companies already using Hirschmann products, or in the process of upgrading to Hirschmann.

Belden ran its Hirschmann 2011 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar at the balmy Gold Coast, Queensland, from 15 to 18 November.Andrew Clews, a process engineer from Mackay Sugar, found the practical labs to be particularly useful learning for his job.

“I took on this process control role around 18 months ago,” Clews explained “I wanted a bit more experience with networking other than what I had gathered from trial and development.”

Brett Benzie from the Gladstone Ports Corporation has been using Hirschmann gear for the last five years, and was looking forward to talking with the company’s executive and product managers from Germany and Singapore.

“Since Belden bought Hirschmann, Adam (Callender, Belden’s director of outbound marketing, Asia Pacific) has gotten involved in getting to know who Hirschmann’s customers are,” Benzie said. “It’s a good opportunity to meet them, and keep a finger on the pulse in terms of what is coming.”

Mark Sheather, systems integrator at MidCoast Water, said Hirschmann equipment is used throughout the utility’s treatment plants, but no one had the skill to configure the units.

“I am here to learn a bit more about them and what we can get out of them,” Sheather told PACE. “The main expectation is to be able to sit down and configure some of the equipment once I get back. It looks like I will be able to do that fairly comfortably. The learning curve has been good.”

In discussions with Belden’s executives and at the sessions themselves, it became apparent that security, wireless and zero-second switchover redundancy are trends which are set to dominate the industrial network sector, but security was the dominating topic, following Yokogawa’s keynote.

Addressing delegates during a session on network security, Belden’s product manager for network security, Mark Cooksley, said the publicity generated by the Stuxnet worm meant industrial networks are now a legitimate target and squarely in the radar for hackers.

For years, industrial networks have been isolated from the wider internet, but with the trends toward improving real-time visibility, there is increasing connectivity between the plant floor and office systems, opening up vectors for attacks on these relatively soft targets.

Belden ran its Hirschmann 2011 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar at the balmy Gold Coast, Queensland, from 15 to 18 November.Cooksley then outlined a number of steps which could be taken to boost the security of industrial networks, including having a strict policy on USB sticks (a common transmission vector for viruses), disabling unused ports on switches, physical security, and using MAC or IP addresses to restrict allowed connections.

The product roadmap presented at the panel on the third day reflected Belden and Hirschmann’s response to the market trends, with new secure routers, network management software, wireless access points, embedded Ethernet switches, and rail switches, all set to be released late this year to early 2012.

[PACE Senior Journalist Isaac Leung filed this report after attending the Hirschmann 2011 Mission Critical Network Design Seminar.]

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