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Squeeze ROI Out of Legacy Technology With Converged IT/OT Solutions

WWT, Cisco and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories recently demonstrated a converged transport solution aimed at helping utility organizations at the DistribuTECH International conference.

February 17, 2020 4 minute read

As we head into the fourth industrial revolution, legacy technologies such as time division multiplexing (TDM) are moving into the rear-view mirror while new technologies that provide infrastructure convergence are rapidly accelerating. 

This fundamental shift is being felt across a variety of industries, but utilities organizations are particularly vulnerable due to the challenges associated with maintaining highly-available IT and OT services.

As the landscape changes, utilities are seeking solutions that can provide convergence of IT and OT networks to increase efficiency, enhance dependability and provide flexibility to meet future needs. 

Engagement and collaboration between IT and OT leadership will be key for any successful initiative. The siloed teams must break down any pre-conceived barriers that drive a lack of understanding of what is important to the individual parties.

World Wide Technology recently partnered with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) and Cisco to demonstrate a converged transport solution at the DistribuTECH International, an annual event showcasing the latest information and innovations related to the delivery of electricity from the power plant through the transmission and distribution systems all the way to the meter and in the home.

The solution is built on SEL’s world-class Integrated Communications Optical Network (ICON), a WAN multiplexer specifically designed for industrial and utility applications that utilizes both TDM and Ethernet transport options. 

The convergence of TDM and Internet Protocol (IP) allows for easy migration from legacy network technologies, such as TDM, to more modern converged IT/OT packet-based solutions. ICON interoperates with Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) or Carrier Ethernet-based core networks to provide a hardened OT edge multiplexer for mission critical applications.

This allows utilities to continue squeezing ROI out of their existing TDM investments while providing a migration path to more modern architectures.

To demonstrate what the ICON solution can do, WWT developed a custom-built underlay network in our Advanced Technology Center, a unique lab environment where organizations can test, validate and deploy emerging technology solutions

The ICONs were connected via Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL) circuits provided by Cisco ASR9k routers, which simulate typical Carrier Networking services. The underlay was built and managed using the Cisco Evolved Programmable Network Manager (EPNM) platform, providing a slick single pane of glass to the health and functionality of both the underlay and the SEL equipment overlay.

Screenshot of Cisco Evolved Programmable Network Manager
Cisco Evolved Programmable Network Manager (EPNM) showing the underlay network of ASR-9001 routers interconnecting the SEL ICON multiplexers via MPLS Traffic Engineering (TE) tunnels and Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL) circuits.

In addition to the ICONs and underlay routing equipment, the demo also included the SEL-411L, a relay designed as an advanced line differential protection, automation and control system.  This relay, connected to two of the ICONs, provided valuable insight into how SEL solutions can dramatically improve the protection, automation and control of IT/OT communications by measuring link latency with precision.

Topology diagram showing how the ICON multiplexers are interconnected via the underlay network.
Physically Topology diagram showing the VLANs used to pass traffic across EVPL circuits (Note: The inter-ICON circuits are configured in an A-to-B path throughout the ring).

The WWT and SEL team performed several live demonstrations showcasing how the solution responded to outages, including an unexpected underlay link failure.  By using the SEL Network Management System and EPNM, the team was able to demonstrate the speed of automatic reconvergence and quickly remediate the underlying issue.

This demonstration highlights the value that converged infrastructure can have to utilities organizations. The same benefits apply to other industries facing IT/OT challenges, including manufacturing, industrial and transportation. 

A holistic IT and OT partnership is demanded when considering digital transformation. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution that spans industries, or even organizations within industries. 

OT is often viewed as a black box environment where industrial control systems (ICS) and data interact in a siloed architecture with an unknown level of security and governance. IT organizations commonly refer to their OT counterparts as the Wild West. 

We fill that gap and help customers bring the worlds of IT and OT together.

As our customers invest in the digitization of their business, they are looking for partners that truly understand their business and possess the technological prowess to consult, develop and deliver solutions to ultimately increase profitability and reduce risk.  

Of course, any organization looking to converged IT/OT infrastructure will need to do more than find the right technical solution. The process also requires strong strategic alignment within the organization as well as sound planning and execution. 

WWT has the experience and programmatics to help guide you through the journey.

If you missed us at DistribuTECH, then connect with me to find out how WWT can help assess, plan, and implement your converged infrastructure.

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