Learn how to improve uptime by using a network management process that includes planning, design, implementation and continuous improvement.
Editor's Note: This article is adapted from a white paper, "The Industrial Network Infrastructure: Your Future Business Foundation." Download the full white paper to learn essential facts and tactics to guide your network plans. It also provides resources and strategies to help you in the design, implementation, operation and maintenance phases.
Network infrastructure is one of the most vital yet undervalued business assets. Lose the network, and you lose phones, email, Internet, or access to business systems or control and visibility of the manufacturing process. Many industrial firms provide the top devices connected to the network, such as computers, phones, machines, etc., yet economize on the network infrastructure that supports these devices.
Like other business assets, a rigorous process governing the industrial network helps ensure efficiency and availability. No particular methodology is superior to another. The best-run networks result from a collection of elements intertwined with the governing process. Justification for creating the process is simple:
- Lowers the total cost of network ownership.
- Improves business agility.
- Helps the business respond quickly and effectively.
- Increases availability.
We recommend a design and management methodology that spans the entire network life cycle, as follows:
- Prepare: Business agility is a result of good preparation. This phase is used to consider the broad vision, requirements and technologies you can employ to make your business more competitive.
- Plan: Successful technology deployment must have an accurate assessment of the current state of your network, its security posture, and the business readiness to support the chosen solution.
- Design: A detailed design reduces risk, avoid delays, and controls the total cost of network deployments.
- Implement: Here the company works to integrate devices and new capabilities in accordance with the design phase without compromising network availability or performance.
- Operate: The firm proactively monitors the network to improve service quality, reduce disruptions and mitigate outages while maintaining high availability, reliability and security.
- Optimize: Best-in-class businesses never stop looking for a competitive edge. So, continuous improvement is a mainstay of any network life cycle.
Does comprehensive, up-to-date documentation exist for your network? Most companies do not have the required documentation, but all of them should consider it an absolute necessity. Accurate documentation and identification shorten the time substantially to recover from a network issue.
Many methods to generate this documentation exist, ranging from a summer intern project to engaging a professional services organization to assess and document the network.
Professional services organizations, backed by a major automation manufacturer, perform cabling and network infrastructure assessments. Many use software that “crawls” unobtrusively through the network, discovering and visualizing the network footprint.
During the assessment process, pay attention to legacy protocols, i.e., Fieldbus. If legacy protocols are present, plans to migrate them to a modern technology must be at the forefront.
Legacy protocols migrate out of the network as it ages because they become difficult and expensive to support, even if their performance is adequate. Their replacement is infrequently a “rip and replace” proposition.
Consider the age of the existing network and physical infrastructure. Are any of the active components, network switches, servers, programmable controllers, drivers, or other end devices, approaching “end of sale” or “end of support” from the manufacturer?
Aged active components have support costs that grow exponentially after a certain age, so they need to retire before your business is frantically searching for good used replacements to get manufacturing up and running.
Evaluate the age of transmission media and its condition. Consider wire speed as well. Category 5e is adequate for 10Mb/s and 100Mb/s traffic, but is insufficient long term.
Pay attention to connections and the cable. Jacket materials are commonly thermoplastic, which ages over time, particularly in challenging environmental conditions with UV exposure, temperature extremes and chemical exposure. The same exposures age the metallic portion of connectors.
Along cable routes, look for sharp bends and areas where cables appear to have been struck or deformed. With multi-pair copper Ethernet media, these physical deformations displace pairs in the cable, damaging its performance. With fiber optic media, there can be microfractures from physical deformation that attenuate or, in severe cases, interrupt signal flow.
Panduit, based in Tinley Park, Illinois, is a Strategic Alliance Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetworkTM program. Together, Rockwell Automation and Panduit are driving integrated solutions that help reduce risk, improve reliability, and implement EtherNet/IPTM solutions and architectures through optimized physical network infrastructure solutions and services. Panduit’s portfolio of products, tools and services are designed to simplify the design and deployment of secure, robust and future-proof industrial network infrastructures.
The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.