During the Smart Industry webinar “Marrying
IT & OT: Equipping Legacy Infrastructure for the IIoT,” Arlen Nipper shared his expertise on convergence. (He’s co-presented with Magnetrol’s Kenny Heidel.)
Today the president and CTO of Cirrus Link Solutions shares with us his thoughts on the proper use of SCADA, embracing legacy systems and capitalizing on the unique skills of the young workforce. Take a look…
Smart Industry: Why does IT/OT convergence pose such a challenge?
Arlen: Historically IT and OT were completely siloed entities within organizations, with IT based around mainframe based/batch OS/LAN technologies and OT based around emerging microprocessor based/real-time OS/WAN compute technologies. But over time the legacy “technology” boundaries have disappeared to the point where the compute and networking technologies are the same. But the challenge now is to overcome existing cultural boundaries while acknowledging the different roles and responsibilities that OT and IT departments have within an organization.
OT is responsible for the safe and reliable operation of mission-critical control systems connected to a diverse population of devices in the field or on the plant floor. Skill sets include the knowledge of physical interfaces to mechanical equipment these devices are connected to, and the 40 years of legacy protocol and interface technology these devices represent. 95% of existing OT infrastructures are brownfield and can only be upgraded with very careful migration strategies that maintain operational safety while minimizing downtime. Frankly, OT systems don’t need to consider ALL information that might be available in existing field devices or sensors, but only that information required for the safe monitoring and control of the system.
IT, on the other hand, is responsible to the enterprise at large. Line-of-business solutions need to be able to provide timely and accurate information to decision-makers. For most companies in this sector, a large part of the information for those solutions needs access to operational information.
The whole notion of OT/IT convergence and notions of IIoT have come about because organizations have all determined that to be competitive in the market they need more operational information and they need that information in near real time. And this is really where the challenge is: conventional legacy SCADA technology places the SCADA host system squarely in series with all field devices that could be providing more information. Existing poll/response paradigms are continually putting OT in the unenviable position of trying to make their SCADA system the central point for all field information, whether they need that information or not. This was something that legacy SCADA systems were never designed to do.
The answer to the problem is to provide OT/IT with IIoT technology that can be understood, leveraged, and utilized by both while satisfying the unique responsibilities of each.
Smart Industry: What are the benefits to be gained in properly marrying IT/OT?
Arlen: Everyone in the industry understands the benefits to be gained by combining the skills of their OT and IT departments. This is by no means a new revelation to the market, as many leading organizations have been trying leverage the strength of their OT/IT departments for the last 20 years. But with continual advancements in TCP/IP network availability, embedded Edge Gateway technology, message-transport technologies, and cloud computing (you could say the ingredients of IIoT), the desire for a strategy to marry OT/IT is expanding at an exponential pace.