There are a number of unique security and networking challenges that will continue to arise as manufacturing IT environments integrate internet of things (IoT) devices, 5G communications technology and multiaccess edge computing capabilities. While there are distinct advantages that these technologies bring to manufacturing operations, if only traditional network technologies are accounted for, there will be gaps in an organization’s ability to support and secure high-velocity, high-demand supply chain operations.
Transforming The Network
In today’s ever-connected world, network transformation is the backbone of business transformation. In the manufacturing sector, where dynamic supply chain operations grow more intense and widespread every day, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and customers must be able to connect quickly, acting like enterprise branch offices that rely on instantaneous communications with headquarters. This is critical to ensure that the supply chain has the needed flexibility and visibility for management. The expansion of IoT devices, sensor connectivity and other cyber-oriented systems fueling the evolution at the network’s edge need reliable access to sensor data to improve production processes and product quality, create a safer work environment, and enhance equipment performance.
This level of business transformation requires substantial network transformation. And, as I’ve seen firsthand with our company’s software platform, which focuses heavily on SD-security, one of the most efficient and effective means for achieving this milestone in today’s market is software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN). This brings together diverse circuits to increase bandwidth while lowering costs and complexity and helps manufacturers work smarter, faster and cheaper. Moreover, the synergies between SD-WAN and multicloud deployments drive a range of benefits, accommodating automation, virtualization, on-demand provisioning and granular packet-level data analytics, while ensuring agility, scalability and cost savings.
Clearly, the adoption of new technologies is not without risk, and an enterprise must evaluate its plans to minimize any risk to business continuity. Where does the risk come from? First, for a business that’s operating on existing infrastructure, it’s important to understand that, no matter how complex, any disruption to the business can be detrimental. Next, enterprises looking to leverage the internet for corporate connectivity or to cloud and SaaS in addition to or instead of a privately leased transport line expose themselves to additional security perimeter vulnerabilities. Lastly, it’s important to recognize that true innovation does not necessarily come from incumbent vendors that have a large presence in most enterprises. To benefit from truly disruptive solutions, organizations must also consider and rely on startup innovation.
Of course, SD-WAN may not be the answer for all customers. For example, if you have a small business with just a single site, or perhaps only have a limited number of applications that you rely upon that may be running on-premise, you may not need SD-WAN. However, you will still need to secure the method by which your offices connect to cloud or SaaS when using the internet and, in the process, consolidate multiple appliances at the branch to create a software-defined branch (SD-Branch).
While the edge network can be transformed with SD-WAN, the real challenge is how to connect sensors and devices that are so prevalent inside the IT infrastructure of manufacturing organizations. Today, Wi-Fi is the most common connectivity option inside a manufacturing facility. This can be filled with challenges due to coverage, interference, capacity and security issues.
There are many approaches available to address these issues by densifying the network or radio techniques available in newer generations of Wi-Fi Access Points. However, security remains the biggest challenge, as building and managing a secure network inside the manufacturing enterprise is crucial for running a business-critical IT infrastructure.
As 5G deployments become increasingly common across the industry, 5G will offer a complementary or alternative approach to Wi-Fi. While there are many analogies between coverage and capacity interference between 5G and Wi-Fi, the main difference is that of deploying and managing. With 5G, an enterprise can have a fully managed and secure environment to connect their sensors and/or devices within the network. Mobile network operators globally are looking at offering managed 5G services to enterprises for exactly this type of environment.
Combining SD-WAN With 5G
Over the next decade, we will see 5G deployments expand across verticals and geographies. The promise of additional capacity and lower latency at a better price per bit will be welcomed by all. With both 5G and SD-WAN adoption occurring in parallel, it’s important for organizations to understand what these technologies can do for businesses:
• Both technologies are going to be driven and embraced with a disaggregated model that separates hardware from software, and data plane from control plane, to achieve the agility, cost and simplicity goals needed for the digital era.
• Both technologies are going to be distributed in deployment for enhanced customer experience. Enterprises will be able to deliver entirely new CX advancements — for example, AR/VR in retail.
• 5G will provide a high-performance transport underlay network that could be more broadly available in many parts where wireline infrastructure is not able to provide high-speed broadband services.
Advanced, agile and elastic network and security architectures are critical to integrating emerging technologies into manufacturing and supply chain operations. Technologies like virtual reality, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, industrial internet of things equipment, and those that support model-based enterprises and robotics for industrial automation, will place an even greater strain on network resources if not updated and allocated properly. Market success in manufacturing will depend more on bringing advanced capabilities to the supply chain.
Digital transformation requires disruptive innovation. Organizations looking to transform their business into a digital business should seek partners that challenge the current model and offer an approach that simplifies, scales and secures the WAN edge environment while lowering the cost. Traditional models of relying on sole incumbent suppliers and processes also need to be transformed to move along the digital journey faster.
Manufacturers will find that, by modernizing their network capabilities through SD-WAN with embedded security, they will have the agility to pivot quickly, spin production lines up and down as needed, and connect with new suppliers without risking business disruption.