Visibility as You Transform Your Manufacturing IT

The growing use of IIoT has seen manufacturing become increasingly reliant on IT service delivery. Where communications are contained within the factory, the performance and availability of network and application services are crucial.

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Eileen HaggertyEileen Haggerty

Faced with changing business requirements and under increasing pressure to ensure the fastest time to market for new products, manufacturers view the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) as a game changer for enhancing operational efficiency and scaling up automation processes.

Incorporating machine learning and big data technology to improve the quality, capture, and communication of actionable data provided by the myriad of sensors across the factory floor and beyond, IIoT principles and technologies can be applied to the production lines critical to the development and manufacture of a product.

Applications such as manufacturing execution systems (MES), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and CAD/CAM tools, along with inventory management and CRM solutions all improve a manufacturer’s global systems and operations. What’s more, contact centers, and the application services that support them, have become crucial to manufacturers’ success with customers, often being a primary point of interaction.

The growing use of IIoT has seen manufacturing become increasingly reliant on IT service delivery. Whether delivered in private data centers, in public cloud or SaaS, or based in distributed plants, where communications are contained within the factory, the performance and availability of network and application services are crucial.

However, the risks of slowdowns and outages have grown exponentially with the advent of IIoT. For instance, if an automated assembly line goes down, or if MES applications in the data center were unavailable for managing inventory, the impact can snowball from affecting a manufacturer’s production quota goals for that plant, to increased overtime costs to make up the inventory, and delays in production at other plants should piece parts become unavailable. Ultimately, distribution, revenue, and profitability could suffer.

With the average length of an unplanned outage calculated at 85 minutes, and with downtime costing businesses $21.8M on average, the need to assure the availability of these services is clear.

Best Practices for Protecting Application Performance and Security in Manufacturing

When the risks of disruptions and outages have the potential to impact a manufacturer’s bottom line, it is essential to protect application performance and availability. Many manufacturing IT organizations have created a strategy to gain visibility into some parts of their IT environment, while others are developing plans as they become more reliant on IIoT throughout their processes. Therefore, the following considerations should be factored in when developing tactics to protect application performance across the hybrid cloud.

Locations –Listed below are the areas of a manufacturing environment that need visibility to protect both network and application performance and availability. Consider the importance of these network environments - What happens if they are unavailable? Will it impact customers, revenue, or compliance with regulatory requirements? If so, visibility is required.

  • Private Cloud/Data Centers – consider where the most critical communications are conducted in your data center, e.g., at Internet & WAN access points, virtualized application server farms, voice gateways/session border controllers
  • Redundant/Backup Data Centers – similar considerations to Private Cloud/Data Centers
  • Public Cloud - including major vendors, e.g., Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud and other providers offering Infrastructure or Storage as a Service
  • Factories/Distribution Centers/Plant operations – globally distributed factories run automated assembly lines that depend on high-performing applications, and connect to applications in the cloud for CRM and other Web services that need to be efficient and available
  • Contact Centers – unified communications and collaboration services as well as CRM applications and inventory/ordering services. With high customer experience expectations there is a need to keep everything from the call quality to the efficiency of the service swift and available

Applications – Protecting application performance, availability and security is paramount because, very often today, the application is your business. Optimum visibility is required in areas such as:

  • Customer- and Revenue-Impacting Applications – your CRM services, Web portals/Mobile apps and UC&C services
  • Manufacturing-related Applications – e.g., MES, CAD/CAM, and SCADA applications; those that traverse central data centers and others operating locally in global factories
  • Software-as-a-Service Applications – many Web-based services that have moved to the cloud that could include safety and compliance apps, CRM apps, etc. Anywhere a third-party vendor is involved may need vendor-independent visibility
  • Voice & Video Services – used for VoIP, collaboration (Instant messaging), and conferencing or surveillance, these services are known to be latency intolerant—with users immediately impacted when quality is compromised

Types of Visibility – Several approaches can be employed to assure the performance and security of the network and the applications running on it. Organizations with the highest-performing services typically employ a combination of these to meet their visibility strategies.

  • Packet Flow Switches – these pass packets from the operating network to performance management and security monitoring tools.
  • Packet-based traffic – copies of actual traffic for analysis of responsiveness, errors, and performance of key applications, as well as alerting for potential threat risks
  • NetFlow – provided by industry-leading switches, routers, and other networking devices that offer application layer information related to user activity
  • Active (Synthetic) Testing & Monitoring – the ability to send messages from key locations to specific applications, including executing customizable scripts to test a transaction response time, even when no-one is using them
  • MIBs and Syslog data - provided by devices in the network that send monitoring tools information about their health and status

Every manufacturing organization has different needs and the suggestions offered here will provide a launching point on things to consider when developing a performance and security visibility strategy.

The Value of Visibility

Manufacturers with the most successful performance and security monitoring strategies leverage vendor-independent solutions. Not necessarily tied to one infrastructure vendor or cloud provider, these solutions give end-to-end visibility analysis that helps pinpoint the source of a vulnerability or disruption, rather than simply ruling out one part of the environment as the source. This helps IT to not only reduce the time to resolve problems that occur (MTTR), but often to get out ahead of the problem in its earliest stages to avoid customer and end-user impact.

The IIoT offers manufacturers the opportunity to improve their operational efficiencies and time to market. Achieving service assurance visibility and extending it beyond their data centers to plants and every aspect of their IT infrastructure will enable them to unlock the IIoT’s full potential. With greater control, more efficient operations, and fewer outages, manufacturers can fundamentally transform their business to meet the needs of today’s market and that of the future.

Eileen Haggerty is AVP of Enterprise Business Operations at NETSCOUT.

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