In order for an operational technology (OT) network to ensure continuous production equipment availability, it needs to be supported by robust, high-performance networking hardware. Components like routers, switches, firewalls and WiFi network access points are essential for ensuring smooth data flows in industrial environments.

But these components are also vulnerable to failures or attacks. That’s why close monitoring and proactive management are so important.

However, managing hardware is getting more complicated for companies—especially those with industrial environments. Data traffic growth means more equipment is needed, and this equipment is often dispersed over a broad physical area.

That’s why we’ve seen so many leading Industry 4.0 businesses turn to network management systems in recent years to monitor their hardware components. NMSs offer four key features that enhance OT network performance and security:

1 - Monitor equipment functioning

The first advantage of network management systems is that they provide a real-time snapshot of all your network hardware via a single interface. This lets you see if all your equipment is in good working condition.

Network management systems also provide machine performance and usage data. Sudden changes in network devices can indicate equipment failure or an attack, intrusion or unauthorized use. Network management systems can even be set to automatically send alerts when a given parameter—such as traffic volumes between the network and the Internet—exceeds a certain threshold.

2 - Centralize firmware management

The internal software used to manage network equipment has to be regularly upgraded in order for it to remain secure and incorporate the latest features.

Network management systems allow you to centralize, standardize and automate upgrades to firmware to prevent exposure to known threats.

3 - Facilitate configuration

With larger networks, manually configuring each device can be tedious. Not only is the process long, but it’s also dull and repetitive. Plus, the risk of error increases when you have to configure several devices in a similar fashion, over and over again.

Network management tools can substantially simplify this task by allowing you to configure hardware remotely and copy parameters to all applicable devices. The most recent configuration for one device can be reproduced across the network, and any subsequent changes can be automatically duplicated for other devices.

As a result, companies can adjust hardware usage parameters quickly in response to changing production needs. By simultaneously reconfiguring several network devices, companies can reorganize data flows within their IT and OT networks.

4 - Manage access rights

To keep OT networks secure, it’s very important to control who is allowed to access devices that manage data traffic. And that’s exactly what network management tools let you do. Network management systems offer three levels of control:

  • Authentication: The system identifies users by username and verifies password validity.
  • Access authorization: The system lets you assign access rights for each user profile so that you can determine who can do what type of command for each device within the network.
  • Traceability: The system logs all actions performed on network equipment. This allows you to ensure user accountability and determine error or malware sources.

Monitoring, firmware upgrades, configuration automation, access control–by doing all this for you, network management systems make it substantially easier to manage OT networks and keep them secure.

At NOVIPRO, we’re well-versed in network requirements and how to successfully transition to Industry 4.0. Ask us how a network management system could help your business. We can also provide you with more general advice on improving your IT/OT network’s security, resiliency and performance. Contact us to discuss your business challenges.

Read the next article of this serie: How to secure wireless industrial networks.