Reliable Network Switching Increases Data Reliability

It’s open architecture-based systems to the rescue as both pressure to hasten time to market and the demand for reliable data transmission continue.

IoT systems for data-intensive computing applications used in harsh industrial applications carry with them a range of reliability and security issues for the network components. But, secure data transmission and the networking of individual components are only two of the factors at play here. With the growing use of wireless communication methods, network switching plays a major role in computing infrastructure today.

Systems rely on a combination of wired, and increasingly wireless, Ethernet variants, audio and video transmission standards as well as legacy industry-oriented fieldbuses. Enabling separate parts, such as Ethernet protocols, components, and assemblies, to “speak the same language” results in lower costs of the application and faster time to market (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Networking standards in today’s computing systems are growing, but network switches are evolving to meet this complex environment.

Figure 1: Networking standards in today’s computing systems are growing, but network switches are evolving to meet this complex environment.

Open Communication by Design

Ethernet functions on the computer side range from a simple interface (device to device), via switches and routers (managing complex Ethernet networks) to gateways (interacting with devices or networks that speak different languages). This can put a lot of strain on the Ethernet network and impact performance.

In order to create fast switching Ethernet rings, some manufacturers use proprietary ‘ring protocols’, where the creating switch manufacturer owns the intellectual property and typically makes it incompatible to commonly agreed-upon standards. By contrast, systems employing commonly agreed-upon standards, like ITU-T G.8032 and ITU-T G.8031 protection switching with lower than 50 ms failover-switching time, adhere to a collaborative open systems approach.

In fact, using open industry standards in all aspects of hardware, software and communication protocols will allow you to stay vendor-independent and protected against obsolescence issues. Designed to lower non-recurring engineering (NRE)) costs, MEN Micro’s network switching systems are all built on the following open standards:

  • CompactPCI and CompactPCI Serial industry standards
  • Commonly used copper interfaces
  • Linux operating system platform
  • Standard communication protocols and management protocols

Modularity Aids in Networking Efficiency

Computer systems are subject to extreme cost pressures, particularly in industrial areas like automation. On the other hand, they need to be configurable. They need PCI components and fieldbus options. Ideally, everything has to come off the shelf to optimize the costs both on the manufacturer’s side and on the customer’s side.

Pre-configured network switching systems offer speed-to-market advantages, but may force a compromise in certain design elements, based on the available arrangements. However, because they encompass so many standardized aspects, these open architecture-based systems can be easily adapted, and built-to-order, while still keeping time-to-market short and saving on development and integration costs.

Two additional aspects built into each system are easily customizable I/O and the ability to withstand rugged environments. This makes these modular, high-performance computing systems ready for a wide range of applications, including industrial IoT, railway, and mass transit.

Easily Meet Networking Requirements

The size and complexity of computing systems can vary tremendously, which is why a modular approach can be extremely beneficial. For example, many base systems from MEN Micro use a 29 Gbit/s carrier grade switch matrix as well as include a wide operating temperature, rugged aluminum enclosure and a host of I/O options. Although each comes in a standard configuration, all network switching systems are part of the customizable built-to-order box PC line.

For systems with high data requirements, a full turnkey network switch that includes up to 25 Gigabit Ethernet ports and two power supplies for redundancy may be the ideal system. The main switch board occupies one slot, while six option boards configure front-panel connectivity. This concept allows the unit to come with M12 A-coded and X-coded, RJ45 and SFP interfaces in mixed fiber/copper configurations (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Built-to-order, rugged network switches provide design flexibility to meet data networking as well as environmental requirements.

Figure 2: Built-to-order, rugged network switches provide design flexibility to meet data networking as well as environmental requirements.

But for applications with fewer data networking needs, a fully managed 8-port rugged Ethernet switch may provide the proper balance of power and performance. This managed switch provides the additional ability to configure, manage and monitor the LAN, allowing more control over how data travels through the network and who has access.

Or a network switch designed specifically as a mobile gateway can include up to six antennas on RP-TNC connectors as well as dual RF with simultaneous 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band support. This arrangement provides reliable high-speed internet and local data connection to multiple WLAN-compatible devices. And a configurable firewall protects WLAN clients as well as supports secure and uninterrupted internet data access.

Secure Data Transmission

In addition to withstanding extreme environmental conditions and offering flexible configuration, network switching systems need to ensure data security. The application’s requirements will determine what level of security is needed, and whether the information resides on an internal network platform or externally on the internet.

While the main focus from a software point of view is on securing the transmission of data and the cloud, the hardware used must first establish the necessary conditions to ensure secure communication and protection against external attacks.

MEN Micro employs a variety of methods in developing its line of robust industrial computers, such as the use of a chip enabled with Trusted Platform Management (TPM) enabled to facilitate encrypted data storage and secure booting.

One of the advantages of encrypted data storage, for example in entertainment applications in trains and buses, is that it offers a reliable way for exclusive film material to be played solely on the operator’s screens. Secure booting ensures that the system will only start after its integrity has been checked and if there have been no changes to the flash. This protects the system against unauthorized access. Encryption can be implemented through hardware encryption engines or software.

Systems can be partitioned in several ways using firewalls and white or blacklisting. Segmentation includes separating mission-critical networks securely and independently from non-critical networks as well as keeping certain systems from public networks.

Built-in Reliability

No matter if data is living out on the great big internet or just being managed locally within a closed network, system requirements are going to demand reliability and design principles are going to demand secure, reliable data transmissions.

Network switching systems are asked to handle a large number of inputs as well as a growing amount of data and are expected to keep pace with the desire for faster transmission speeds, while ensuring data integrity across many layers. This is a tall order.

By using application-ready, rugged systems based on open standards and high performance, designers can attain low-cost, effective computing and implement systems tailored to meet the design’s demands.

authorJarvis Wenger is a Customer Support Engineer in the Technical Solutions group at MEN Micro. He graduated from DeVry University with a degree in Electronics Engineering more than a decade ago and continues to be passionate about creating embedded computing solutions across a broad range of industries.