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The Basics of OT Networks

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OT Networks Overview

Operational Technology (OT) networks in smart buildings consist of elevators, lighting, HVAC, surveillance, or essentially, anything attached to the building. With these devices becoming more connected and networked, it’s possible to consolidate IT and OT networks. However, there are many benefits to separating the networks. Separation helps optimize the IT and OT devices and services, as the networks’ requirements and functions are different. Simply put, IT runs the business and OT runs the building aspects.

While some may be concerned about the apparent newness of OT, at their core these are not new technologies. Although the application of ethernet and IP technology may be new for this industry, the networking technology has been around since the ‘80s. 

The Case for Separate OT Networks

Having a separate OT network brings control of IP devices to the contractors, integrators, facility managers, and controls engineers. When IT handles the OT network, the HVAC contractor has to work on IT’s timeline and within their skillset. 

Additionally, on new building commissions, HVAC may be installed well before an IT department is brought into the building, causing delays for the contractor who needs the IP-enabled controllers to be networked. 

Separate systems are also ideal for cybersecurity. A separate system allows IT departments and facility managers to control the connection between IT and OT. This connection can be firewalled and monitored to reduce the risk of hacking.

Although OT services don’t use much bandwidth aside from CCTV video, it is critical that these OT devices can communicate on the network. While OT’s traffic tends to remain fairly constant, IT communications are less predictable. If the OT devices share a network with IT, their key functions could be affected at peak times when the IT system is overloaded. 

In one example, a stadium’s expensive CCTV equipment stopped working properly during sports games — exactly when they needed to be working — because the stadium was full of people using Wi-Fi, phone lines, and the like. The high level activities exhausted the bandwidth and caused the CCTV footage to become glitchy, with a rainbow effect due to packet loss. Learn more about the situation in the full case study.
 

Learn more about the case for separate Operational Technology (OT) networks 

Costs

Building owners may have concerns about the cost of having a separate OT network, but it can actually reduce expenses. There are big obstacles for OT to work under an IT system that could cause delays in important work and compromise the quality of both networks. IT networks are often excessive for what OT systems really need. There are major savings from having a network designed for OT, to be maintained and supported by the team managing it. You can learn more about the consideration of an OT network in our sample specifications document. 

Conclusion

IT and OT should still work together when it is required, but for optimal outcomes we recommend partial or full separation between the networks. OT should not depend on IT for success as it has its own requirements, and IT teams should not have to manage a network that isn’t in their expertise. 

Want to learn more about OT networks? Check out this podcast!

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