4 Key Considerations for Upgrading Industrial OT Networks

We know industrial landscapes are continually reshaped by technological advancements, and the imperative to upgrade Operational Technology (OT) networks has never been more critical. As Industry 4.0 propels us towards an interconnected future, operations are faced with the challenge of ensuring their networks are not only capable of meeting today’s demands but are also prepared for tomorrow’s opportunities. This article explores 4 paramount considerations for upgrading OT networks, emphasising their role in bolstering operational efficiency, security, and future-readiness.

1. Fortifying Networks with Enhanced Cybersecurity Measures

Upgrading networks to counter evolving cyber threats has become essential. As Operational Technology (OT) networks increasingly integrate with Information Technology (IT) systems and the Internet, they become more vulnerable to sophisticated cyber-attacks that can disrupt critical infrastructure and operations. A critical yet often overlooked aspect of network security is the inherent vulnerabilities within legacy hardware. Equipment that has been operational for extended periods may harbor exploitable weaknesses that are not rectifiable through software updates alone. Legacy devices may also lack the advanced security features ingrained in newer models, such as sophisticated encryption capabilities and built-in cyber-defence mechanisms. Upgrading networks with the latest security and visibility features—including intrusion detection systems, virtual patching, network visualisation, and inbuilt security and risk audits—is essential. This not only safeguards sensitive data and operational continuity but also ensures compliance with best practice frameworks such as the Systems of Cybersecurity for Industry (SOCI), National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST), and the International Electrotechnical Commission’s Standards (IEC 62443)

2. Embracing Scalability for IoT Integration

The surge of IoT devices presents a scalability challenge that must be addressed through network upgrades. Ensuring that networks can seamlessly manage an increasing number of devices and the ensuing data deluge is crucial. Upgrades that emphasise scalability allow businesses to harness the full potential of IoT technologies, facilitating innovations such as real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and automated control systems. This consideration aligns with the trajectory of industrial evolution towards more connected, data-rich operations, enabling businesses to maintain a competitive edge. Plan your network to accommodate both current needs and future growth by carefully considering your data aggregation points and ensuring uplink speeds are scalable. 

3. Ensuring Reliability through Redundancy

Reliability in industries where downtime is costly is paramount. Upgrading network infrastructure to include redundancy and failover mechanisms not only enhances reliability but also ensures that operations continue smoothly during hardware failures or external disruptions. Despite the higher costs and complexity associated with these upgrades—requiring additional hardware, software, and skilled personnel—the investment is essential. High-stakes industries cannot afford to overlook the resilience that these mechanisms provide. It is crucial to select vendors known not only for their reliable and long-lasting products but also for offering robust local support and an extensive knowledge base.

4. Future-Proofing with Emerging Technologies

Future-proofing is crucial for network upgrades in the industrial sector, involving the design of networks that are flexible enough to integrate emerging technologies such as 5G, edge computing, and artificial intelligence. This strategy ensures networks remain adaptable to evolving technological trends and business needs, protecting investments in the long term. Prioritising upgrades that align with future technologies allows businesses to establish a robust foundation for sustained innovation and growth. Additionally, investing in edge-capable network hardware, such as Cisco’s routers and switches, enhances operational capabilities through functions like protocol conversions and deep packet inspections.

Upgrading OT networks is a strategic focus, ensuring they’re equipped for current and future demands. As we navigate the twists and turns of Industry 4.0, it’s clear that the ability to upgrade and adapt will mark the difference between just keeping up and truly leading the way. Upgrading is your proactive step towards staying competitive and resilient in this dynamic landscape.

To learn more about industrial networks, download our eBook Industrial Connectivity: The Backbone of Industry 4.0.