Manufacturing is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the global economy. In the US alone, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturers contribute over $2 trillion a year to the economy.
For some perspective, that works out as roughly $1 in every $8.
The recent abundance of both technological and Network advances over the past few years have given the manufacturing industry all the tools it needs to continue to expand well into the current period of technological innovation that has now become known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
One of these tools having the biggest impact is SD-WAN or software-defined wide-area networks, and, in this article, we’ll be taking a look at five ways in which SD-WAN is benefiting the manufacturing industry.
So, let’s jump straight in!
1-IoT Readiness: Smart Factories Need Smart WAN
The Internet of Things has quickly become one of the most transformative technological innovations in recent memory. The use of IoT devices and technologies within the manufacturing industry is becoming a new operational norm and the benefits that utilizing the various IoT sensors, cameras, and other equipment are numerous.
In order to fully realize the potential of the Internet of Things, manufacturers will need wide area networks that are capable and flexible enough to meet the demands of the not-so-distant future.
With the growth in the Internet of Things estimated to bring over 50 million connected devices by the year 2020, typical WAN networks will almost inevitably struggle to keep up with growing demand.
This is where software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) come into play.
SD-WAN is currently able to provide network administrators with enhanced new levels of network visibility with which to manage these new end-points as well as actively prioritize the traffic of critical IoT devices so as to ensure the best possible network route.
2-Customization: Prioritize the Most Critical Functions
Software-defined wide area networks are able to be customized in order to best suit the nature of their deployment. Manufacturers will most often make use of centralized private networks in order to perform tasks such as monitoring or the controlling machinery.
SD-WAN’s allow IT and network administrators working within the manufacturing industry to customize and create their own unique policies to govern a network’s traffic.
This means that…
An SD-WAN is able to prioritize the data packets it receives so as to ensure high priority packets are allowed to pass across the most efficient network paths for their specific type of traffic.
SD-WAN also simplifies network policy configuration and management by utilizing a partly centralized control plane in order to add much greater network agility than would be available on private MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) networks.
One of the key requirements for any SD-WAN deployment within the manufacturing industry is the simplification of network design and security, and nowhere is this truer than within network segmentation.
Manufacturers will often use network segmentation as a way of separating and isolating individual product lines into sub-networks so as to provide enhanced security and improve performance.
They do this because…
Direct network breaches aren’t necessarily the only means by which hackers can gain access to a manufacturer’s network. Suppliers, partners, and other third parties could be compromised first and, as a result, spread the infection through sharing data with others.
With SD-WAN, information can not only be segmented but also communicated to other parts of the specific network without the need for external mechanisms or supplementary protocols, thus reducing the risk and eliminating unnecessary connections.
As wireless communications technologies and IoT devices improve over time, connectivity will become an increasingly important part of software-defined wide-area networks within the manufacturing industry.
Connectivity is also important for ensuring that a range of WAN links such as 4G LTE and 5G are supported, particularly for use in remote, traditionally hard to reach locations. This is another way in which SD-WAN enables manufacturers to fully take advantage of the benefits of connected IoT devices.
With autonomous vehicles also lingering on the horizon, the ability to host multiple WAN links will likely become an increasingly essential function of SD WAN within manufacturing by the time driverless vehicles do eventually begin to be rolled out.
SD-WAN is also, unlike MPLS, ISP agnostic. This means that different service providers can be used at different manufacturing sites to further enhance connectivity while also being less limiting and costly than multi-protocol label switching.
SD-WAN is also providing enhanced security solutions for traditional network issues by delivering an unprecedented level of visibility into network activities at individual WAN sites, the corporate data center, or cloud environments.
As well as this,
SD-WAN is also able to ensure that all individual traffic is encrypted against unauthorized access and can be centrally managed, so as to extend a manufacturers security perimeter while also enabling remote locations to be included within as well, without the extra costs.
The added security functionality that SD-WAN’s come with is likely to drive further development of software defined networking technologies utilizing some type of security-by-design template.
The deluge of data that IoT devices generate will become a big target for malicious hackers looking to steal proprietary or personal data and so manufacturers will need to ensure that, not only is their SD-WAN suitable for deployment in their environment, but also that adequate security measures are included or put in place.
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