The Stack Archive Article

Effect of IoT and data throughput growth on data centre infrastructure

Tue 14 Nov 2017 | Michael Akinla

The next wave of data throughput growth is having a transformational effect on the data centre market. The IoT and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is beginning to unleash billions of data points across the internet and this rapid expansion of content needs to be channelled, efficiently transported, analysed and stored alongside the current growing internet data merry-go-round.

IoT sensors and devices are expected to exceed mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices in 2018, growing at a 23% compound annual growth rate from 2015 to 2021. It is predicted that there will be a total of around 35billion connected devices worldwide by 2021, with over 16billion of these being related to IoT. The total volume of data generated by IoT will reach 600ZB per year by 2020, dwarfing the projected traffic between data centers to end user devices (2.2ZB).

The data generated by these IoT deployments will need to be processed and analysed in real time, increasing the proportion of workloads of data centres and creating new security, capacity, throughput and analytics challenges. This massive step-change offers an opportunity to integrate across the organisation, providing increased market data, business efficiency and operational savings. However, it requires the data centre, enterprise and manufacturing plant to work towards greater convergence of systems.


Chart 1. IoT Installed Base, Global Market

For decades, manufacturing operations technology (OT) and enterprise information technology (IT) have evolved into separate physical architectures. Today’s often closed manufacturing systems present a major challenge to transmitting OT generated data, to the right place and at the right time.

What is required is commitment to a common technology platform, allowing interconnected ecosystems with scalable platforms, providing affordable access to modelling and analytical technologies, for the manufacturing systems essential to the factory’s operation. A common network infrastructure built on standard Ethernet and Internet Protocol (IP), will enable a uniform data flow across the organisation.

This is a shift away from the constricted development of information and communication technology systems for specific sectors, towards a comprehensive and broad view of connectivity on a global scale. This new drive is increasing focus on integrating the new flows of data from machines and sensors with existing and evolving data sources, to produce new and actionable insights. IoT device access to the internet and the organisation’s compute environment is essential as people move away from the plant floor, increasing the need for non-physical monitoring and remote access to manage the factory.

Fundamentally important to the IoT model is the strategic activity of major ICT companies in developing IoT offerings. Leading vendors in the telecom, networking, industrial infrastructure, enterprise and cloud computing sectors are converging on the strategy of offering IoT platforms, providing validated network architecture design principles, and reference design guides which provide key considerations for a unified physical layer.

IoT is allowing organisations to create an entirely new business mining data from their stored and real time systems and using the analysis to provide valuable services and enhanced customer experience.  Lufthansa is using its IoT strategy to gather data from its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations and combining this with real time aircraft, airport and weather sensor data to improve on-time performance and optimise operations.

However, the integration of IT and Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS) and Operational Technology introduces the requirement for increased security, ease of use, rapid deployment and network managed support. Converged Plantwide Ethernet Architecture (CPwE) offers a collection of tested and validated architectures and provides the standard network services for control and information disciplines, devices and equipment found in IACS applications. Successful deployment of CPwE logical architecture depends on a robust physical infrastructure network design that addresses environmental, performance, and physical security requirements with best practices from operational technology and information technology.  As over 60% of Ethernet link failures are related to physical infrastructure, it is important from the outset to design and build a resilient network that is architected to recover (converge) quickly from a failure condition.

Physical infrastructure design for resilient networks

As IT and OT continue down the path of convergence it is important to increase the resilience of an Industrial Ethernet network. To do this we need to identify the risks for underperforming networks and network disruptions, and define appropriate countermeasures to achieve high resilience. Consideration of challenging environmental factors, such as, long cable run distances, temperature extremes, humidity, shock and vibration, water and dirt ingress and electromagnetic interference need to be understood so as to design and implement a coherent infrastructure strategy.

ICT suppliers often allude to the ‘Demilitarised Zone’, the space between Manufacturing and the IT System, where converging protocols and automation processes co-exist with the IoT environment. This provides the flexible platform for future developments, while at the same time provides a safety partition maintaining a secure bridge between the two environments.

Resilient design considerations:

  • Resilient network topologies
  • Network channel layout and distribution
  • Structured cabling
  • Physical network zone architecture
  • Network channel endurance as assessed using TIA-1005 MICE criteria.

Integrating Manufacturing with Enterprise, Data Centre and Hybrid environments is increasing pressure on data bandwidth resource within the networks, and while the latest topologies (Leaf and Spine) reduced the latency overhead, higher data volumes and real-time analysis provide new challenges to the network designers and operators. The growth of East – West data activity has increased localised processing and storage.  This is assisted by the introduction of higher speed and capacity structured cabling systems (based on the latest IEEE data rate standards), together with increased storage capacity benefiting from new storage technologies and Fibre Channel speed up to 128Gb and heading towards 256Gb.  As fibre cabling is becoming increasing pervasive across the data centre and enterprise, the manufacturing environment can also benefit from the faster 10Gb up to 100Gb speeds across the longer cable runs that are now on the market.

The latest developments in Cat 6A copper cabling have introduced industry standard compliant lighter, thinner cabling which can deliver 10Gb across 100m cable runs.  This is an important development as it also extends the capability to deliver PoE (Power over Ethernet) whilst maintaining the cable’s robust data transmission characteristics.  Developments such as this are providing intelligent access point ceilings across the data centre, enterprise and manufacturing facility.

The increase in data generation and real-time transport requires new thinking regarding fibre cabling in the manufacturing environment. The over used argument for the reluctance to deploying fibre in the factory is cost and that the systems require installation expertise. However, today fibre cabling systems have evolved to be simpler to deploy in factories and on plant floors and they offer new easy to use termination methods that any competent electrician can install. This now provides the infrastructure to securely transport the increased volumes of IoT data from the factory to the IT environment for processing and storage.

The latest industrial automation fibre optic cables are designed with harsh, device-level industrial installations in mind.  Cost effective, large diameter, high strength GiPC (Graded Index Plastic Clad Fibre), is easy to prepare and terminate with hand-held tools and minimal training. These provide a flexible, hard wearing cabling system that is highly resistant to electrical and physical interference in the factory environment.


The convergence of IT and OT is benefiting manufacturing with resilient plant-wide network architecture which serves a crucial role in achieving higher overall plant uptime and productivity. The CPwE architecture provides standard network services to the applications, devices and equipment in IACS applications and integrates them in to the wider enterprise and cloud network environment. The latest developments in cable technology together with the latest WAN topologies is speeding data throughput within the data centre. New robust cabling systems are increasing up time and efficiency across the network. As the OT inevitably narrows the gap between its own technology and that of IT. The convergence will increasingly offer higher levels of return for the organisation that fully engage and invest in this ever-widening open environment.

Experts featured:

Michael Akinla

Business Manager Central Europe North
Panduit EMEA

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