Interconnecting devices, Internet-wide
Control Engineering International: “Our mission is interconnecting devices throughout the Internet,” announced eWon, a Belgium company, in an interview by Control Engineering Czech Republic.
The eWon Talk2M concept is already well known among eWon followers in the Czech Republic, proven during the vote tally for Control Engineering Czech Republic best products of the year. Yvan Rudzinski, a representative of the Belgium eWon Group, answered questions about interconnecting devices on the Internet.
Q: Could you describe the eWon Talk2M solution in a few words?
A: Talk2M cloud-based connectivity services connect automation engineers to machines via the Internet, using secure virtual private network (VPN) tunnels. On the user side, the software eCatcher establishes, on demand, a communication link between the PC and Talk2M, through the Internet. On the machine side, we install an eWon industrial router connected to a PLC or any automated device and reaching Talk2M using outbound connections. TalK2M is then a cloud structure made of several servers that relay the communications originated by the users to their machines.
Q: Do you provide other communications solutions?
A: Of course. Talk2M is the central piece of our solution for our primary market, remote access to programmable logic controllers (PLCs) for machine builders and system integrators. Our second market is remote data online, especially in infrastructure and utilities (such as water, wastewater, and energy). eWon's VPN hardware appliance is eFive, a centralized remote management solution, compatible with industrial PLCs and SCADA. For both markets, eWon provides a large range of industrial routers used at remote sites. Local connection is ensured either through an Ethernet four-port switch or a serial link (RS485 or Siemens MPI type). Wide area network (WAN) connection is provided by either an Ethernet Interface or a built-in modem (3G, 3G+, ADSL, or PSTN).
Q: Talk2M is hosted on the Internet. Does that mean a machine could be accessed anywhere in the world? What security protocol is used?
A: At any given time, several thousand engineers from all around the world are connected to their machines via eWon servers. Several servers are in different regions of the world (Europe, America, Asia) to reduce latency between IP packets. As you suggested, security is probably the most important aspect of the architecture. Several levels of security are involved, among them communication protocol security. Talk2M VPN protocols are based on Open SSL and Open VPN Version 2. The VPN security model is based on using SSL/TLS for session authentication and the IPSec ESP protocol for secure tunnel transport over UDP. It supports the X509 PKI (public key infrastructure) for session authentication, the TLS protocol for key exchange, the cipher-independent EVP (DES, 3DES, AES, BF) interface for encrypting tunnel data, and the HMAC-SHA1 algorithm for authenticating tunnel data.
Q: What about firewalls currently installed? Is reconfiguration needed when installing Talk2M on the plant floor?
A: On the contrary, this solution is firewall friendly. Outbound connections only are used to connect from the plant floor to the Talk2M servers. One of the primary goals was to design a minimally intrusive architecture, which means that the VPN protocol needs to be able to adapt easily to existing open output ports available in the firewall. TCP 443 protocol and UDP 1194 are used. This choice also implies a compatibility with customer LAN's proxy.
Q: What happens when Talk2M requires service? Do you provide maintenance?
A: After security aspects, the second highest priority of Talk2M architecture is to provide the best possible business continuity of services. Status and maintenance operations on the servers can be checked by users online via the eWon website. Talk2M architecture is reinforced by several sections and control objectives such as: n Continuous support service: TalK2M Services are monitored by 24/7/365 on-duty engineers. n Hosting provider and server roll-out: eWon has contracts with several providers, and in case of major server breakdown, we can quickly roll out VPN connections from one server to another. n Information system acquisition: eWon constantly checks and tunes the key performance indicators of all servers.
Q: Can you explain Serge Bassem and Pierre Crokaert's premise when they launched ACT'L 20 years ago as an electronics and industrial engineering company?
A: ACT'L is a Belgium holding company, composed of eWon and Biion. Biion was created first and is a system integrator well known in pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, with customers such as GlaxoSmithKline. The first eWon router was developed for a specific project requiring remote access through the Internet. That was a very basic version compared to our current range and without Talk2M. Because of growing interest and other incoming new applications, the first eWon router range was launched in 2001, and the eWon company had begun.
Q: Do you think they expected Talk2M to be received as it has by customers?
A: The eWon router, launched in 2001, evolved with different features. In 2006, eWon was the first to introduce cloud-based service remote access in automation. Seven years later, the technology has become standard. This success is because setup and use is as easy as possible without IT skills needed. The second major reason is that eWon provides a service free of charge, though Pro service version is available. Third, lengthy experience has made it the most scalable and reliable architecture. eWon manufactures routers and provides reliable service any time of the day.
Q: Why should customers consider using Talk2M for their machines?
A: eWon fills the gap between IT and automation for remote access. Automation engineers can easily and securely access remote PLCs and other automation devices. Networking is our core business, and the company originated in the system integration world. We provide industrial routers with high-grade features that can run in demanding applications in an industrial environment. eWon routers embed all main native automation protocols in standard (Modbus TCP and RTU, EtherNet/IP, DF1, MPI, FINS, etc.) and can propose backup modems (PSTN, ADSL, 3G, 3G+) datalogging, alarm management (mail, SMS), scripting, and Java applications.
Q: Winning a CE Czech award showed the product's popularity in the Czech Republic. What markets are you targeting?
A: Czech Republic is in the top 12 machine builder export countries in Europe. The company Foxon (www.foxon.cz) is distributing eWon in Czech Republic with much success, ensuring profitable growth for many years. After starting a U.S. subsidiary 3 years ago, more will be invested in Asia (Japan and Korea). We have launched new VPN servers in Asia and Australia, where we see a growing market.
Q: I know that you have thousands of connections. Could you give us a few examples of how remote access helps machine builders revolutionize customer service?
A: The first obvious benefit is cost reduction, with substantial savings in travel expenses and engineering time, by performing remote setup, diagnostics, and system maintenance. More users extend our products by combining IP video cameras, collecting data, and extensively monitoring installations. They optimize operations, handle faults and alert management, and perform preventive maintenance. It gives users a clear opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition or create a revenue stream. On top of the usual standard warranty period, users can propose different service packages for their customers.
Q: What do you think about the future of remote access? Do you see new trends, such as using social media concepts for machines?
A: Well, I do not expect a machine to have a Facebook page, yet. One trend is that customers collect more data on their remote systems, so collection, processing, availability, and sharing of this information could definitely gain importance in the near future. We will be launching a new and innovative router, called Flexy, during the SPS fair in Germany in November. This could be the vision of the future. I invite everybody to visit our booth for this occasion.
See other international coverage at www.controleng.com/international.
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