How IT/OT convergence affects networking

Information technology and operational technology can be together, but needs differ. Industrial visibility, interconnections, scalability, wireless mobility, remote data collection and data analytics are among benefits. See 7 benefits of IT/OT data flow.

By Mark Mullins December 4, 2020


Learning Objectives

  • Examine how IT/OT data flow provides at least seven benefits. 
  • Fit environmental specifications to the industrial network application. 
  • Review common Industrial cabling problems and the importance of testing 

IoT/IIoT and IT/OT convergence continues to draw attention for the potential benefits they bring. IoT (Internet of Things) and IT (information technology) are associated with data-centric networks; the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) and OT (operational technology) are associated with industrial networks like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems used for monitoring and control industrial devices.

IT and OT networks were once distinctly different departments with their own architectures, protocols, standards, cabling and connectivity. Many on the OT side tended to be proprietary and vendor controlled. With the proliferation of industrial Ethernet applications, such as Modbus TCP/IP, EtherCAT, EtherNet/IP and Profinet and network-based smart IIoT sensors that can collect and transmit vital manufacturing information for real-time analysis from anywhere, the IT and OT worlds are merging into one.

7 benefits of IT/OT data flow

While OT networks are still going to carry out functions like monitoring and controlling industrial machines and field devices at the I/O level such as relays, electronic flow meters, remote telemetry units (RTUs) and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), the implementation of Ethernet and smart sensors shifts these systems away from proprietary environments to one of open standards and protocols. This allows data to move more freely, all the way from the field sensor to the factory backbone and on to the IT network and eventually the internet service provider (ISP) network and the cloud. This exchange of data is the foundation of IT/OT convergence that enables:

  1. Real-time visibility of industrial information from any location
  2. Interconnecting of multiple sites and facilities
  3. Scalability to reach to more environments
  4. Wireless communications for mobility on the factory floor
  5. Data collection from remote sites via 4G/5G cellular technology
  6. Data analysis via more devices and back-end system applications
  7. Standardization and rapid deployment for faster time to market

These capabilities pave the way for enhanced planning and decision making, improved efficiency, less downtime, reduced maintenance and better productivity, which lowers costs and maximizes profitability.

To leverage IT/OT convergence, IT and OT departments within a manufacturing company need to come together to ensure both networks are designed and deployed in a way that makes data accessible, meaningful and secure. A key factor is understanding that because the data is now in a common format that can traverse IT and OT networks and the internet, the cabling and connectivity that comprises these networks, as well as the environments in which they reside and testing considerations, are not one and the same.

Diverse industrial cables and connectors

The cabling plant that comprises the OT network is subject to harsher conditions. Out on the factory floor or within a processing facility, cables and connectors used to connect the industrial field devices and equipment must be robust enough to withstand a variety of elements including vibration, extreme temperature, liquids, dust, chemicals and interference. ANSI/TIA-1005 and ISO/IEC 11801 industry standards use mechanical, ingress, climatic/chemical, electromagnetic (MICE) specifications to classify components based on factors such as vibration, force and impact (mechanical); protection against dust and liquids (ingress); temperature, radiation and pollutants (climatic/chemicals) and noise interference (electromagnetic). The parameters determine various degree of environmental conditions and an associated MICE level, with MICE 1 defining a typical office environment, MICE 2 defining a slightly harsher environment and MICE 3 defining heavy industrial.

MICE 2 and MICE 3 environments that comprise the OT network require different Ethernet connectors compared to those used in MICE 1 IT networks. Unlike common commercial-grade RJ45 connectors used for connecting computers and devices in the office, industrial-grade RJ45 connectors often include features such as chemical-resistant thermoplastic housing and IP67-rated seals for ingress protection. OT networks also use M12 locking connectors for I/O connections on industrial equipment because they are far more durable and better designed to handle the ongoing vibration since they are locked into place.

Industrial Ethernet cable design benefits

Industrial Ethernet cables are no different than commercial-grade Ethernet cables in terms of data transmission capabilities, but shielded cabling construction is more common for copper cables in OT networks due to electromagnetic interference from switching relays, AC drives and other noise sources.

Industrial Ethernet cables may also have different temperature ratings and jacket material depending on the environment where deployed. Fluorinated ethylene polypropylene (FEP), thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and polyurethane (PUR) jacket materials have a far greater temperature range, flexibility, and chemical and abrasion resistance than polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used for commercial-grade cables. Applications where cables are exposed to frequent bending, flexing and twisting (think robotics and other repeated motion applications) may require high-flex cables that contain higher strand counts per conductor.

Industrial cabling problems, importance of testing

Testing has long been a best practice for IT networks to ensure the cable plant is installed correctly, will support the application and complies with industry standards. Network testing is often required for vendor warranty. The importance of testing applies to today’s OT networks, especially considering more than half of industrial Ethernet problems can be traced to cabling.

Some common problems encountered with cabling include:

  • Miswiring or poor termination of connectivity that prevents continuity via opens, shorts, reversed pairs, crossed pairs or split pairs
  • Cables that exceed the length requirements for a specific application, which can result in weak signals and timing delays
  • Crosstalk between pairs within a cable caused by electromagnetic interference that can prevent proper signal transmission
  • Shield integrity issues caused when there is break in the continuity of a cable shield that can cause increased crosstalk
  • Signal imbalance that can cause electromagnetic interference(EMI) to distort signals to the point they cannot be recognized by the receiving device.

IT and OT managers need to be on the same page when it comes to testing. This includes proper training and outfitting technicians with quality testers capable of connecting to both RJ45 and M12 connectors and testing for continuity, length, crosstalk and shield integrity. Because balance parameters are used for testing electromagnetic interference (the “E” in MICE), choosing a tester capable of testing balance at various environmental levels also is a consideration. Proper cable testing of converged IT/OT networks can help prevent unplanned downtime, ensure more uptime and solve problems faster.

Mark Mullins is product manager at Fluke Networks. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


KEYWORDS: IT/OT convergence, industrial networks


Is your industrial network enabling or constricting data flow and information development?

Author Bio: Mark Mullins is one of the founding members of Fluke Networks, starting in 1993. He has been involved in all of the key areas of the business, including cable testing, network troubleshooting and analysis. He currently oversees the company’s global communications efforts, keeping customers and prospects up-to date on cable testing products and technologies. As a member of the Ethernet Alliance Marketing Committee, he is responsible for promoting the Gen 2 Power over Ethernet Certification program. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science and an MBA from the University of Washington.