Modernized Communications Needed For A Smooth Evolution To Smart!
As I’ve discussed in my previous blogs in this series, smart networks are becoming increasingly important in an ever-increasing range of industries. These smart networks can deliver significant benefits, but there are some risks, challenges and issues associated with moving to “smart”.
In my final blog in the series I will discuss what is required from a modernized communications network to counter some of these risk, challenges and issues.
Firstly, the communications network is required to connect the sensors embedded in the network to the control and knowledge systems driving the smart network. However the communications network can also play a key role in smoothing the evolution to “smart”.
Reducing the complexity of multiple systems and technologies:
Use of a multiservice, technology aggregation platform at the point of access helps reduce complexity and control costs. This converged access aggregation platform should have the ability to aggregate all the data received from all of the various sensors, regardless of the access technology used. In addition, some services require dynamic packet transport, others require highly deterministic behaviour, and the transport network should be able to use deterministic or dynamic packet transport as required on a service by service basis.
Point of access security to make network devices more secure:
The converged access aggregation platform is located at the point access to the network, the ideal location to isolate network devices from the rest of the network. At this point it makes sense to instigate firewalls, intrusion detection and intrusion prevention functionality. In addition, anomaly detection capabilities can be added, ensuring network devices are operating as expected. As attacks evolve, so do firewalls, IDS/IPS and anomaly detection software, so it makes sense to have this security software on virtual network functions (VNFs) loaded onto NFVi hardware embedded in the telecoms platforms at the point of access. That makes it simple to update all the VNFs that hold security functionality as the software evolves.
In addition, and to stop man in the middle type attacks, it makes sense to encrypt the data at this point, before it is transported across the network.
Network segregation to reduce the risk of one comprised system impacting other systems:
This is slightly more complicated, but slicing technology designed for 5G transport networks can now help. With network slicing, virtual networks are created across a single physical transport network. The level of isolation required can be programmed. In softer isolation options, services are isolated from each other, but in the extreme a very overloaded service could potentially impact the performance of the network elements and hence the other services. In harder isolation options, there is full segregation between the services, so there is no way for one service to impact another.
Robust systems and segregated control paths reduce the risks of interlinked systems:
Using a communications system that is highly reliable with mission critical availability and software restoration capabilities can ensure that the communications network does not add to the risk of one system failure affecting other services. In addition, using slicing to segregate the control communications will at least ensure that the control information is passed through the network even in the event of a failure.
Low latency feedback provides real-time control loop for automated systems:
A real-time feedback loop is required to reduce the risks associated with automated systems.. The communications network can provide this with accurate, low latency communications between sensors in the network and the automated systems. Again, slicing technology apply here and provide this in all network conditions.
The evolution to smart systems IS inevitable as the benefits they bring vastly outweigh any risks associated with their introduction.
However, it is also clear to me that a programmable, sliced, multiservice, communications network is required to provide optimized secured communications between the smart devices and the control networks driving the smart systems. With this next generation communications network in place, the risk involved with the evolution to “smart” can be greatly reduced.
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