The business imperative for ruggedised networking to secure modern industry

06 December 2023

Chris Derham, business development director – networks, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

Rugged mobile phones and laptops are the product of choice in environmentally challenging landscapes, especially when it comes to industrial surroundings such as mines, factories, oil rigs, deserts, and others. After all, durability, ease of use, and longevity matter just as much in harsh environments and extreme temperatures as they do in the comfort of the office.

As our industrial landscape evolves and digitises, so do the challenges faced in ensuring consistent and dependable connectivity for rugged devices. Increasingly diverse operational environments require consideration for more robust equipment that makes up the infrastructure necessary to ensure continuous and reliable network connectivity; enter ruggedised ethernet switches, key building blocks of industrial-level connectivity.

The role of ruggedised networking in a connected world

Whether residential and business metropolitan applications, smart cities and buildings, or public and private transport infrastructure such as railways, downtime can have far more severe implications outside of mere inconvenience, whether potential economic impact or even matters of public safety, for example.

The primary purpose of ruggedised Ethernet switches is to provide robust and dependable network connectivity in environments where standard commercial-grade switches may fail or be unsuitable. Whether it’s temperature extremities, moisture, dust, or electromagnetic interferences, ruggedised switches ensure continuous data transmission and communication, facilitating critical operations and processes without interruptions.

Factors driving the business case for rugged switching

There are a couple of key factors to consider when it comes to the business impact of ruggedised switching.

To start, organisations need to evaluate the operational demands at play. Equipment specifications must resonate with the expected operating environment. To this effect, rugged switch design encompasses reinforced enclosures, which ensures resistance against increased physical wear and tear whether within busy manufacturing facilities, or the hustle and bustle of transportation hubs. Temperature adaptability means they are designed to operate across a range of temperatures, ranging from frigid cold to searing heat, while also being sealed to keep internal components safe against external intrusions like moisture and dust.

In the UK, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has delivered numerous projects for customers in the transportation sector, including the implementation of IoT-ready network infrastructure for Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

The authority’s ageing infrastructure meant it was difficult to introduce new, mission-critical technologies to the network. This included CCTV, traffic management systems, fire and smoke detection, and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition control system) in road tunnels, as well as toll services such as automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and intercom system integration.

ALE designed and implemented a networking solution capable of accommodating the Authority’s current requirements, as well as its future aspirations, including business process integration, new cloud application support and smart ticketing expansion for public transport. The implementation enabled increased operational efficiencies from a single management platform, high return on investment (ROI) and lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

These deployments in harsh environments such as the outdoors and underground tunnels can help simplify network management, and at the same time ensure minimal network disruption that could impact worker and passenger safety, while making sure that passengers get to their destinations every day safely and comfortably.

Compliance with the relevant industry certifications is critical. When it comes to defence and military applications, specific military standards must be met to ensure that military vehicles, command centres, communication networks, and surveillance systems are able to operate securely and reliably in challenging battlefield or tactical environments.

Security must be non-negotiable. While the primary design focus of ruggedised switches is to counter physical threats, modern ruggedised switches have the same security features as commercial-grade equipment, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. The fundamental difference lies in their resilience to harsh conditions.

Vendor support and credibility are fundamental factors. Businesses must consider vendors that offer extended equipment support, preferably for up to 10 years, to ensure the longevity and continued reliability of the network infrastructure. Vendors with a proven track record as reputable providers of ruggedised networking equipment can directly impact the success and performance of the deployed switches.

Looking ahead, future-proofing your business network with Artificial Intelligence operations (AI Ops) allows for the immediate resolution of operational issues or security threats with a click of a button on a mobile application or laptop. This lets IT administrators improve network efficiency, and potentially reduce maintenance costs by pre-empting issues before they become worse.

Uncompromising reliability that drives business success
The industrial world’s pivot to seamless digitisation and automation hinges significantly on robust network backbones. Ruggedised Ethernet switches, with their resilience and adaptability, are an invaluable asset for industries navigating these challenging arenas while delivering benefits to the business as part of their foundational and strategic investments into the industries of tomorrow.