Traveling the Road to Simpler, More Secure Industrial Automation in the Cloud

December 1, 2020
Richard Theron

The launch of Industry 4.0 machine-to-machine (M2M) intelligence initiatives via the Cloud and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are well on their way to transforming the automation of commercial buildings, manufacturing facilities and industrial process plants.  The workplaces of today and tomorrow will increasingly operate through the Cloud and exhibit incredibly intelligent automation on a scale with here-to-fore unimaginable productivity gains at lower cost.

The Challenges

As process and plant engineers continue to transition their company operations into the Cloud, two of the biggest obstacles that they face are (1): keeping the Cloud interface pertinent and (2) maintaining robust security.  Failing to do so impedes the intended productivity gains and the cost advantages of the Cloud while leaving the front and/or the back doors open to intrusion.

For most of us, change is difficult.  Process and plant engineers are no different, but in their work-a-day world everything is much more complex.  The transition to the industrial automation in the Cloud of a large multi building corporate campus, or a hardware robotic assembly line, or a fluid batch process requires thorough, complex systems engineering, testing and validation.

In nearly all cases, the transition to Cloud-based automation is impeded by the existing equipment housed in commercial buildings, institutional facilities, and manufacturing and industrial process plants.   Inside every business location there is a huge amount of legacy equipment—some of it old, tough, reliable, but not all that intelligent . . . and some of it with cutting-edge intelligence.  The goal is to connect nearly all of it to the Cloud.

The Solutions

The systems, process and plant engineers responsible for the automation and operation of their businesses are also wary of the safety and business risks of change, especially rapid, transformative change.  Change, however, is the middle name of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT, and like some road trips in life it is easier to identify the end destination and route on a map than to travel the actual road that takes you there.

For this reason, MSA’s FieldServer™ Gateway Interface line of communications products with its OpenVPN Interface are designed to help engineers and technicians travel the road to Cloud-based industrial automation with a minimum of delays or detours along the way.  With more than 140+ communication protocols, MSA’s FieldServer Gateways provide the means for disparate devices to communicate in the Cloud.

MSA’s advanced OpenVPN interface establishes an encrypted and authenticated secure tunnel from a technician’s local PC or mobile device to remote devices connected to the FieldServer. The FieldServer then acts as a proxy, allowing access to the site devices.

How It Works

With OpenVPN running on a FieldServer Gateway, engineers and technicians can remotely access their Ethernet devices with local Windows management/configuration programs to perform diagnostics, download new firmware and reprogram the device without going to the site. Technicians can also connect to webservers located on remote Ethernet devices.

The OpenVPN interface establishes an encrypted and authenticated secure tunnel from a local PC or mobile device to remote devices connected to the FieldServer. The FieldServer acts as a proxy, allowing access to the site devices. OpenVPN software runs on both ends of the internet tunnel to keep data secure.

Benefits of OpenVPN

The simple, easy-to-use OpenVPN interface provides FieldServer Gateway access to the MSA Cloud or third-party clouds via Ethernet, Wi-Fi or Cellular communications.  It interfaces with site control systems via BACnet/IP, Modbus TCP/IP and Ethernet IP.  VPN clients and connection profiles can be quickly distributed from the OpenVPN access server.  User access and group access levels can be set up according to individual or team needs.

In terms of security, OpenVPN technology safeguards business processes, equipment, data and facilities from dangerous intrusions by hackers and the threats of malware, etc. It operates on both ends of the Internet tunnel to keep your data secure and it supports different unique IP addresses for both endpoints.  Should a problem occur, Cloud alarming is available via either or both SMS text messaging and standard email notifications.

The OpenVPN interface is available with both the ProtoNode and the ProtoAir communication gateway product lines.  The ProtoNode is an Ethernet gateway and the ProtoAir is a wireless gateway (Wi-Fi or Cellular), which both provide Cloud connectivity with instant deployment of multiple field protocols, enabling new or legacy devices to easily interface with other protocols.

Conclusions

When traveling the road to Cloud-based automation, your choice of travel partners makes a difference.  MSA FieldServer’s OpenVPN cloud interface, its line of FieldServer Gateway products and expert engineers can help you avoid any bumps in the road on your journey to Cloud-based automation.

Contact the FieldServer experts today to find out more.

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Richard Theron
Richard Theron is the product Line manager for Fieldserver and cloud at Sierra Monitor, where he works intimately with companies in the building automation, industrial automation, energy management and life safety markets to help them cloud-enable their equipment.

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