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TSN and Prestera DX1500: A Bridge Across the IT/OT Divide

By Reza Eltejaein, Director, Product Marketing, Marvell

Manufacturers, power utilities and other industrial companies stand to gain the most in digital transformation. Manufacturing and construction industries account for 37 percent of total energy used globally*, for instance, more than any other sector. By fine-tuning operations with AI, some manufacturers can reduce carbon emission by up to 20 percent and save millions of dollars in the process.

Industry, however, remains relatively un-digitized and gaps often exist between operational technology – the robots, furnaces and other equipment on factory floors—and the servers and storage systems that make up a company’s IT footprint. Without that linkage, organizations can’t take advantage of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies, also referred to as Industry 4.0. Of the 232.6 million pieces of fixed industrial equipment installed in 2020, only 10 percent were IIoT-enabled.

Why the gap? IT often hasn’t been good enough. Plants operate on exacting specifications. Engineers and plant managers need a “live” picture of operations with continual updates on temperature, pressure, power consumption and other variables from hundreds, if not thousands, of devices. Dropped, corrupted or mis-transmitted data can lead to unanticipated downtime—a $50 billion year problem—as well as injuries, blackouts, and even explosions.

To date, getting around these problems has required industrial applications to build around proprietary standards and/or complex component sets. These systems work—and work well—but they are largely cut off from the digital transformation unfolding outside the factory walls.

The new Prestera® DX1500 switch family is aimed squarely at bridging this divide, with Marvell extending its modern borderless enterprise offering into industrial applications. Based on the IEEE 802.1AS-2020 standard for Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), Prestera DX1500 combines the performance requirements of industry with the economies of scale and pace of innovation of standards-based Ethernet technology. Additionally, we integrated the CPU and the switch—and in some models the PHY—into a single chip to dramatically reduce power, board space and design complexity.

Done right, TSN will lower the CapEx and OpEx for industrial technology, open the door to integrating Industry 4.0 practices and simplify the process of bringing new equipment to market.

The Evolution of Ethernet

Ethernet was built for practicality. While you want to receive all your emails, it typically doesn’t matter if your network receives them out of order before rearranging them chronologically in your inbox. With the advent of VoIP, determinism—i.e., the need for packets to be sent and received in a precise, synchronized fashion—suddenly became important. Phone calls wouldn’t make sense if your words (or the words you want to hear) got delivered out-of-order.

Industrial determinism is exponentially more challenging because of the scale and speed of the data. Large oil companies need to track over 7.5 million data streams and perform 100,000 new calculations on that data every minute. Vibration analysis tools parse thousands of signals a second. Even less-demanding applications, such as beer brewing, where data might get updated every few minutes, need precise synchronization to understand how a small change at the front of a process (a temperature spike) is causing problems (a build-up of acetyl) far down the line.

The Prestera DX1500 includes the features found in high-end enterprise Ethernet switches and a range of available port configurations from eight (8) to 54, 10/100/1000Base-T compatibility. Additionally, we integrate features such as:

  • Compatibility with 802.1AS, 802.1CB, 802.1Qav, 802.1Qbv, 802.1Qbu, 802.1Qci, 802.1Qat for reliability and low latency.
  • 802.1AE MACsec, which provides point-to-point security on all traffic between directly connected Ethernet links.
  • Secure boot, which helps to protect your system from malware. This feature, allowing only signed software to run, ensures that the software you are running is from a trusted source and has not been tampered with.
  • Parallel Redundancy Protocol (PRP) and Highly-available Seamless Redundancy (HSR) ensure high availability, zero frame loss and zero delay recovery time in case of network failure.  
  • Ruggedized for system operation between 125°C to 85°C.

Marvell’s rich telemetry features for use in network analytics and observability tools are also part of the stack.

The TSN Standards in Action

For some industrial networking equipment makers, the 802.1AS-2020 standard may be unfamiliar. Here is some idea of what you can expect:

  • IEEE 802.1AS-2020 – Timing and Synchronization for Time-Sensitive Applications
    All switches, end points and gateway devices on the TSN network must be time-synchronized. In addition to the general IEEE 1588 specification, the TSN Task Group adopted a special standard 802.1AS-2020 for TSN synchronization.
  • 802.1Qbu / 802.3br frame preemption
    In highly converged networks, higher priority traffic can be delayed by low priority frames.  Frame preemption allows for reduction of transmission latency for express traffic, by preempting low priority packets. Frame preemption allows lowest deterministic latency for critical latency sensitive applications.
  • IEEE 802.1Qbv – Time-Aware Shaper (TAS)
    The time-aware shaper is designed to separate the communication into fixed length, repeating time cycles. By doing this, it’s possible to grant exclusive use to the Ethernet transmission for those applications that need transmission guarantees and can’t be interrupted. The time-aware shaper also allows guaranteed bandwidth for these applications.

The IT Advantage

Introducing standards-based IT technology—Ethernet—into the whole of the OT realm will naturally take time given the common 10- to 30-year lifecycle of industrial networking equipment.

Once adopted, though, the benefits will become apparent quickly. TSN-based industrial switches will deliver to OT networks the full range of Ethernet standards-based features and capabilities already familiar to IT network operators. That will increase choice, improve total cost of ownership, and most importantly, extend the benefits of IIoT to even the most inhospitable environments. And once the base network is installed, more applications will be added. Imagine a utility offering premium payments to an aluminum smelter or paper mill selling power for shifting some processes to non-peak hours on demand: applications like this are already delivering millions in revenue to some customers.

For switch OEMs looking to bridge the IT/OT divide for their customers, there couldn’t be a better time to take the first step.

* According to 2020 IEA (International Energy Agency) report

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