With so much technology running even the smallest of modern airports, networks are vital in allowing that technology to communicate. With the convergence of this operationally critical technology to TCP/IP, many airports have taken this apparent opportunity to bring their data networks together. But is this one-size-fits-all approach the correct one?
As traditional engineering technologies have begun using TCP/IP, rather than more bespoke communications protocols (e.g. Serial, Bacnet etc), it has tended to be moved onto established IT networks. Whilst these networks are often described as highly available, they often, quite rightly, have a stronger focus on confidentiality and integrity.
A certain amount of downtime is tolerated on an IT network. When it comes to Operational Technology (OT), a short outage can have an enormous impact to an airport, at best to the airport’s bottom line and at worst to the safety of passengers.
This is not to say that TCP/IP should be avoided, there are many benefits to using TCP/IP for communications:
• A technology to which wider range of maintainers are familiar
• Emerging systems/technologies are likely to support it
• Automated reporting/monitoring to the corporate IT network
However, the approach to applying TCP/IP to OT must be carefully considered.
An OT network’s hardware must suit its intended usage and environment by offering:
• Ruggedised, fanless hardware built for harsh environments rather than cooled communications rooms or datacentres
• Form factors other than 19-inch rack-mounted (DIN rail)
• Ease of use to ensure maintainers do not require extensive training – there should be no need to outsource the communications element of the operational system.
• The ability to offer dedicated bandwidth and determinate routes rather than relying on Quality of Service (QoS) and indeterminate routing protocols
• Direct support of legacy systems like RS232, E&M etc.
That last point is a crucial one for an airfield network. Many of these systems and their field devices remain very reliable.
Only the network needs to change but in a lot of cases, adding a network might result in additional devices between the edge and the network to convert from, say, serial to TCP/IP.
This of course introduces additional single points of failure as well as a need for knowledge of yet another device and the holding of additional spares.
We have over 20 years’ experience in communications across airports and understands the needs of an operationally critical system.
We have seen how others’ IT-optimised networks can fail the systems attached to them through a simple overnight patch going wrong and we’ve had great success deploying networks such as an airfield upgrade project using OTN’s xTran equipment.
Find out more on what we do: https://www.firstco.uk.com