By Uday Mudoi, VP, Product Marketing-Vitesse Semiconductor
The Internet of Things (IoT) shows no sign of slowing, with more "things" than people connected to the Internet since 2008. In 2010, there were 12.5 billion Internet-connected devices. Cisco estimates this figure will reach the 50 billion mark by 2020. As we network more and more things to each other and to the Cloud, one thing is certain Ethernet will play a pivotal role as the standard "language" used to connect everything.
While Ethernet has been around for over four decades, in last 15 years we've seen an explosion in new capabilities and features that make Ethernet even more useful beyond its original Enterprise Local Area Network (LAN) market. Today, Ethernet is the only communications protocol used in the LAN and datacenters. Ethernet is also universally adopted in Wide Area Networks (WAN) to deliver high-bandwidth services for voice, video and data communications. We see the same transition happening in Industrial-IoT (IIoT) networks and in the not too distant future, Ethernet will eventually take over storage and automotive networks as well.
So what does this mean for semiconductors and networking? The IIoT has rigorous networking demands, as will other emerging Ethernet segments like storage and automotive. Here are three capabilities we see as critical for the IIoT's success:
1) Deterministic Performance and Reliability
When we talk about network reliability and deterministic performance in Ethernet networks, we expect that certain functions will happen within a precise amount of time. This is possible when every network element knows what "time" it is and whether it delivered Ethernet packets on time.
This doesn't matter much when you're streaming a live event to your connected TV or syncing your Fitbit. But what about the antilock brakes in your car? Or an emergency shut-off system at a nuclear power plant? In such mission-critical cases, uncertainty or delay are simply not options. You must be guaranteed that the data packets whether signaling to stop the car or shutting down a malfunctioning part of an industrial plant are transmitted to and accepted by the recipient systems reliably, predictably and without delay.
Ethernet's longevity owes much to the fact that it has evolved over time to address specific industry requirements like high availability, network synchronization and quality of service. In 2015, standards are evolving yet again, this time to make Ethernet deterministic. The IEEE 802.1TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) effort will enable guaranteed packet delivery and acceptance by mission-critical devices within specific time parameters. This will be crucial not only to the IIoT, but mission-critical systems for transportation and automotive, such as collision avoidance or advanced driver assist.
2) Accurate Timing and Synchronization
Just as mobile networks rely on precise timing to ensure that calls don't drop, we'll see similar demand in IIoT networks for highly accurate timing and synchronization. In fact, IEEE 1588 a timing standard already used in Ethernet networks emanated from the industrial automation industry. Based on precise Time-of-Day (ToD) information, 1588 delivers real-time, time-stamped inputs and scheduled or synchronized outputs to applications. This translates to real-time communications for time-sensitive tasks, like the antilock brake example mentioned above, as well as a myriad of others, such as smart grid energy load management or automated rail control.
Hardware-supported 1588 capabilities will be crucial in IIoT network equipment due to standards such as IEEE C37.238, which mandates ~50ns accuracy per switch in power substations. That level of 1588 accuracy is possible only in hardware. And because networking OEMs typically build equipment that can serve multiple industries, the industry with the most stringent requirements (for timing, operating temperatures, or other features) is usually what OEMs use as their "unofficial standard" for all similar equipment.
Security is one of those things that is no longer just an obvious want, but is now a "must have" in virtually every industry. As the recent massive cyber-attacks have made all too clear, security must be a focal point as previously closed networks'such as those in IIoT increasingly connect to the outside world and the Cloud.
Fortunately, Ethernet has its own security protocol, IEEE 802.1AE MACsec, which was specifically engineered to protect Ethernet networks. We expect that 256-bit strong encryption technologies will be the minimum requirement in silicon hardware for Ethernet-based networks going forward. Some government entities, such as the U.S. National Security Agency, already mandate use of 256-bit MACsec for networks carrying top-secret information.
There's a hitch, though. As noted above, IIoT networks will need to support "time-awareness" with 1588. But security and 1588 have historically been incompatible, with the encryption completely disrupting the network timing accuracy. The good news is that modern "secure 1588" silicon hardware technologies are already available, which deliver 256-bit level encryption without compromising 1588 network timing.
Ethernet will be virtually everywhere in our hyperconnected world. As part of the greater Ethernet ecosystem, we're very excited about the ever-growing opportunities that this radically dynamic environment brings