The world is changing how we communicate. In just the last couple of decades, rapid technology advancements and the Internet have connected us like never before. We initially embraced the Internet for personal and business communications; now, we’re seeing the Internet expanding aggressively into the world of critical infrastructure.
Traditional landline phones, fax machines and personal communications have been yielding to the use of cell phones, scanners and email. Consumers and businesses are transitioning to IP-based services, which in turn is driving carriers to invest in wireless and fiber-optic systems designed to support the increasing demand for IP devices and applications.
Critical infrastructure private network operators have historically used leased circuits or time division multiplexed (TDM) circuits for connectivity. For several decades, these leased circuits have been the backbone for private network operators. Now, network operators find themselves reinventing their systems due to the same business drivers that are driving carriers to invest in upgrading aging infrastructure.
Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? If it were only that simple. While the transition to IP is rapidly becoming a key element in technology convergence, there are significant issues to address. For example, changing the connection is just part of the transition. Transport and distribution equipment, combined with the equipment that runs the applications, all have to be upgraded or replaced, with the vast majority of the equipment requiring replacement.
Along with the rapid changes in technology, critical infrastructure expectations and requirements are also evolving to improve cost-effective, reliable broadband connectivity. But with new advancements, we also see new challenges requiring solutions to address weather, maintenance and man-made threats to system reliability.
Historically, critical infrastructure implementation has been delivered to support a single application. Now, due to bandwidth requirements to support applications, there’s an increased need to improve network reliability. That, in turn, drives requirements for redundancy and emergency power.
Additionally, with more onsite broadband and a common backbone, the need for cyber and physical security concerns also need to be addressed. For example, as utilities upgrade their communications infrastructure, they must continue to operate legacy applications in some cases, even after the upgrade is complete.
Integration of future challenges
With the convergence of technology, machine-to-machine, or M2M, approaches will become more critical in addressing our evolving requirements. Just under 20 years ago, I was part of a project to develop an automated mining truck. GPS technology had just become available to the commercial market and we were able to address safety and operational concerns to deliver payloads from the mine to the collection pickup point. We’ve really come a long way, in that now, we can not only park a car, but have cars drive from one location to another without a driver.
Technology is now driving the ability to link devices and applications. If you consider the initial model of a single system to provide protection and control, you also need to be able to address cyber and physical security of the application interconnections. That means these evolving M2M systems will require additional security and safety monitoring systems to insure system reliability.
What does it all mean?
Our current systems are limited by bandwidth and legacy applications. As next generation IP critical infrastructure comes more into the mainstream, I expect we’ll see an evolution into intelligent critical infrastructure (ICI) applications. All the elements to make an ICI communications network are available today. The integration of sensors that can forecast a potential structure, tower or bridge failure using smart devices, connected to a system of devices via a secure hardened network, has great potential to save lives and property.
Integrating these applications will require a critical infrastructure network made up of many systems. This will create a system of systems that can maintain the integrity of each individual system. Information gathered at the system level can then be analyzed at the network level to determine the best course of action.
Considering the pace that we are not only accepting technology, but integrating into our daily lives, it is unlikely it will take another 10 years to embrace the next generation of new standards related to intelligent critical infrastructure communications.
Up next, in part three of this series, Reinventing Critical Infrastructure, we’ll focus on developing and implementing physical and cybersecurity methods for all these new systems that will be coming online.