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Year after year, the world around us keeps getting smarter. Our homes are smarter, our cars are smarter, our phones, wallets, and garage door openers are smarter. 

Critical infrastructure, too, is getting smarter. As digital technologies take root in the public sector, energy, and industrial environments, the benefits to us citizens of Planet Earth are many.

Digital technologies on roads and intersections improve not just the flow of traffic, but the safety of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. They make electrical power more reliable and reduce cyber security risks at water utilities. They make ports more efficient, productive, and sustainable. And so much more.

Powering these advances are a variety of factors. Governments around the world are making significant investments in infrastructure to boost immediate and long-term growth (case in point, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in the United States). And climate change underscores the need for more sustainable water and power usage. 

There are growing number of cybersecurity attacks on critical infrastructure and heightened scrutiny on the reliability of the electric grid.  

And there are consumer expectations for services to be as quick and easy as ordering a pizza via a mobile app. What bus or train ride isn’t made better by having Wi-Fi access, for example? And with electric vehicle adoption on the rise, consumers are likely to expect ubiquitous public charging locations as well.

As cities continue upgrading infrastructure to become smarter and more resilient, a strong and secure network backbone is essential to support the demand for new services.

The next age of infrastructure, now

For infrastructure to become “smart,” physical devices must first be securely connected to the network to deliver data and information to the right place at the right time. 

But connecting, scaling, and securing all these devices and technologies has its challenges. One of the most significant is fragmentation in the space. Cities each use a unique mix of different vendors and networks, and these each need different skill sets, making it difficult to troubleshoot issues and install solutions. Manual processes and multiple touchpoints add to the complexity.

Patty Medberry, head of product marketing for Cisco IoT (Internet of Things), recalls one utility trying to streamline its 25 networks down to five.

“Add to this fragmentation the current talent shortage, and it becomes very difficult to streamline and manage the network at scale with visibility from the headquarters to the edge whether that is a connected intersection or a manufacturing line,” Medberry says.

Smart infrastructure applications don’t always live in racks in pristine data centers. They may be found in road-side cabinets, in a pipeline station, on a power utility pole, or any industrial spaces, where they’re subject to extreme temperatures, dust, vibration and humidity. Others may live in police cars or ambulances.

Cisco addresses these challenges with a market-leading industrial IoT networking portfolio, which includes everything from industrial wireless, switching, and routing to gateways and security solutions.  

“We’re bringing the scale, automation, and tools that have been battle-tested in the enterprise into these industrial spaces and packaging them in form factors that can handle these environments,” Medberry says. “Instead of multiple niche vendors, our customers can go to one vendor that has a holistic solution allowing them to use the same tools and skill sets across their enterprise.”

Securing industrial networks

Without security, smart infrastructure is an oxymoron. But securing smart infrastructure presents challenges, because the more devices and technologies we connect and scale, the greater our exposure to cyber-attacks. For many organizations, security has often been an afterthought with airgapped, unsegmented networks being the norm for securing industrial and operational spaces.

Successful deployments require that operations and IT work together.  IT brings the security and networking expertise. Operations brings the knowledge of the business and its processes – such as when patches and upgrades can happen without affecting safety or production.

Any kind of cybersecurity planning should begin with taking inventory of all assets connected to the network and their communications patterns, then conducting a risk assessment. From there, the organization can build a plan to improve their security posture.  

To help operational and IT teams work together on challenges like these, Cisco has embedded its Cisco Cyber Vision software solution into its industrial network offerings for complete visibility into what’s connected to the network. Cyber Vision integrates with Cisco’s security architecture to help extend security from the core of the enterprise to the industrial edge. Only Cisco delivers a converged security solution offering comprehensive capabilities to operational spaces such as Zero Trust security with the ability for multi-level segmentation, threat intelligence and investigation across the entire enterprise, and more. 
(For more on what Cisco is doing to help make operational networks intelligent and secure, read this blog.)

The proof is in the projects

Cisco IoT networking technology is helping make infrastructure smarter in a wide variety of industrial and outdoor spaces across industries all over the world. It’s enabling customers and partners to get the data they need to innovate, modernize their operations, and stay agile. Here are a few examples.

  • Roadways and intersections: In London, Cisco IoT’s ruggedized networking solutions are helping to reduce traffic congestion and increase public safety. In Morocco, Cisco industrial switches are automating toll gates and modernizing highways. In Texas, Cisco IoT technologies are securing infrastructure for intersections and highways. 
  • Electric and water utilities: In Italy, an end-to-end Cisco solution is meeting the needs of both IT and OT to digitally transform the country’s distribution grid. In Norway, Cisco is integrating renewable energy using robust operational network infrastructure to securely connect and operate 350 wind turbines. In the U.S., Cisco IoT solutions are digitally refreshing distribution grids with zero-touch deployment, boosting sustainability with critical infrastructure monitoring in substations, and reducing cyber security risks at water utilities
  • Manufacturing: Across the world, manufacturers like Unlin are using Cisco Cyber Vision to enable continuous visibility into industrial control networks so that they have insights to build a secure industrial network to deploy industry 4.0 technologies while managing the risks of cyber attacks.
  • Ports/logistics/rail: In port cities from Rotterdam to Singapore to Los Angeles, Cisco technologies are making ports smart and sustainable.
  • Airports: At Perth Airport in Australia, Cisco is extending the enterprise network to outdoor and rugged? environments using products like Cisco DNA Center and Cisco vManage.
The IoT-enabled digital transformation of the public sector, energy, and industrial environments is well underway. Our world’s critical infrastructure is getting smarter, more sustainable, and more secure. And that’s good for everyone.

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