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Overcoming the obstacles of the network management lifecycle

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Installation, operation, maintenance and diagnostics are the four basic stages of the lifecycle of every industrial network. Even with careful network planning and design, network management throughout all four aspects of the industrial network lifecycle can still present many challenges for integrators and operators.

To optimise network efficiency, maximise system uptime, and minimise total cost of ownership, industrial automation networks will not only require rugged hardware with utmost environmental protection, but also user-centric software tools to enhance the user interface for efficient network deployment, monitoring, management, maintenance, and troubleshooting. 

This article discusses the inherent obstacles of each industrial network lifecycle segment and how industrial-tailored network management solutions from Moxa can assist companies in overcoming these obstacles.

Installation – Initial Configuration

Prior to the installation of every network device, system integrators need to configure and test each network node. Initial manual configuration of network devices is generally done one at a time using a laptop or web console. Depending on the number of nodes to be configured, manual device configuration typically requires numerous engineers and up to several days, if not weeks, to complete. 

MXconfig, a mass-configuration tool can save integrators significant labour costs and reduce configuration time by as much as 90%. Field-tested to successfully configure 100 switches in just 12 minutes, MXconfig can mass-configure up to 250 nodes at a time on the network. MXconfig virtually eliminates the possibility of manual input errors during initial network configuration to significantly reduce time to market and deployment costs.

Operation – Network Monitoring

Without effective network management software, industrial operators are unable to monitor, identify, and react to network issues immediately, which can result in production losses and safety concerns. Typical enterprise network management software, which uses complex features and sophisticated user interfaces, has a high learning curve and is unsuitable for use in industrial applications. An effective network management software tool should allow operators to visually monitor, manage, and diagnose network devices and events.

MXview industrial network management software is a graphical platform that allows operators to easily monitor and manage an industrial network of up to 2000 nodes in real time. MXview auto-detects network devices and displays a virtual ring topology. Moreover, MXview supports smart visualisation, which allows operators to see colour-coded VLAN/IGMP settings, a virtual device panel, PoE power consumption, and high-accuracy, 4-decimal place, port monitoring.

Maintenance – Configuration Backups and Firmware Upgrades

During maintenance, engineers will perform various tasks such as configuration updates, backups, and firmware upgrades. Changes to device settings can sometimes cause unexpected network issues. When this happens, backup files will need to be restored to a previously known working state until network issues can be resolved. However, every update and configuration rollback for a large-scale network can be extremely time-consuming, which can translate into extended system downtimes and substantial production losses.

With MXview, operators can remotely perform configuration backups, rollbacks, and firmware upgrades. For example, the configuration centre allows the user to select a group of devices and export their configuration files simultaneously for backup, saving a significant amount of time. The operator can also use the job scheduler to perform regular configuration backups, and a comparison utility is also available to compare various configuration files. MXview enables operators to quickly and safely reconfigure network settings to minimise network downtime.

Diagnostics – Event Analysis and Troubleshooting

The engineer’s ability to locate and resolve the issues quickly and effectively will directly impact network uptime and total cost of ownership. On the other hand, without knowing where to look and what to actually look for, maintenance engineers can spend hours troubleshooting the network and still fail to find a solution. For this reason, network event details are important for engineers to quickly analyse where the problem originated, which network segments/nodes are affected, how to resolve the problem, and whether or not to send an engineer to the affected remote site.

MXview supports a highly-intuitive event playback feature that can record network events, and replay past network incidents in the order of occurrence. By manipulating a video playback slider, users can quickly search and play back sequential network events, making the investigation of network changes easy and efficient.

Industrial Network Management Solutions throughout the Network Lifecycle

Moxa's MXconfig and MXview are industrial network management tools designed specifically to help automation operators manage industrial networks throughout each stage of the network lifecycle. Recommended for large-scale networks, these two user-friendly tools can efficiently mass-configure network devices (MXconfig) during deployment to eliminate manual input errors, provide smart visualised network management during daily operations and scheduled maintenance backups/upgrades, and quickly assist industrial operators in diagnostics and troubleshooting (MXview) when network issues arise.

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