Logical segmentation overview
quote start Physical segmentation is common, but has been applied to an extreme. quote end

Logical segmentation is the process of outlining which endpoints need to be in the same local area network – better known as a LAN. Segmentation is a key consideration for an Industrial Automation Control System (IACS) network. Segmentation is important to help manage the real-time communication properties of the network, and yet support the requirements as defined by the network traffic flows.

Security is also an important consideration in making segmentation decisions. A security policy may call for limiting access of plant floor personnel (such as a vendor or contractor) to certain areas of the plant floor (such as a functional area). Segmenting these areas into distinct subnets and Virtual LANs – commonly called VLANs – greatly assists in the application of these types of security considerations.

Subnets and VLANs are two concepts that go hand-in-hand. A VLAN is a broadcast domain within a switched network. Devices within a VLAN can communicate with each other without a Layer-3 switch or router. Devices in different VLANs need a Layer-3 switch or router to communicate the traffic. Subnets are simply a subset of IP addresses assigned to a set of devices. Subnets are Layer-3 (Network/IP) concepts and VLANs are Layer 2 (data-link/Ethernet).

Typically, devices in a VLAN are assigned IP addresses from the same subnet and a subnet has devices in one VLAN to make routing easier and more straightforward. Best networking practices call for a one-to-one relationship between VLANs and subnets.

When designing IACS network logical segmentation plans, there are competing objectives. On one hand, all Level 0 to 2 devices that need to communicate multicast I/O between each other must be in the same LAN. It would seem easier to put all devices in one VLAN and subnet.

However, the smaller the VLAN, the easier it is to manage and maintain real-time communications. That’s because the broadcast traffic and multicast traffic are constrained. Real-time communications are harder to maintain as the number of switches, devices and network traffic increases in a LAN.

Smaller VLANs also isolate devices from those that are faulty or compromised, because the negative impact only occurs within the errant devices’ VLANs. For the same reason, VLANs form the basis for setting and implementing security policy and protection. VLANs provide the broadcast isolation, policy implementation, and fault-isolation benefits that are required in highly available networks.

Segmentation approaches vary

There are many approaches to segmenting a network. Manufacturing facility networks can be divided by functional sections of the plant floor (see 1 in Figure 1), product lines (see 2 in Figure 1), and traffic type (for example, I/O, controller-to-controller, and explicit message traffic). To achieve the goal of minimizing VLAN sizes, a mixture of all three may be used.

Sample Plant Floor — Brewing and Bottling

Figure 1: Sample Plant Floor—Brewing and Bottling

Segmentation can be achieved via the following two key mechanisms in the Cell/Area IACS network:

  • Physical – Using separate cabling and Layer-2 access switches.
  • VLAN (802.1Q) – Using the VLAN protocol that can be implemented on the same physical infrastructure

Physical segmentation is a highly common approach in current Ethernet implementations, but has been applied to an extreme. For example, a common approach in current Ethernet deployments is to physically separate I/O traffic from HMI traffic and not to connect the I/O traffic to any interconnected Layer-3 distribution switch. In these cases, a controller has separate network interface connections (NIC) to each network, and the only means to communicate between the two networks is over the backplane of the controller. The I/O network is, therefore, reachable only via the controller backplane that processes only CIP traffic. (See Figure 2.)

Gateway Physical Segmentation Example

Figure 2: Gateway Physical Segmentation Example—Two NICs for Network Segmentation

The effects of this include:

  • Devices on the I/O network are not accessible via non-CIP protocols (such as SNMP or HTTP), limiting overall interconnectivity.
  • A controller was not designed to route, switch or bridge continuous network traffic, and may introduce delays when used in this manner.
  • Network-based services (such as security, management, IP address allocation, and so on) must either be replicated in each network or are not available.
  • Increased costs occur because the available network resources in the HMI network (for example, open ports) are not available in I/O network.
Best practices enable interconnectivity

Although physical segmentation dedicates network resources to these various traffic types and helps increase the level of certainty that the traffic receives sufficient network resources, best practice is that these networks be at least connected to Layer-2 or Layer-3 switches to enable interconnectivity via other methods than the controller. In this way, the networks stay interconnected and get the full benefits of the converged network.

Better still, consider other ways (for example, application of QoS) to ensure that critical network traffic (such as Implicit I/O) receives appropriate network performance. Even if physical segmentation is chosen, many of the design and implementation considerations here still apply (for example, security, availability, QoS, and multicast management) as the physically segmented network is still a Cell/Area or Layer 2 network.

When traffic separation is a strong requirement, Figure 3 shows the recommended approach.

Figure 3: Converged Cell/Area Zone Network —Two NICs for Scalability