Keeping the Bugs Out of Your Belfry

Keeping the Bugs Out of Your Belfry

| 9/27/2013 11:47:39 AM

Keeping the Bugs Out of Your BelfryFrom time to time I find myself in Europe, sometimes for conferences or onsite data networking projects, and sometimes to visit our offices in Ireland and the Czech Republic. And I've noticed that you'll still see a lot of thatch roofs over there, particularly in the U.K. The Internet says that a properly installed thatch roof can last 50 years, provided that it's installed by an expert, and that some thatch roofs have base layers that are five hundred years old.  Apparently the stuff is light enough that you can keep adding more layers as the old ones start to wear out.  But here's the catch.  The installer has to know exactly what he's doing, and he must use exactly the right heirloom varieties of long-stemmed wheat straw or water reed.  If he doesn't, you don't end up with a beautiful, watertight thatch roof.  You end up with a compost pile on stilts. Portions will rot, it will start to attract bugs, birds will start foraging for the bugs, rodents will start moving in and before long it will be raining in your living room. Thatching, it turns out, is not a job for Do-It-Yourselfers.

As a data networking professional, I can't help thinking that building a modern industrial network isn't all that different. If it's done by master craftsmen using the right materials, you end up with something that's reliable, enduring and -- in my eyes, anyway -- a thing of beauty. But if it's lashed together by amateurs using office grade components you'll end up with the industrial networking equivalent of bugs in the ceiling and rain in the living room.

Don't get me wrong.  Most office grade networking components are perfectly adequate for small, indoor, climate controlled networks.  If you can get three or four years of service out of a $40 router, for example, and replacing it is just a matter of walking across the hallway, you probably don't need to be thinking about industrial grade equipment.

But as networks get larger, and as they move out of climate controlled environments and into the real world, it's time to start looking for specialized knowledge and industrial grade components.  Industrial networks must be able to shrug off temperature extremes and bad weather.  They must be able to stop or re-direct electrical surges and transients.  They must be able to handle shock and vibration.  And the individual components must be built for longevity.  Replacing a router on the other side of the hall is easy, but industrial networks are starting to include locations that are only accessible by Jeep or helicopter.  Even if you’ve identified the problem, getting out there to deal with it isn’t necessarily going to be easy – or cheap.  I talked to one customer who admitted that he hadn’t installed any isolation on a remote valve monitoring system for a natural gas storage site.  Upgrading to a $130 product in the first place would have spared him a two hour helicopter ride, along with the cost of the flight. 

You wouldn’t think people would skimp on their network equipment when they’re installing six figure pieces of capital equipment, or setting up monitoring processes that will cost the company serious time and money if the data connections go down, but it happens all the time.  And people don’t just skimp on hardware.  The famous Sony Playstation security breach shut their network down for 24 days and cost the company $1.5 billion.  The weak link turned out to be outdated web server software. It was a nightmare scenario, especially when you consider how cheap and easy it would have been to avoid the problem in the first place.

So I always give my industrial networking clients the same advice: If you don’t want network failures to start driving you crazy later, do it right the first time.  Use industrial grade components.  (For those of you who want to avoid paying for helicopter rides out to the boonies, this would be a very good time to mention that B&B Electronics products come with a lifetime warranty.) Where applicable, use products that can handle the most robust security protocols.  If you have questions, don’t hesitate to get advice from experienced professionals like the B&B Technical Support team.  (Hey, it’s free.)  And if you feel like you’re moving too far beyond your own level of expertise -- as I would be if I tried to install a thatch roof – bring in the specialists.  It will cost more up front, but you’ll save money in the long run.  And it sure beats having bugs in the ceiling and rain in the living room.

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