Takeaways from UTC Telecoms and Technology 2017
ICT Trends for Utilities
Last week ECI participated once again in the annual UTC Telecoms and Technology 2017 event held in Charlotte. It was a great opportunity to meet the industry, participate in discussions, and get a feel for where we can support changing needs. There is no doubt that the industry is undergoing change, as was apparent by the dense content in several different content streams. For anyone who missed it or for those that want to validate your own point of view from the event, here are my key takeaways from this excellent event.
1. IT/OT was everywhere
Many sessions touched on IT/OT convergence what is obviously one of newest priorities within utility telecom. There were discussions about the need for packet networks, the need to move away from proprietary interfaces, security on IP networks, and more. At one session, the question was asked “how many substations have actually transitioned to IP?” The answer was, “we’ve already transitioned seven just in one customer’s network.” The transition is real and is happening now.
Perhaps the best question asked about IT/OT convergence was asked in my first session: “Why would I combine a secure OT network with a wide-open IT network?” The answer? We aren’t necessarily saying that they should be exactly the same network – there will certainly be some separation for security’s sake. However, there are benefits to:
- Being able to exchange information across those networks,
- Having the same technology throughout (training, maintenance, management, etc.), and
- Having a single security solution across both networks.
- Not to mention the benefits in CapEx that can be attained by combining the networks where it makes sense (e.g. WDM or even separate VPNs or OTN channels).
- Security, Security, Security.
The one topic about which ECI spoke the most was security. It is obviously a clear driver for the industry. Lucky for us (or maybe we’re really good at this stuff), our LightSEC solution tailored to critical industries seems to be unique in this sphere. UTC also recognized ECI’s innovation with an Impact Award for Software. We were thrilled to be acknowledged – THANK you UTC.org.
Interestingly, physical security was also a big deal. I attended one session on security, and most of the session was about cameras and physical security. Regulations require both physical and logical security, and the physical seems to be an easier part for everyone to understand. It was a fascinating session, with images of heat-detecting cameras and talks of drone mounting. Also, the need for cameras everywhere increases the bandwidth requirements at remote locations, which emphasizes the importance of secured equipment that is more powerful at the edge.
3. There was a lot of SDN
Several talks mentioned SDN. Much of the discussion at UTC about SDN was around security – for example, you can designate which flows are valid and which ones are not. Some real-world examples were mentioned around security, although most attendees are still unsure of the benefits. One speaker, for example, said that only about 2% of their customers are interested at the moment.
4. NFV is starting to be real for utilities
NFV likewise showed up at the show. Several speakers claimed that NFV was being deployed now, although it was not as easy to deploy as initially hoped. In fact one speaker said that they got NFV working in a few cases, but were disappointed at how difficult it was to plug and play. Performance is different matter, with some solutions not being as interoperable as expected. A point was made of the fact that the promise of lower costs due to NFV have not come to pass. In fact, the costs for virtualized solutions are often more expensive than physical solutions. Operators are deploying NFV for the agility and flexibility, not capex savings.
5. MPLS TP versus IP MPLS
ECI likes to show how our MPLS-TP solutions are ideal for use in mission-critical utility service support. I had one customer come by the booth who was technically savvy and had some specific questions about protocols. When I mentioned the benefits of MPLS-TP, he said that he already had teleprotection set up in his network running over IP/MPLS. I agreed with him that was possible, but said that many cases, for those less technically savvy, MPLS-TP is simpler to set up. Of course ECI’s ELASTIC MPLS which enables customers to choose either IP/MPLS or MPLS-TP or a mixture of both is a perfect solution. We’ll support either side of that argument.
It was a great event UTC. We will definitely be back next year. In the meantime, for more information on ECI solutions for utilities and critical industries, click here.