An interview with Sue Graham Johnston, President of 128 Technology. By Robert Cockerill.
From the basic premise of e-commerce through to digitisation of the technologies delivering that product sold, and data science in-between, our Smart Industry Series has explored the bandwidth of transformation that Industry 4.0 is bringing to the industrial gases business.
Here, in this sixth and final instalment, we drill down into the software that enables the secure connectivity of the smarter industry of tomorrow with 128 Technology, a Massachusetts-based company that offers a breakthrough approach to networking. And when we talk about networking, we don’t mean the kind that forges relationships at business events – we’re referring here to the data transmission and security that will be pivotal to the realisation of smart industry.
A ‘smarter’ industry or society is predicated on a network that delivers secure connectivity anywhere, and to any device. There will be more than 40 billion connected devices worldwide – with billions of those for optimising industrial operations – by 2022. Demand for more speed and reliability of connectivity keeps rising as a result, as does the need to protect against more sophisticated cyber threats. But today’s hardware- centric networking model only makes the network more complex.
Internet Protocol (IP) networks worked for the needs of the 1970s when they were first designed. Routers do what they’re supposed to do – move packets. Today, however, we have incredibly complex security threats; huge bandwidth demands, and ubiquitous cloud computing. Networks need to evolve to be smarter and software-based, to better support the needs of the modern business.
This is where 128 Technology comes into play. The company was founded on the idea that the way we’ve traditionally done network routing is outdated, complex and fundamentally insecure. Put simply, 128 Technology’s software platform improves the quality of data transmission and speeds up networks while making them more secure. Companies can more reliably connect remote operations, production sites, or data centres without the need for expensive and complex hardware.
“We need to fundamentally change our networking approach so that networks understand sessions, the language of applications and services. That’s where 128 Technology comes in, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of this sea change,” says President, Sue Graham Johnston.
“We’re excited by the traction we’ve received from enterprises, and we think we have particularly compelling solutions for industrial companies.”
So what is a ‘session’ and how exactly could it be significant to your company’s operations, today or tomorrow? “Let me give you a quick tutorial on a ‘session’, meaning a bi-directional flow of data packets,” she explains. “An industrial use could be a smart device uploading its information to a cloud service. The smart device initiates a ‘session’ over the network, the remote service responds, and the data transmission is completed. But there are concerns that a hacker could use the internet to take over that smart device. The routers that move information across network boundaries need to differentiate these two cases, to be intelligent.”
“At 128 Technology, we’ve built a router that is Session SmartTM – it also speaks
the language of sessions. Our approach is unique because it allows the network to understand applications and services better, and automatically adapt to the requirements of individual sessions and users. Security is baked natively into the software.”
I am a firm believer in the rapid innovation that Industry 4.0 promises for the industrial gas industry and other industries…
Earlier in her career, Graham Johnston spent 17 years between Sun and Oracle, two leading technology companies dealing with hardware and software manufacturing. Her credentials in technology are without question, as is her passion for innovation and forward- thinking. Industry 4.0 is, therefore, an industrial and societal movement that excites her and the company she now leads. “Yes, I am a firm believer in the rapid innovation that Industry 4.0 promises for the industrial gas industry and other industries,” she enthuses.
“The most exciting opportunities are around the potential for smart sensors to further optimise production and manufacturing so that businesses can maximise their plant performance and uptime more intelligently, with minimal human intervention.”
“People, machines, sensors, and devices communicate and work together via the internet of things to enable the smart factory, which includes methods of self- optimization, self-diagnosis and self- configuration to optimise production.”
“For me, I’m most excited about the transformational role that networks will play in Industry 4.0 and the necessary digital transformation. One of the ways this will happen is by enabling industrial enterprises to better manage remote sites, improving safety and quality of life for many people.”
She continues, “Industrial enterprises like the industrial gas, energy, mining and other sectors have distributed and mobile infrastructure. They have remote operations in isolated areas such as at sea, mountain ranges or deserts. Remote sites are limited to unreliable and often poor quality satellite, line-of-sight radio frequency or LTE connections. These connections are sensitive to weather or other interference, which limits connectivity to the cloud and limits your ability to get telemetry data and manage them remotely.”
“128 Technology helps companies improve their connectivity at remote sites by using a session-aware approach to routing. This allows enterprises to better maintain connections with applications, and to eliminate bandwidth overhead associated with hardware-based networking. Companies can send more data from the remote site to the cloud and run their business more effectively.”
“Industrial enterprises will need to optimise their networks to fully take advantage of the opportunities of Industry 4.0. Many of these enterprises still rely on a networking method that was developed decades ago and has seen little innovation.”
Gases industry transformation
Graham Johnston will be a familiar name to gasworld readers; prior to joining 128 Technology last year, she was Managing Director of UK, Ireland & Africa for Linde-BOC, and a keen advocate for even greater innovation in the industry.
Graham Johnston had always recognised the importance of the gases industry as a critical component in so many other industries and applications and with that, the unique position from which it could champion and lead change. So now, having stepped out of the gases industry, what are her thoughts on the digital transformation within it?
“Companies are making progress toward digitisation, but they are only beginning to scratch the surface of the opportunities that it offers both in terms of offering new revenue sources based on digital services, to improving internal operating efficiency,” she muses.
“Plants today are being designed as digital twins, where companies develop 3-D models to create a virtual model of the physical plant in software. The digital twin model represents the exact conditions of the physical plant. This enables companies to use augmented reality (AR) with workers onsite to assist with plant repairs, or digitise P&ID’s to be able to identify parts in real time.”
“With sophisticated analytics you can even predict equipment failure, so that the parts can be ordered ahead of a breakdown and prevent unplanned downtime. Sensors embedded in the cylinders themselves can be used in broad applications from predicting run-out of welding gases to adherence to oxygen therapy.”
“There is a long way to go before the industrial gases industry could exhaust ideas around new innovations and business models related to digitisation,” she adds. So is there still a step change ahead, gasworld asks? Graham Johnston believes, “The change is already there.”
“It’s a question of how quickly are companies going to embrace it,” she adds. “The technology is not reversible. Customers are going to expect it and the companies that figure out how to apply consumer-like technology and customer experiences to B2B businesses are going to be the winners.”
Many industrial companies, including industrial gas, face a challenge in implementing Industry 4.0 concepts because they run their factories behind a separate, isolated network…
And does 128 Technology have any potential overlaps with the gases industry and its pursuit of a ‘smart’ industry? “Yes, 128 Technology will be right in the thick of it because of the key role networks will play in enabling this smart industry transformation.”
“Many industrial companies, including industrial gas, face a challenge in implementing Industry 4.0 concepts because they run their factories behind a separate, isolated network that doesn’t provide access to the cloud, partner networks, sensors or devices. If you create this walled garden, you may believe you keep your network secure, but it limits your business and stifles innovation.”
“And frankly,” she adds, “the myriad attacks on industrial control systems demonstrate that the sense of added security from this forced separation is often a mirage.”
In terms of how something such as Session SmartTM technology could be applied in the industry, Graham Johnston explains, “128 Technology is at the forefront of helping industrial companies make their network drive their business forward. Our technology uses service-centric segmentation, which allows the network to route traffic so that applications are only available to the users and devices that need them. This means that you can implement a ‘zero-trust’ approach to security, where no traffic is allowed through unless it’s verified.”
She concludes, “Industrial companies no longer need to make this ‘walled garden’ in their network. They can securely bring their networks together, enabling them to better connect sensors, people and devices to the cloud and with each other, and drive business innovation.”
On that, surely we can all agree. And with smart session technology pioneered by companies like 128 Technology, we have the tools available to securely and confidently take advantage of the world of possibilities that Big Data and digitisation afford both now and in the future.