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IoT Roundtable: HPE, Cisco And Forescout Execs Say Solution Providers Are The Key To Success In Operational Technology

Panelists at CRN's IoT Roundtable discuss the opportunities around OT for their companies and say their partners are the glue that can bring together vertical knowledge, customization and security services to industrial IoT.

While connected consumer devices are driving the hype around the Internet of Things, executives from vendors including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco Systems and Forescout Technologies are shaping channel strategies around a less-discussed opportunity – operational technology.

Manufacturers are looking to connect the operational technology making up their factory floors – including control systems and data acquisition systems – opening up a gold mine of new recurring revenue services for vendors and their channel partners.

Tom Bradicich, vice president and general manager of servers, converged edge and IoT systems at Palo Alto, Calif.-based HPE, said at an IoT roundtable in March hosted by CRN that operational technology is "a $50 billion industry that's not IT."

[Related: 8 Industrial IoT Services That Can Make Solution Providers Money Today]

"It's not just IT, it's a separate opportunity," he said. "The exciting part is that migration to the OT world because the end-to-end IoT solution includes a tremendous amount of OT, stuff we admittedly don't make and sell. But it also includes a tremendous amount of IT, stuff we're good at. We're No. 1 in compute, for example. That combination is really where the channel partner will come in, when they combine it."

The benefits to manufacturers in connecting their legacy operational technology systems are evident.

Bryan Tantzen, general manager of San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco's connected industry and manufacturing business unit, said industrial companies could see as much as a 50 percent reduction in downtime and a 50 percent improvement in factory floor quality from IoT applications. "When I look at manufacturing, the value we're going to get in the industries is stunning," he said.

However, several manufacturers are still hesitant to deploy IoT in their factory floors – with security being a large challenge. Legacy SCADA systems, industrial control systems and other operational technologies are not built to combat the security risks once connected to the network.

Todd DeBell, vice president of worldwide channel sales at San Jose, Calif.-based Forescout, called the influx of manufacturing products coming online "horrible" from a security standpoint.

"The challenge that you run into is the manufacturers are not necessarily thinking about security when they go to [IoT]," he said. "[Security is] not usually the primary focus. The primary focus has been, in the past, 'Let's get a good product out that actually delivers.' We're seeing a lot of manufacturers come back to us and say, "We want to get on your list. We want to know." The amount and the explosiveness of the new devices that are coming online, it's going to continue to be a problem, and it continues to grow faster."

As vendors grapple with understanding operational technology, solution providers are the glue that can bring together vertical knowledge, customization, and security services for the industrial IoT space.

"I've seen IT collaborate to provide that platform, take mobility, cloud, compute, security… and actually provide them in OT as a partner and then work together to enable it -- then magic happens," said Cisco's Tantzen. "You've got to [deploy industrial IoT solutions] in partnership with OT and so we've partnered very closely with Rockwell Automation, the leader in manufacturing for industrial automation, for example. We're building joint designs where we're taking the best of Cisco IT and the best of their control systems, and then putting it together into architectures, testing it, validating it. So no one's going to deploy and scale these things until they're really proven."

HPE, for its part, is focusing on the manufacturing vertical partially through its converged IoT systems designed for the edge of the network, the Edgeline EL1000 and Edgeline EL4000. These systems appeal to the industrial sector because they bring compute and analytics capabilities to the edge and are shock- and vibration-proof.

However, said HPE’s Bradicich, beyond the products, solution providers are also critical in bringing that vertical knowledge and expertise to the table – particularly in the manufacturing industry, where programmable logic controllers and SCADA systems are completely foreign to vendors. To deal with this, vendors also need to start looking for operational technology partners, he stressed.

"So, now we have a channel partner that was always OT selling IT," he said. "That's a new world. There's a new set of demands, there's a new set of tools, learning about the firmware. Now, further, one more, we're pioneering the system integrator in both. And I pick Schneider, and I pick National Instruments."

Brian Blanchard, vice president of cloud solutions at 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based solution provider and Amazon Web Services partner, said solution providers can tap into applications like connected manufacturing operations, asset tracking and fleet management as part of the industrial IoT space, but they need to take those first steps with customers in the manufacturing space to help them realize anything, even factory floors, can benefit from IoT.

"Help customers see you can manage anything that has compute attached to it, and what doesn't have compute attached to it, you can connect," he stressed.

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