IT includes any use of computers, storage, networking devices and other physical devices, infrastructure and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data.
OT, traditionally associated with manufacturing and industrial environments, includes industrial control systems such as supervisory control and data acquisition.
The gray area that connects IT and OT is the development and deployment of IoT devices. IoT devices include a wide assortment of sensors for gathering real-world conditions, such as temperature, pressure and chemical compositions. IoT devices also include an array of actuators that translate digital commands and instructions into physical actions, such as controlling valves and moving mechanisms. Each IoT device is designed to communicate over standard networks, allowing them to exchange OT data with IT resources — servers and storage — sometimes over considerable distances.
Consider a wind turbine. By itself, a wind turbine would be classified as industrial equipment, and it would include all of the equipment and electronics necessary to generate power and connect that power to the grid. But that’s all. By including IoT devices to drive IT/OT convergence, the wind turbine could use sensors to detect wind direction and intensity while communicating its output and status to a centralized controlling location. The central facility would analyze the data, provide commands needed to autonomously configure the wind turbine for optimum performance in current weather, and create work orders for maintenance based on operating time and condition sensor data.
While IT inherently covers communications as a part of its information scope, OT hasn’t traditionally been networked technology — meaning connected to a larger network over the internet. Many devices for monitoring or adjustment weren’t computerized. Those with compute resources generally used closed proprietary protocols and programmable logic controllers rather than technologies that afford full computer control. The systems involved often relied on air gapping for security.
The idea of technological convergence isn’t new. By allowing different technologies to integrate and interoperate efficiently as a single cohesive system, businesses can generally improve efficiency, reduce errors, cut costs, enhance workflows and gain competitive advantages.
Enterprise IT has long been a focus of convergence efforts, bringing often-disparate data center technologies together and supporting seamless interoperation. One example of convergence is the appearance of IT converged infrastructure — later evolving into hyper- converged infrastructure. These developments merge traditionally separate servers, storage, networking and management tools into a single, cohesive, centrally managed product.
The idea of IT/OT convergence seeks to bring physical (OT) equipment and devices into the digital (IT) realm. This is possible because of advances such as machine-to-machine communication, as well as the introduction of sophisticated IoT sensors and actuators that can be fitted to physical equipment. These devices can employ wireless communication over standardized networking protocols to communicate the relevant data from each physical system back to a central server for monitoring and analysis. The results of that analysis can then be passed back to the physical system to allow more autonomous operation, enhance accuracy, benefit maintenance and improve uptime.
Consider how this affects everyday technologies, such as vehicles. The addition of sensors, actuators and standardized communication allows a vehicle to pass real-time position, movement and condition data back to a collection point for analysis. At the same time, instructions and real-time data — such as traffic and weather — can be passed to the vehicle. This can help a human driver make better driving decisions, such as finding alternate routes or servicing the vehicle before breakdowns occur. But this kind of IT/OT convergence is also the underpinning of autonomous (self-driving) vehicle technology.
An OT/IT service refers to a service that combines both operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) to provide comprehensive support and solutions to organizations. OT focuses on the control and management of physical devices and processes in industries such as manufacturing, energy, and transportation, while IT deals with the management and processing of digital information and computer systems.
These are just a few examples of OT/IT tools available in the market. The choice of tools depends on the specific needs, requirements, and industry of an organization. It is essential to select and integrate the right combination of tools to effectively manage and leverage the integration of OT and IT systems.