OT vs IT Networks – What’s the Difference?

OT vs IT Networks - What's the Difference

In any mission-critical facility, the definition of “technology” is more complicated than just saying it’s IT. Some components deal with data creation, transmission, monitoring, and storage, and they must work together to facilitate day-to-day work.

There are also many mechanisms, such as manufacturing equipment, sensors, IoT, and the systems that are used to manage production processes. These are operational components of your overall technology infrastructure.

Both need to be properly managed, monitored, and secured. They facilitate the daily operations of an organization and often are vital to keeping services and production running.

It’s important to understand the distinctions between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) so that both networks can be maintained and protected.

In a nutshell, you can think of IT as dealing with information, and OT as dealing with machines. But it’s a bit more complex than that.

What Is an Information Technology (IT) Network?

Information technology is about data and information. It comprises things like the cloud tools your organization uses to create and disseminate information. The types of hardware associated with an IT network are the common PC workstations that are running things like Windows, macOS, iOS, and Linux.

Your IT network will also include telecommunication systems that are used to communicate internally and externally daily and devices like smartphones and tablets. A hallmark of IT is that these devices and systems aren’t designed for a single purpose. Rather, they are flexible to be used for many different tasks.

For example, a Windows desktop can be used for word processing, spreadsheet work, graphics design, customer service management, and so on. It just depends on the software you’re using with the system.

Here are some of the commonalities of an IT network:

  • Focused on dealing with information rather than machines
  • An IT network’s access is limited to those with login privileges
  • Used for transactional processing of data
  • IT network failure can mean data loss and downtime
  • Security can be a challenge due to relying on many SaaS vendors
  • Upgrades and updates are frequent

What Is an Operational Technology (OT) Network?

Where an IT network is all about data and information processing, an OT network is all about the machines that do the processing and operations. It includes monitoring devices that conduct various industrial processes and providing alerts for pre-programmed anomalous events.

An OT network can include a combination of software and hardware that operate automated and digitized equipment. The network looks at things that can improve overall operational reliability and availability.

OT is critical in a manufacturing operation where things can go horribly wrong if there is a technology malfunction. It is set up to continually monitor multiple machine processes and note any potential problems.

Operational technology networks help employees perform multiple functions with more ease and accuracy. Such as, keeping a factory floor at the right temperature, ensuring a drilling mechanism is at the right depth or managing steam pressure at a power station.

Here are some of the commonalities of an OT network:

  • Focused on interaction with machines
  • An OT network is often connected to the outside world
  • Processes data in real-time to facilitate operations
  • OT network failure can mean a catastrophic event
  • OT network components are focused on a single mission
  • Upgrades and updates do not come as frequently as for IT networks

OT vs IT Differences to Consider

Exposure to Elements & Harsh Environments

Components of an IT network are usually kept in offices and other conditioned spaces. They are not often exposed to hard conditions.

On the other hand, OT network components are often in environments that require them to be “ruggedized.” This can include hot areas near steam equipment and in all types of extreme environmental conditions.

Form Factor

The size and shape of OT components are more controlled and compact than IT equipment. You’ll often find OT network devices in cases that can easily be mounted where needed next to equipment that it is designed to control. 

Networking Protocols

When connecting IT to wired and wireless networks, common cabling, switches, and network protocols are used. IT devices (computers, servers, printers, etc.) are commonly used in every type of business, thus the network infrastructure to set up this type of network is widely available.

An OT network deals with connectors controlling IoT devices, production systems, and machinery, thus the networking components can differ. Companies need to ensure they’re working with the proper networking protocols. Typically, industrial networking products can support Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), Modbus, Profinet, and others.

Ensure Your Network Is Working Efficiently

How your equipment and data communicate makes up the heart of your business. The WizNucleus team specializes in working with mission-critical facilities on both IT and OT network optimization.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation! Call +1 (646) 558-5577 (New York, NY) or +1 (469) 481-1726 (Carrollton, TX) or reach out online.

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