Delivering Carrier Ethernet: Extending Ethernet Beyond the LAN (Networking & Comm - OMG)

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Each node in a given real-time domain is granted access in every cycle to maintain determinism. That packet is divided into frames of bits that are assigned to each individual node, or slave, and sent around regularly to the slaves by the EtherCAT master. At each node, data is read from and written to the bit positions assigned to that node. With a given number of slaves in the system, the timing of each successive packet reaching any given node is known as is the round-trip time for the packet making possible very accurate time synchronization in a distributed system Figure 1.

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Since EtherCAT, as implemented for example by Sysgo, utilizes a single Ethernet packet for any given domain, the total number of bits available to the connected slave nodes is limited to the maximum size of an Ethernet packet. Of course, the various frames assigned to different slaves can vary within that upper limit.

This makes EtherCAT an attractive choice where the amount of data that must be shared is limited to such things as variables and state information. DDS also incorporates a quality of service feature that not only sees to it that each node receives the data it needs, but also guarantees timing relationships. For example, node A may be publishing status information every 10 microseconds.

Node B subscribes, but only requires status updates every microseconds while Node C subscribes for updates every microseconds. Each node has a time window to receive its data.

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The middleware receives and acknowledges when the data is received in time by each node and is alerted if it is not, at which point it can take appropriate action. In addition, a subscriber node can specify the order in which it needs to receive updates. Simply using straight Ethernet for real-time control has always required modifications that also often separate the modified Ethernet domain from that of the enterprise by using bridges and routers. This has proven to be of real value as evidenced by the acceptance of these variations and of others.

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A parallel development to distributed networked automation is the proliferation of small form-factor boards that have quite powerful processors that can be directed at demanding real-time tasks locally. While there is still a need to synchronize events within the network, more critical issues can be dealt with by a single processor at a local node while less time-critical data is shared over the network.

In addition, the networks of embedded devices are constantly being expanded, reconfigured and redistributed.

Think of things like autonomous metering, monitoring the power usage of devices as they are installed in various locations or managing a fleet of vehicles and the cargo they are carrying. This makes the use of standard networking technologies very attractive because system developers need to focus on the needs of their applications, not worry about the details of network communications.

This may give up something in terms of network-wide determinism, but it offers the advantage of using unmodified Ethernet, which can communicate directly with IP and hence be integrated with the Internet for worldwide access down to the individual sensor or actuator if so desired. Today, the majority of traffic on the Internet is already between machines more than it is between people. Of course, it can be said that almost every CPU board made has at least one Ethernet interface.

However, on most of these boards, the main processor is responsible for executing the network protocols and managing network communications in addition to running the actual application code. These include Digi, Connect One and Lantronix. Solutions are available at different levels of integration, although the exact mix of offerings differs among manufacturers.

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  4. Basically, a designer can given sufficient volumes choose to integrate at the chip level, the module level or board level. They also offer pin-compatible wireless versions. There are numerous options for the designer in terms of the configurations and the connectivity scenarios that can be set up depending on the application. The common theme, however, is that the application processor only needs to send commands and data to the server module in order to communicate over the IP network, be it an Ethernet LAN or the Internet or both.

    In addition, Lantronix has recently introduced its XPort Direct, an embedded device gateway that does not have internal Web pages Figure 2. This actually expands the number of options available to the developer at low cost. In one scenario, it might be desirable to directly access an embedded Web page for maintenance diagnostics. In addition to initiating communications, the application can also constantly update the internal Web page in real time so that a user can get current data on the status of the application or alternatively set parameters and issue commands to control or reconfigure the device.

    Alternatively, the application can initiate communications for alarms and alerts when a critical parameter gets out of range. Internal Web pages can have links to external pages anywhere on the Internet if so desired. Another scenario might call for the aggregation of data from some large number of devices that are widely separated geographically.

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    The Lantronix XPort Direct was designed for, among others, applications that simply need to get data back to some central point such as a Windows Server application like a database or spreadsheet, or a central Web page. For example, in a scenario where there are a thousand freezers all reporting their power usage, they can all simply periodically send the data. The data can then be aggregated, processed and presented to whatever number of users who choose to log into the central server. If the data is put into something like an SQL database, then it can be available to any number of different applications on the server or on user workstations.

    This also allows collaboration for things like troubleshooting without depending on the limited Web services of a single embedded module. Of course, such Ethernet and Internet capabilities also lend themselves to autonomous interaction between embedded networked devices—a capability not precluded by other networking technologies, but made more available by virtue of its ability to be an IP citizen.

    At some point or points, of course, there is a user interface that often deals with the system from a high point in the communication hierarchy. A simplified example of M2M would be a fleet management system where trucks are fitted with computers and GPS systems. The management can track the locations of all the trucks and modules at the terminals, automatically register which cargo is loaded and offloaded at each location as well as what loads are at each terminal and are destined for which delivery points.

    The automatic coordination of this data lets the system decide which truck can most efficiently carry which cargo and can dynamically update the routes of the trucks. A great deal of the data exchanged between modules on trucks, in terminals and RFID data from cargo is exchanged autonomously. Security is obviously an important issue when dealing with networked devices. Various forms of encryption are also implemented. The fact that these Ethernet modules are based on a separate microprocessor than the CPU also goes toward maintaining a firewall between the network and the application, limiting the commands that can be passed between them.

    IP-based networking between widely separated devices allows a great deal of flexibility and can be carried out by both wired and wireless network connectivity. Coming in at a lower level but soon fitting into the IP universe is a growing generation of wireless mesh networks. These can consist of both sensors and actuators—controlled devices—but their main characteristic is that data can take multiple paths through the nodes in the mesh to reach its destination.

    This multi-hop approach allows the use of very low-power devices. The basis for these networks is the IEEE Based on high-performance 1GbE and 10GbE capture cards, Cascade Shark is capable of sustained line-rate, multi-gigabit per second recording of network traffic.

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