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Overcoming OT backup challenges in Industry 4.0

Organizations across various sectors face a series of formidable challenges when it comes to ensuring the resilience and continuity of their OT environments.
10 minutes read
Vikas Sinha


Vikas Sinha
Group Manager(Hybrid Cloud Solution Architect), Hybrid Cloud Business Unit
10 minutes read
Overcoming OT Backup Challenges in Industry 4.0

In the era of Industry 4.0, Operational Technology (OT) plays a pivotal role in manufacturing and industrial processes. As organizations increasingly rely on OT systems for critical operations, ensuring the availability and security of OT data has become a paramount concern for enterprises. However, in the ever-evolving IT-OT landscape, organizations across various sectors face a series of formidable challenges when it comes to ensuring the resilience and continuity of their OT environments.

These multifaceted challenges can be succinctly summarized in several key points. From the fragmentation of OT ecosystems to bandwidth constraints, data volume management and security concerns, industries grapple with myriad issues in implementing an array of robust OT backup strategies. The impacts of these challenges are far-reaching and can disrupt business operations significantly, resulting in dire consequences like massive revenue losses.

Gartner underscores the severity of these implications through its projections, painting a clear picture of the potential financial setbacks that businesses may face if they fail to address the pressing issues surrounding OT backup in Industry 4.0. According to Gartner, security incidents in OT and other cyber-physical systems (CPS) have three main motivations, namely actual harm, commercial vandalism (reduced output) and reputational vandalism (making a manufacturer untrusted or unreliable).

Gartner also predicts that the financial impact of CPS attacks resulting in fatal casualties is projected to reach over $50 billion by 2023. Hence, developing robust backup strategies for OT devices becomes essential. However, several challenges hinder the effective implementation of OT backup solutions. This article outlines these challenges, recommends strategies to address them and highlights automation opportunities for different levels of OT devices.

Challenges in OT backup

  1. Fragmented OT ecosystem: OT environments are often a heterogeneous mix of legacy and modern devices from different manufacturers, making it challenging to standardize backup procedures. More often, it is observed that OT OEMs enable engineered backup of their systems, leading to multiple engineered solutions in the environment to support. Every plant is on its own without any single view into the environment.
  2. Limited bandwidth: Many OT environments lack high-speed network connections, making data transfer for backups slow and potentially disrupting operations. Low bandwidth can slow down data transfer during backups, and in some cases, it may not be possible to perform real-time backups without impacting operational efficiency.
  3. Data volume and retention: OT systems generate massive amounts of data. Defining data retention policies that balance compliance and storage costs is a complex task. Most of the customers still use tape-based backup which takes a longer time to restore. And hence managing and maintaining the tape infrastructure adds to the rising complexities and higher costs. Furthermore, defining the data retention policies that strike a balance between compliance requirements and storage costs is complex and such lack of clarity leads to inefficient data management.
  4. Security concerns: Backups need to be secured from both internal and external threats. Malware or unauthorized access to backup data can be disastrous. The lack of standard enterprise backup tools adds to the concern of having a regular, good and sanitized backup. Ensuring the security of backup data in transit and at rest is crucial to maintaining the integrity of OT systems.
  5. Manual processes: Most organizations still rely on manual backup procedures, leading to errors, missed backups and high operational overhead. Overreliance of OT environment on script-based manual backup leads to issues of missed backups, higher restore time and dependency on specialized skillsets to restore them.
  6. Integration issues: Inability to integrate OT backup tools with IT enterprise-grade backup tools which can take image and data backups of OT devices, end user devices and IT infrastructure of OT environment to have a unified view. Therefore, the customer is forced to have multiple solutions with no single view of the backup.

Recommendations for OT backup in Industry 4.0

  1. Standardization: Develop a standardized OT backup protocol that can be applied across all devices and vendors. This promotes interoperability, making it easier to manage and restore backup data across the diverse OT ecosystem. This includes process control systems, safety systems, SCADA Systems, PLCs, network devices, end-user devices and IT devices for OT environments like servers, storage and others.
  2. Bandwidth optimization: Implement differential backups to reduce the amount of data transferred and schedule backups during non-critical periods to minimize the network impact.
  3. Data management: Employ data analytics and AI to categorize and manage OT data. Furthermore, establish clear policies for data retention based on regulatory requirements and operational needs along with defining the retention as per the data regulatory compliance and the strategy for IT-OT convergence and a move towards disk/cloud-based backup.
  4. Security first: Encrypt backup data both in transit and at rest. Implement multifactor authentication for access control and regularly audit backup security along with introducing the enterprise-grade backup strategy in the OT environment.
  5. Automation: Leverage automation at different levels of the OT ecosystem.
    1. Level 0 (sensors and actuators):
      • Implement edge computing for local backup that reduces data transfer requirements.
      • Use smart sensors capable of self-backup and restoration.
    2. Level 1 (controllers and PLCs):
      • Deploy automated backup solutions integrated into the control system.
      • Utilize version control systems for program backup for ladder logic devices.
    3. Level 2 (supervisory control):
      • Employ centralized backup solutions for SCADA systems.
      • Set up automated data synchronization with disaster recovery sites.
  6. Testing and recovery: Regularly test backup and restoration processes to ensure data integrity and quick recovery in case of failures. Testing identifies potential issues or gaps in the backup and recovery procedures and allows timely corrections.
  7. Training and awareness: Train OT staff in backup best practices and cybersecurity protocols to minimize human errors. Moreover, increasing awareness about the importance of proper backup procedures and their role in ensuring business continuity leads to a proactive approach to OT backup security.

To summarize, an OT backup solution should address the key requirements of :

  1. Centralize image and data backup across all OT OEMs which includes process control systems, safety systems, SCADA systems, PLCs, network devices, end-user devices and IT devices for OT environments like servers, storage and more
  2. Single pane of glass to view and manage backup integrated with enterprise backup tool
  3. Automated backup with version control
  4. Integration of OT with IT where long-term data retention can be pushed to the cloud

To learn more, write to us at HCBU-PMG@hcl.com.

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