Emergence and benefits of converged networks for next-gen gas and LNG facilities

Andy Piatek's picture
Andy Piatek, Principal Network Architect, SNC-Lavalin
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Gas extraction and LNG projects offer challenges in developing and deploying robust and secure telecommunication infrastructure. Located in varying environments, these projects require a multitude of telecommunication infrastructure including fibre optics, radio frequency (RF), microwave, satellite and Wi-Fi. In addition, critical plant processes, environmental monitoring, regulatory reporting, cloud-based analytics and business networks which all reside on top of individual plant telecommunication infrastructure all forming part of this multifaceted network.

There are few EPC firms with the expertise to integrate the diverse and complex plant processes, applications and networks. Project execution has trended towards a silo approach, creating multiple physical infrastructures - increasing CAPEX and OPEX. Due to the growing complexity required to integrate the plant processes, applications and networks, system integration is often overlooked during the detailed design phase giving rise to complications during commissioning and start-up; adding costs and delays.

Increasing numbers of IP-enabled systems means that converged networks are becoming the de-facto standard for efficient telecommunication systems. Converged networks can offer significant savings by reducing the amount of hardware and telecommunication infrastructure. One of the technologies to consider for the implementation of next-generation converged industrial networks is Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS).

Why MPLS networks?

MPLS is an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) architecture. Historically, MPLS technology was expensive and geared towards service providers. The growing industry demand for multiple networks on the same physical infrastructure means network vendors have begun incorporating MPLS features within lower level enterprise networking devices thus becoming a cost-effective solution for the oil and gas industry. One such benefit is the provision of service isolation through the utilization of Virtual Private Networks (VPN). VPNs can provide dedicated communication channels between different plant processes, systems or applications while sharing the same physical network infrastructure.  This allows new services to be added as overlays on top of the backbone network, allowing new plant applications to be deployed without service disruptions. Operationally, a MPLS-based solution mitigates many challenges related to Information Technology/Operational Technology (IT/OT) convergence, when plant operation-specific process systems communicate over IT infrastructure.

The MPLS Quality-of-Services (QoS) toolset can be tailored to systems with varying requirements for bandwidth, latency, packet loss or other traffic characteristics. This is vital to successful integration of different systems into a single physical infrastructure. MPLS also offers advanced bandwidth optimization and congestion management solutions using MPLS Traffic Engineering.

Data from critical processes, environmental monitoring or regulatory reporting can have guaranteed bandwidth through networks during times of network congestion.

Key MPLS features are:

  • multiple mechanisms ensuring individual failure of a network device or a link does not impair overall traffic flow;
  • protection and restoration features allowing for network convergence time of less than 50ms, supporting most time-sensitive plant processes and applications;
  • security features including label spoofing resiliency, address space separation and routing separation; and
  • hidden address structure of the core network and other VPNs.

Deploying MPLS across the lifecycle

An MPLS-based network offers clients significant lifecycle benefits. MPLS networks can be deployed early during construction, with telecommunication services rented to EPC firms or contractors on a subscriber basis, while maintaining network separation. During transition from construction through to operation, clients can easily exchange subscribers.

Finally, MPLS networks offer robust infrastructure ready to handle the emerging Industrial Internet of Things solutions and Software-Defined Operation. As gas extraction and LNG plants continue moving towards integrated platforms and optimized systems, robust and resilient network and plant telecommunication infrastructure is an essential component towards real time collection, analysis and security of plant data.

In short, deployment of a converged network utilizing MPLS will result in significant project savings without sacrificing network segregation, resiliency, security and performance.

Share your insights and join the conversation: What would you identify as a key opportunity for the application of MPLS? Leave your comment below. 

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