Cisco Systems has unveiled a "ruggedised" line of switches based on IP and Ethernet in a move aimed at unifying factory floor networks with the ones in corporate back offices.
The Catalyst 2955 series is designed for use in factories and in utility, transportation and military settings, and have been built to withstand temperatures, humidity, dust and vibrations. The devices, which are about a third as big as Cisco's regular switches, are shipping now and are priced from $2,100 (£1,329) to $3,600.
ARC Advisory Group analyst Harry Forbes said Cisco's 2955 series were the first rugged Ethernet switches developed by a major networking equipment company.
Forbes noted that Cisco is rolling out the switches at a time when factory floor devices that control production processes, robots and other machines are starting to be equipped with Ethernet interfaces instead of manufacturing-specific technologies.
The biggest supplier of rugged Ethernet switches for factories is Hirschmann Electronics in Germany, andARC said switches accounted for about 8% of the 300,000 Ethernet-ready devices sold for factory use last year.
For companies that have installed Cisco products and Ethernet technology in their main corporate networks, the 2955 could help extend the quality-of-service features and other capabilities that are built into the Catalyst technology to the manufacturing realm , said Joel Conover, an analyst at Current Analysis.
"You're going to be able to monitor and control manufacturing from the core network," Conover said, adding that many mainstream IT managers would be attracted to the 2955 switches because Cisco's technology is so widely deployed and accepted.