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Difference Between OT and IT Networks

OT Vs. IT Networks: In this tutorial, we will learn about the operational technology (OT) network and information technology (IT) network, and the differences between OT and IT networks. By IncludeHelp Last updated : July 02, 2023


In today's digital era, understanding the distinctions between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) networks is crucial for businesses across various industries.

IT networks are responsible for handling and processing digital information, while OT networks focus on managing industrial processes and machines. This tutorial will explain the key differences between these two vital systems in terms of security, architecture, and integration strategies.

By grasping these variances, decision-makers can better utilize both technologies to maximize efficiency while minimizing risks.

Operational Technology (OT) Network

Operational Technology (OT) networks play a crucial role in the industrial sector, as they focus on monitoring and controlling various processes and machines. These networks consist of hardware components such as sensors, actuators, and controllers, which are designed to manage physical equipment in manufacturing plants, power grids, and water treatment facilities, among other industrial environments.

For example, an OT network within a manufacturing facility can be responsible for managing assembly lines or temperature control systems. It ensures the smooth operation of machinery while maintaining safety standards for both equipment and personnel.

Information Technology (IT) Network

Information Technology (IT) networks that process digital data and communication flow between devices primarily within business settings.

IT networks are designed to manage, process, and transmit digital information. These networks mainly operate in businesses and organizations where they handle data management, storage, communication, security functions, and more. These networks play a vital role in facilitating communication between people within an organization or across different regions globally. They provide employees with email access, chat tools for instant messaging, or video conferencing for virtual meetings.

Additionally, IT systems improve productivity by streamlining internal operations such as accounting processes or customer relationship management tools that use cloud-based solutions to store vast amounts of data securely.

Differences Between OT And IT Networks

OT networks rely on proprietary technology, while IT networks stick to open standards. They differ in terms of isolation versus connectivity and require different approaches for managing network security.

Proprietary Technology Vs Open Standards

OT networks often rely on proprietary technology, which means that the hardware and software are developed by a single manufacturer and may not be compatible with products from other vendors.

This can make it challenging to build an integrated network of devices from different manufacturers. On the other hand, IT networks typically use open standards, which define how technologies should work together regardless of who made them.

For example, many industrial control systems still use proprietary protocols like Modbus[1] or Profibus[2] to communicate with machines on the factory floor. These protocols were designed before there was a need for standardization across industries.

Understanding these differences is key when integrating OT and IT networks.

Isolation Vs Connectivity

OT networks are typically isolated from the internet, meaning they operate within a closed system that has no connectivity to external networks. This isolation is intended to prevent unauthorized access and cyber-attacks, as well as maintain control over physical processes. On the other hand, IT networks typically rely on connectivity for communication and information sharing across various devices.

One example of how these differences in isolation vs connectivity can impact operations is seen in manufacturing plants where industrial robots perform tasks with high precision and speed while minimizing the risk of injury to employees. Another example is the use of IoT sensors in smart factories connected via IT networks for data collection from various machines about their condition and performance levels.

Therefore understanding the fundamental differences between isolation versus connectivity is crucial when designing secure OT/IT combined solutions that meets specific business requirements while protecting against potential network breaches posed by hackers or cybercriminals looking to exploit vulnerabilities within either type of infrastructure setup commonplace today's industries across numerous verticals such as power generation & distribution facilities or transportation hubs where interconnectedness abounds even further compromising security measures put into place otherwise necessary safeguarding sensitive data vital day-to-day operations organizations success long-term sustainability plus stakeholder confidence 24x7 365 days per year uptime expected demand need cybersecurity top priority agenda item always staying vigilant monitoring any suspicious activities reporting immediately suspected incidents taking place able respond quickly mitigate damages incurred timely manner before too late act based knowledge experience learned overtime best practices implemented earlier makes sense invest upfront seeing benefit downstream future.

Importance of Understanding OT and IT Networks Differences

Understanding the differences between OT and IT networks is crucial in ensuring proper network security, optimizing industrial processes through efficient use of technology, and facilitating effective communication between IT and OT teams.

Ensuring Proper Network Security

One of the most critical aspects of managing both OT and IT networks is ensuring proper network security. This involves implementing measures that can help prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and other cyber threats that can potentially harm your network and business. Here are some important steps to take:

  1. Conduct a risk assessment: Identify potential vulnerabilities in your network and evaluate the potential risks they pose.
  2. Implement access controls: Use firewalls, passwords, encryption, and other access control technologies to limit who can access your network and what they can do once they are inside.
  3. Regularly update software: Ensure all software applications used in your network are current with their latest patches and updates.
  4. Monitor network activities: Consistently monitor logs for unusual behavior or signs of attempted attacks on your system.
  5. Train employees on security best practices: All employees should undergo regular training on cybersecurity hygiene such as how to create strong passwords, identify potential phishing emails, and avoid clicking suspicious links.
  6. Backup essential data regularly: Create backup systems that provide reliable copies of important files so that if an attack occurs, you can restore operations quickly.

By following these guidelines for securing both OT and IT networks, you'll be better positioned to keep your business safe from potential cyber threats while optimizing the performance of both networks to achieve business objectives.

Optimizing Industrial Processes Through Efficient Use Of Technology

Efficient use of technology can improve industrial processes. Here are some ways to optimize industrial processes:

  1. Monitor machines in real-time: OT networks allow for continuous monitoring of machines, identifying and addressing issues before they escalate.
  2. Automate processes: IT systems can automate repetitive tasks, freeing up time for workers to focus on more complex issues.
  3. Predictive maintenance: By collecting and analyzing data from machines, predicting failures becomes easier, preventing downtime.
  4. Improve supply chain management: IT systems help track inventory levels, optimize delivery routes, and manage orders efficiently.
  5. Enhance collaboration across teams: When IT and OT teams work together, they gain insights into how each network functions, leading to better collaboration.
  6. Leverage data analytics: Both IT and OT networks generate copious amounts of data that can be leveraged using analytics tools to identify trends and patterns.

By implementing these strategies, industries can achieve improved efficiency in their processes while ensuring the security of both their IT and OT networks.

Facilitating Effective Communication Between IT And OT Teams

Facilitating effective communication between IT and OT teams is crucial to ensure that both networks work together seamlessly. Here are some ways this can be achieved:

  • Encouraging regular meetings: Set up regular meetings where members from both teams can discuss current projects, address concerns, and collaborate on strategies.
  • Promoting cross-training: Provide opportunities for team members to learn about the other network. This will help them understand each other's roles and responsibilities better.
  • Using a common language: Ensure that technical terms used by both teams are standardized so that everyone understands them in the same way.
  • Developing a clear hierarchy: Clarify who has ultimate authority and responsibility for decision-making but also ensure there is room for collaboration.
  • Establishing feedback mechanisms: Create channels for providing feedback on how well the IT and OT networks are working together. This can help identify areas for improvement.

Effective communication between IT and OT teams is essential to optimize industrial processes through the efficient use of technology while maintaining network security. By aligning their goals, working collaboratively, and being transparent with one another, these two networks can work together to enhance operational efficiency, productivity, and security.

OT Vs. IT Networks FAQs

The following are the frequently asked questions with answers based on the difference between OT and IT networks.

1. What is an OT network and how does it differ from an IT network?

An OT (Operational Technology) Network is a system of devices, sensors, and machines that are used to control and monitor physical processes in industries such as manufacturing, energy production, and transportation. An IT (Information Technology) network on the other hand refers to the infrastructure used for communication and data processing within a business or organization.

2. What are some of the key challenges associated with managing both OT and IT networks together?

Integrating these two disparate systems can present several challenges including differing security protocols for each type of network, increased risk of cyber attacks if not properly secured or monitored holistically across all potential vulnerabilities/attack vectors involved with cross-functionality between separate components at different levels.

3. Why is it important for businesses to have a clear understanding about the differences between OT & IT networks before integrating them into one cohesive entity?

Each system has its own unique requirements when it comes to connectivity methods & technology choices which could impact overall functionality made available by combinational use – having clarity around this can enable companies/stakeholders involved make informed decisions regarding resource allocation capabilities/prospect viability over time while also mitigating potential risks that may come up due any miscalculations along way (i.e., security breaches resulting from lack proper planning/thoughtful consideration during process development).

4. How can businesses ensure they are properly securing their combined OT/IT networks against external threats?

Implementing proper firewalls/firewall settings for routers/access points connected within hybridized environments which effectively isolate/safeguard against unauthorized access/changes critical software & hardware assets/systems interfaces; implementing advanced segmentation techniques based on role-based user-privilege management strategies further enhances effectiveness adequate controls Cybersecurity solutions should be implemented as well with regular updates performed cybersecurity policies tailored specific needs configurations/setup utilized help mitigate any potential breach scenarios occur unexpectedly leading drastic consequences otherwise endangered financial stability health/safety employees/clients/vulnerable parties involved.


It's essential to understand the differences between OT and IT networks. While both have their unique characteristics and challenges, they serve different purposes.

Knowing the distinction is crucial for proper network security, optimizing industrial processes through efficient technology use, and effective communication between IT and OT teams, among others. Learning about these differences can help organizations avoid costly mistakes that could affect productivity or disrupt critical operations.

Notes and References

  • Modbus - Modbus is a data communications protocol originally published by Modicon in 1979 for use with its programmable logic controllers. Modbus has become a de facto standard communication protocol and is now a commonly available means of connecting industrial electronic devices.
  • Profibus - Profibus is a standard for fieldbus communication in automation technology and was first promoted in 1989 by BMBF and then used by Siemens. It should not be confused with the Profinet standard for Industrial Ethernet. Profibus is openly published as type 3 of IEC 61158/61784-1.

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