Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Real World Cellular - ControlLogix PLC

Summary: Before I listed some real world numbers for Modbus polling. This time I walk through some of the costs and issues of using ODVA Ethernet/IP to talk to a Rockwell ControlLogix PLC.

The Convoluted Path of Wide-Area-Networks:
In general the magic of IP hides reality from us all. We tend to think "now I am browsing Google.com or iatips.com", but we don't really understand how COMPLEX and MIRACULOUS this really is. Your computer is NOT connected to either of these web servers; instead your computer uses the services of a dozen or more other computers/routers to get from "here" to "there". Every single data byte must be forwarded hop-by-hop through all of these cooperative peers.

As example, here is a Trace Route (tracert) of access from a computer within my test lab to a ControlLogix PLC sitting six (6) feet away. I am using public Internet access via a cellular Digi Connect WAN to the Ethernet (ENB) of the ControlLogix. Some of the public IP have "X" entered replacing the digits; you don't need to really know the exact IP value.

My computer has private IP =
01 01 ms (Digi's private Intranet)
02 01 ms (Digi's private Intranet)
03 01 ms (Digi's private Intranet)
04 16 ms 66.77.x.x (Digi Co-Host/Internet Link)
05 04 ms 69.8.x.x (Digi Co-Host/Internet Link)
06 64 ms 66.77.x.x (Digi Co-Host/Internet Link)
07 09 ms min-core-02.inet.qwest.net []
08 11 ms cer-core-02.inet.qwest.net []
09 12 ms cer-brdr-01.inet.qwest.net []
10 39 ms qwest-gw.cgcil.ip.att.net []
11 35 ms tbr2.cgcil.ip.att.net []
12 35 ms tbr2.sl9mo.ip.att.net []
13 75 ms tbr2.attga.ip.att.net []
14 31 ms
15 34 ms
16 * Request timed out. (Part of Cellular Infra-Structure)
17 * Request timed out.
18 * Request timed out.
19 * Request timed out.
20 1276 ms mobile-166-XXX-XXX-XXX.mycingular.net [166.XXX.XXX.XXX]
Digi Connect WAN has private local IP = (is 'gateway')
ControlLogix PLC has private local IP =

These traces always amaze me - how something so seemingly trivial takes so much effort to really function. Notice how my lab PC has to route through 6 devices to even get out of Digi's company network, then through Qwest (our ISP), through AT&T (my cellular SIM provider), through some unnamed hops of the cell system, and finally be port forwarded to the ControlLogix PLC. The packets may be passing through Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and then finally returning to the PLC sitting right beside me.

Effect of NAT (Network Address Translation)
Now lets look at what happens when RSLinx on my PC opens an ODVA Ethernet/IP socket to the ControlLogix PLC. Every TCP/IP packet requires 4 unique values which define a connection:
  1. Destination IP (target device)
  2. Destination Port (target application within device)
  3. Source IP (return address to originator)
  4. Source Port (likely random port, originator is waiting for responses here)

So we start out with the 4-tuple DST=166.x.x.x : 44818 and SRC= : 22256. The 166.x.x.x IP is assigned by my cellular carrier. Port 44818 is ODVA's "well-known" port for Ethernet/IP. is an internal Digi selected private IP. TCP port 22256 is the ephemeral (or random) port selected by RSLinx to listen for responses.

The first NAT effect is the Digi corporate firewall changes the request to be DST=166.x.x.x : 44818 and SRC=66.77.x.x : 22256. My private IP of is meaningless out in the Qwest or AT&T's networks, so something needs to swap this for a "real" world-unique IP leased by Digi. Our corporate NAT interface creates a record (with a lifetime of 5 minutes) that allows any responses to be correctly restored to

The second NAT effect is when the Digi Connect WAN forwards to the ControlLogix with another private IP. So the 4-tuple now becomes DST= : 44818 and SRC=66.77.x.x : 22256. The ControlLogix thinks IP host 66.77.something is connected to it - not the real host IP of Plus the ControlLogix has NOT CLUE that the RSLinx thinks the ControlLogix as IP of 166.something.

Now, to send a response the ControlLogix issues a TCP/IP packet with the flipped 4-tuple of DST=66.77.x.x : 22256 and SRC= : 44818. The Digi Connect WAN restores (undoes) the NAT and changes this to DST=66.77.x.x : 22256 and SRC=166.x.x.x : 44818. After passing back through AT&T and Qwest, Digi's corporate NAT interface restores its own NAT and changes it back to DST= : 22256 and SRC=166.x.x.x : 44818.

This understanding of NAT and IP is useful for understanding the capability and limitations of cellular access to certain devices with certain protocols. A future entry will cover setting up RSLinx Classic and using RSLogix 5000 to download over cellular to a L5555 processor.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lynn,

I am a Spanish translator and I have found while looking for reference to translate a techinical text. However, I am a bit confused about the meaning of the acronym "ENB". Could you please explain the meaning of this?

Many thanks,

Lynn August Linse said...

Sorry, "ENB" is just a common AB nickname for the Ethernet module within ControlLogix. It is "EN + model B" and once there was a "EN + model A".

So the easiest is to just call it the "Ethernet Module".