Beam Suntory taps into Cisco's security portfolio to keep distilleries safe

From left to right, Rockwell's Bob Murphy and Beam Suntory's Amon Hogue listen in as Cisco's Steve Gansen speaks during a panel at Cisco Live in Orlando, Florida. (Mike Robuck/FierceTelecom)

With more than 80 distilleries and plants around the world, Beam Suntory is working with Cisco to keep data breaches and high-proof explosions at bay.

Speaking on a panel during Cisco Live last week in Orlando, Florida, Beam Suntory's Amon Hogue spoke about how his company hads hardened its network against hackers while also giving remote access to experts to fix problems.

While Beam Suntory has been making Jim Beam bourbon in Kentucky since 1895, it also distills vodka, tequila and cognac. Hogue, senior network architect, said the point of cybersecurity was driven home during a conference he attended.

"We were at a DEFCON security convention, which is a hacker's convention, two or three years ago and they actually had a whiskey distillery set up that they hacked in front of everybody," he said. "They caused a massive explosion through remote access. For me, my big concern is security from an IT perspective. I don't want somebody just plugging in a machine to the network that has potential hazardous impact. We're a class 1 div 2 (explosive) environment; if somebody hacks into a machine, they could potentially cause massive damage to us.

"All of the moving parts and components of our industrial networks across the world require expertise, and the challenge for us has been how do we get support from subject matter experts that can remotely manage our environment? How do we open it up to them without having somebody blow up our distillery?"

To fortify its security, Hogue said Beam Suntory is working with Cisco on deploying an identity services engine to reduce security risks and contain threats by dynamically controlling network access. Beam Suntory is also using Cisco firewalls to wall off production networks.

"Then we've leveraged some VPN access for those experts to come in and fix our control networks," Hogue said. "We don't have to parachute them anymore. We can actually give them remote access. Probably a few years ago that was off limits. They had to come physically on site because there was so much concern on security, so I think over the past few years the tools that are provided to us to keep a secure environment while allowing remote access to the correct individuals has improved for sure."

Beam Suntory also mans a fleet of drones that fly over its growing fields to look at not only the health of the plants—for example, agave plants in Mexico that are used to make tequila—but also to monitor security.

"Those (drones) have to talk back to cameras and the security network," Hogue said. "All of the moving parts and buckets of our industrial networks across the world require expertise and the challenge for us has been how do we get support from subject matter experts that can remotely manage our environment? How do we open it up to them without having someone blow up our distillery? That's been a big challenge for us."

Beam Suntory is also using Cisco's IoT portfolio to manage its production processes. From a distillery perspective, Hogue said that Beam Suntory has to be very in tune with the location of each barrel, the rate of evaporation and where that barrel is in the aging process. Bourbon at one of the Kentucky distilleries can take up to eight years to age in a wooden barrel, and there are more than 800 barrels in that location alone. To further complicate things, each plant or distillery around the world has different manufacturing processes in place.

"Cisco is really providing a lot of those tools that we can leverage and use for our industrial networks, for our enterprise business network, for our offices," Hogue said. "We're looking at the future of automation and how it can helps us with traffic and mapping our trucks and rolling out new business offices. We would like to see that whole dynamic of completely automated."

Beam Suntory has implemented some automation across its processes by working with Rockwell across its operations engineering team (OT). Bob Murphy, Rockwell Automation, senior vice president of operations and engineering services, said on the same panel that companies such as Beam needed to break down the barriers between IT teams and operations teams in order to reach the full potential of automation.

Hogue said that Beam Suntory was working with Rockwell and Cisco to automate even more of its processes through the use of software-defined networking. Those automation plans include integrating production facilities' applications and products into Cisco's ACI (applications centric infrastructure) environment to leverage the use of containers while also putting them into core networks, all of which would increase the run time of its applications, according to Hogue.

Beam Suntory also plans to deploy Cisco's Viptela SD-WAN solution to improve its traffic patterns and RESTful APIs to help with production.

"We're looking at how we can leverage an intelligent WAN design," Hogue said. "We want to do more with software-defined networks, and automating which paths and which network traffic takes."