Network Your Serial Devices with TOP Server

How Can I Add Serial Devices to My Ethernet Network?

Ethernet Encapsulation of serial communication lets you connect your serial devices over Ethernet using Serial-to-Ethernet converters (also commonly referred to as Terminal Servers, Serial Device Server or Ethernet Encapsulation Modules).

TOP Server’s built-in support lets you use Lantronix, Digi, Moxa, Comtrol or many other converter brands without having to use their virtual COM port redirection software or device protocol converters.

This makes it easier and more affordable to connect devices from longer distances than it would be using serial connections alone.

But What Is Ethernet Encapsulation?

A Serial-to-Ethernet converter is essentially a virtual serial port. More importantly, it is a virtual serial port that can sit on your existing Ethernet network. Today there are a wide range of such converters available from a range of manufacturers.

The communication protocol used is still the same serial protocol that would be used even in a physical serial connection.  To be compatible with the Ethernet network, the serial communication messages are "wrapped" by the header and framing information required for Ethernet transport.

When the messages reach the Serial-to-Ethernet converter, that header and framing information is stripped and the standard serial message is sent to the device via the normal serial port.  And the process is reversed for responses.

This process makes it fast and easy to add legacy serial devices to a faster and more reliable Ethernet network.

But what about the Virtual COM software that comes with my Serial-to-Ethernet converter?

So, in case you aren't familiar with them, serial-to-ethernet converters typically supply accompanying software/drivers that allow the terminal server to appear like a serial port to the Windows operating system. This Virtual COM software can make using a terminal server very easy and wouldn't have required any changes to the driver software, except for one VERY IMPORTANT thing, timing.

In many cases, depending on the communications protocol, there can be very tight timing requirements that must be met in order to successfully communicate with the device. Virtual COM software often has not been optimized to work with the requirements of the plant floor environment with respect to such timings.

This typically results in communication errors, breaks in communication, and long delays while the supplied software reconnects to the converter.

Okay, Virtual COM Software isn't ideal - how do I use Ethernet Encapsulation?

Ethernet Encapsulation is the enhanced ability of the TOP Server serial drivers to communicate directly with terminal servers. As described in the previous section, we could have used the software supplied with the terminal server, but this would not have yielded the most optimal result in terms of performance or reliability. With this in mind, the TOP Server serial drivers incorporate the functions needed to directly connect to a serial device connected to an Ethernet-based serial-to-ethernet converter.

So, for drivers that support Ethernet Encapsulation, you will find that the “Connection Type" dropdown in the channel’s Communications properties allows you to select “Ethernet Encap.” for compatible drivers. Just select this option instead of "COM Port” to enable Ethernet Encapsulation.

Now you can enter an IP address for your serial device

Configuring the channel for Ethernet Encapsulation mode is only half of the story. As with any Ethernet based connection, you
must also specify an IP address, a
port number, and the Ethernet
communications format to be used (i.e. TCP or UDP). This is done when you add a new device to your channel. When a new device is added to the channel the Ethernet Encapsulation settings will allow you to select an Ethernet IP address, an Ethernet Port number, and the Ethernet protocol to be used.

Important Notes:

  • When you select Ethernet Encapsulation mode, you will notice that the serial port settings such as baud rate, data bits, and parity become grayed out. This occurs because these settings will not be used in Ethernet Encapsulation mode.
  • The terminal server you are using must, however, have its serial port properly configured to match the requirements of the serial device you plan to attach to the serial-to-ethernet converter.
  • Many of these converters have different "modes" that can be configured.  Commonly, you'll see options such as TCP Client, TCP Server or VCOM (Virtual COM).  For Ethernet Encapsulation to work, you'll need to make sure the equivalent of TCP Server mode is configured in your converter.

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The demo is the full product once licensed. Once a client application connects to the  TOP Server, the TOP Server runtime will operate for 2 hours at a time. At the end of the 2 hour demo period, the demo timer must be reset by restarting the TOP Server runtime service.

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