Ethernet as a networking protocol is very much like the Borg on the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The Borg monotonously intoned “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” Ethernet’s history shows that the protocol does eventually assimilate nearly everything else by getting faster and more responsive. One market where this assimilation is clearly happening is in industrial automation where the nondeterministic, non-real-time foundations of the Ethernet protocol are being supplemented with real-time protocol overlays such as PROFINET. These enhancements allow Ethernet-based industrial networks to carry non-real-time data over conventional TCP/IP connections while carrying industrial process data over real-time (RT) Ethernet protocols. There’s also an isochronous real-time (IRT) protocol for industrial applications such as motion control.
You can implement PROFINET IRT communications on the Xilinx Zynq SoC using a low-footprint, high-performance PROFINET IP core called easyIRT from Enclustra, for example, which permits IRT cycle times as fast as 31.25 µsec. Here’s a very short video from the recent SPS Drives trade show in Nuremberg, Germany that explains some of the concepts behind PROFINET IRT and a short discussion of functionally safe embedded system design.