Breaking the IT / OT barrier, on the edge of industry
The world of IT is dominated by trends, with those not following the very latest in technological “fashion”, for want of a better phrase, bombarded with dire warnings of being left behind, overtaken by the competition and left in the dust of the bankruptcy courts.
A case in point is the move to use cloud computing. Digital transformation is seen as a simile for wholesale uptake of cloud computing power, with the new technology’s advocates pointing to the massive funds being spent by companies like Microsoft (Azure), Amazon (AWS), and Google (Cloud).
Anyone with a role in industry either in IT or otherwise, however, will be aware that pushing all computing resources required to run – for instance – a modern manufactory or utility production plant into the cloud isn’t particularly effective; either from the point of view of cost or operational efficiency.
Machinery, plant, and industrial devices have been arriving from their suppliers with increasingly complex sensors and controls built in for a number of years now, plus there’s a very healthy after-market scene where sensor arrays and other bolt-ons can be added, as required. The outcome of this digital revolution on the factory floor has birthed two new buzz-phrases (to join “the cloud”): Industry 4.0 and IIoT.
Thus it is that edge-based technology (that is, not based in the data center nor the cloud) is considered more important in traditional industrial settings. The cost of the necessary bandwidth and speed of connecting remote installations either back to the data center or the cloud are tremendously high.
The flow of data to and from IIoT devices is best handled at the edge: on-site, local and therefore, low-cost and very fast. Additionally, in a global market with often disparate local data governance, adhering to local compliance requirements is more straightforward on a localized basis.
The difficulty arises when OT and IT cross – which they certainly do in industrial settings. IT support and on-premise functions in every manufacturing plant or edge installation are expensive and difficult to manage. Plus, as the complexities of the technologies powering Industry 4.0 increase, it’s easy for IT to become predominant and become what’s managed, rather than the installed machinery and operations being the reason for existence.
No-one in industry needs reminding about the always-on, 24/7 demand being put on producers and manufacturers. With trends like just-in-time and consumer’s love for conveniences like same-day delivery percolating to business mindsets, letting any enterprise “go offline” just isn’t an option.
Industrial automation systems which control production need, therefore, to be fast, responsive, intelligent and trouble-free. But without spending a fortune on an IT presence (human and machine) in every installation, what can be done?
The answer lies in a new generation of edge-specific IT that is dedicated to industrial deployment. With the right platform and systems in place, industrial units can continue 24/7 without interruptions. The truth is that if the control systems stop, production stops. So, here at Tech Wire Asia, we’ve looked at two suppliers of industrial IT/OT systems which can help.
At present, companies involved in construction, manufacturing, utilities, or engineering have only a few, expensive & complex methods to ensure maximum uptime of systems.
Running redundant systems in parallel with operational systems is costly and challenging to keep the two (or three) replicated over time. And even the active/standby model needs manual intervention for switchover (for upgrades, maintenance, etc.). And cluster systems simply compound these problems.
Some manufacturers are using new offerings that utilize cloud computing power; these are coming onto the market as cloud suppliers extend their products towards industry, or industrial system providers begin to buy cloud IT to extend their products’ remit.
Depending on your choices, edge-based control systems can refer production anomalies and problems to the cloud for further processing (thus drastically reducing the bandwidth and speed required for a data connection). However, this is still a potential bottleneck at best, and entirely impractical for unconnected edge installations.
The other alternative is the installation of complex IT infrastructure at the plant or in the field. This leads us back to the opening of this article, which considered the problems associated with IT and OT costs in multiple locations.
Or rather, that used to be the problem. With the latest generation of hardware and software devices (see below), industry can use IT’s capabilities to full effect, but without the significant investment in time, materials and staff which used to be required.
With software-defined abstraction technologies and one-touch deployments, industry can simply install a single (or a few) pieces of equipment, plug in a couple of cables and gain the benefits of the latest tech – without the overheads.
The end game is that keeping the power on means companies can plan their outputs, income, and requirements from their supply chain and logistics.
Unplanned outages or interruptions aren’t tolerable. Even planned downtimes disrupt and can damage customer relations. Thanks to IT, competitors are never more than a mouse click or two away.
Here are the two suppliers of systems which are pushing the envelope of what’s possible in this 24/7 world, for industry, engineering, and utilities, all over the APAC region (and the rest of the world).
The Massachusetts (US)-headquartered business with offices all across the world knows that to keep industrial systems successfully up and running, the minimization of downtime is essential. They know there is a delicate balancing act of supplying very smart, result-driven technology, and ensuring the solution itself is simple to set up, use, and maintain.
It’s the simplicity of Stratus’ solutions that attract buyers from a range of industrial segments, many of them not traditionally known for hasty technology adoption: utilities, mining, and process as well as discrete manufacturing.
By preventing downtime without having to deploy legions of IT technicians, Stratus helps companies achieve high-impact, high tech-enabled results without the IT overheads.
And as technology drives industries to move to the edge and closer to the data, it’s Stratus which produces hot-swappable, plug-and-play devices that host software running production machinery, reliably, with self-healing and remote monitoring and other services built in.
Stratus’s latest addition to its portfolio, ztC Edge is particularly innovative, and can be plugged in, set up and running in around thirty minutes. Its virtualization capabilities improve plant efficiencies and output by creating a reliable hosting platform to run edge applications. Multiple redundant systems enable continuous production operations, and low latency AI-driven analytics drive predictive, scheduled maintenance.
To learn more about Stratus, and specifically about the ztC Edge device, click here.
Swiss company Veeam’s Hyper-Availability Platform ensures that businesses keep running at their maximum – both in terms of uptime, but also in terms of efficiencies.
By providing backup and recovery plus on-the-fly replication, mission-critical systems are given the belt & braces approach – always on, seamlessly recovering.
Apps, data or even cloud computing arrays are similarly protected, which means that wherever you happen to want to host your apps, databases or assets, Veeam’s system protects and ensures uptime.
The solution plus into many disparate systems seamlessly, with powerful APIs allowing integrations with HPE, NetApp, Cisco and a host of other industrial stalwarts in hardware. Additionally, the platform plus into Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, Oracle and Active Directory – right out of the box.
The Veeam Availability Console gives visibility and management capabilities across all the distributed systems over complex industrial installations, with reports and capacity monitoring critical indicators provided in real-time.
There are also a host of cloud-provider plugins, and in a similar vein, the company also offers its own SaaS, a backup service for Microsoft Office 365.
*Some of the companies featured on this editorial are commercial partners of Tech Wire Asia