Cloud Computing for Industrial Performance
21 June, 2021 | Blog
Information technology (IT) tools have greatly gained in maturity over the years, which has led to their use in industrial environments, particularly in the mining and energy sectors. These include Ethernet networks, virtualization and hyperconvergence infrastructure (HCI).
Today, we’re seeing the same pattern with cloud computing, which offers significant advantages in terms of scalability, flexibility and robustness. Now mature, this technology can be used to meet many emerging needs and is particularly well suited to Industry 4.0.
Why cloud computing?
There are many factors that explain why cloud services are so popular, the most important being the flexibility they provide to businesses. It’s astonishing how quickly solutions can be deployed to meet very specific needs. Additionally, self-service and on-demand services make them readily available to everyone.
Cost is another differentiator. In a traditional infrastructure, major capital expenditures (CAPEX) are required to purchase all the necessary hardware (servers, storage, networking, security, UPS, etc.). Short- and medium-term needs must also be anticipated.
In cloud computing, it’s more a question of operating expenses (OPEX). Businesses only pay for what they use, without any initial investment. Systems should therefore be designed to use only the resources they need, without any extras.
There’s no longer any need to try to plan for the future, since it’s very easy to increase service capacity, where required. Available resources and storage space are virtually unlimited. It’s also important to consider using serverless functions to run code simply and inexpensively. In other words, optimal design and architecture are the key to controlling costs.
Cloud computing and IoT
It’s also worth noting that some technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT), have emerged as a result of cloud computing. With IoT, we can connect machines and sensors to the cloud to easily collect and analyze their data. This highly valuable data source can be used to power quality improvement, performance improvement, predictive maintenance tools and other systems. IoT equipment communicates with cloud services using a variety of protocols and technologies, for example:
- Ethernet networks
- Wi-Fi networks
- Private or public broadband (LTE) and narrowband (LTE-M/NB-IoT) cellular networks
- Low-power wide-area networks (LoRaWAN)
Simplified application development
Cloud computing is also changing the way we develop applications. Building applications for specific needs is now easier and more accessible than ever. The services used to create applications can be compared to LEGO blocks. Simply choose the right pieces and put them together to get the results you want.
By maximizing the use of software as a service (SaaS), managing updates and servers is transferred to the cloud service provider. This means that software is better protected, more quickly. Databases are a good example of software that, when deployed as a service, offers great benefits in terms of data management and exploitation, its availability and its performance.
Cloud computing is also known for its excellent reliability. In just a few clicks, you can create interconnected networks around the world. System redundancy is therefore very easy to set up. Data stored in cloud computing is almost unrivalled in terms of its durability.
AI and machine learning
Another important element to consider is that cloud computing opens the door to the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. In fact, advanced data processing algorithms and AI often require access to a significant amount of resources, sometimes for a short period of time. In such cases, conventional solutions requiring large amounts of high-performance servers are not feasible.
Connectivity and Cybersecurity
In cloud computing, connectivity is often a concern for some people. For data acquisition systems, there are solutions to deal with connection loss. Setting up an edge computing platform is advantageous. This makes it possible to bring home certain cloud functionalities to your site and to interact locally with the system, even offline.
What about cybersecurity and best practices for process control network architecture? Of course, there are a variety of technical solutions available to establish a secure connection to cloud service providers. This connection can be cybersecure and redundant, without the need to interact with corporate IT systems. These solutions include some well-known classics like virtual private networks (VPNs), MPLS services and software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solutions. Of course, there are also several integrated solutions. The important thing is to have end-to-end encryption.
Systems and applications: which ones can be hosted in the cloud?
Typical control system architecture is divided into different levels. These levels refer to the Purdue Model which classifies, so to speak, each control system component based on its criticality. Cloud computing is therefore most applicable to systems and applications that belong to level 3 of the Purdue model, including:
- Predictive maintenance systems
- Operational intelligence applications
- Advanced data storage and data analytic systems
- Data historians
- Manufacturing execution systems (MES)
- Quality management applications
- Applications related to managing operational technology infrastructures such as:
- Network and server monitoring systems
- Cybersecurity systems (e.g., SIEM)
- Backup systems
Contact our team to learn more about cloud solutions for the industrial sector.