Virtualization and The Cloud: What’s the Right Approach? |

Virtualization and The Cloud: What’s the Right Approach?

Virtualization and The Cloud: What’s the Right Approach?

By John Senese, R&D Engineering Manager, Panduit on behalf of Industrial IP Advantage

You can’t pick up any magazine or attend any industry networking event these days without running into conversations about the “cloud.” So what’s the big deal and how does it even apply to the industrial industry?

Because of savvy marketers, people tend to think that deploying software and services in the cloud is a new concept. In reality, many companies have been deploying software in the cloud for years. The difference is really in the terminology and the “space” where the software and services exist. Let’s break it down into terms, definitions and examples:

Cloud: Software and services deployed in the cloud are deployed in a “public” network space and live on servers owned by the cloud provider. This means that data for different companies using the software or services can be segregated but the software itself lives in a public space (i.e. not behind your corporate firewall) and data is delivered via the public Internet. It is commonly used when a company wants to eliminate the need for hardware or software in-house and can benefit from accessing software hosted off-site. For example, Salesforce is one of the top cloud software packages. It was built with public cloud delivery in mind: data is segregated so data resolution happens internally within the user’s firewall but the solution itself resides on servers owned by Salesforce. Using Salesforce requires no investment in hardware and no maintenance for software upgrades or fixes by the user.

Virtualization: In use for years in enterprise IT, virtualization is the process of building a private cloud within a company’s own IT environment. Software resides on corporate-owned servers within the private enterprise. Whereas cloud relies on shared server space owned by the cloud provider, virtualization supports optimal server usage through internally shared server space. It is commonly used when a company wants to better leverage internal IT resources and deliver high availability within a more secure network environment.

Virtualization is highly beneficial in an industrial IT scenario where there are lots of software applications that perform functions for a small number of machines or manufacturing processes. For example, common systems such as manufacturing execution systems (MES) or production planning systems (PPS) may require only a fraction of one server. In the past, companies would assign a discrete server for each software program, but because virtualization de-couples software from hardware, we no longer have a 1:1 ratio as multiple software applications can now share one server, regardless of the operating system.

There are many reasons to evaluate virtualization in the industrial environment but let’s look at the top six.

Lower cost of ownership: Maximizing the number of servers and the amount of energy consumed can eliminate unnecessary hardware procurement costs, server upgrades, maintenance time and floor space. It can also cut operational costs due to lower energy consumption. 

Support for legacy applications: Cross-platform virtualization can be used to more easily migrate legacy applications to a virtual environment. It allows applications created for one CPU and operating system to run on a different platform without modification, and eliminates many of the hassles of supporting legacy applications such as system upgrades, conflicting instances and legacy source codes. In addition, industrial IT systems tend to run longer than enterprise IT systems (10+ years) and virtualization helps eliminate the need for new hardware over the life of the software.

Speed of deployment and upgrades: Once a virtualization platform is in place, it’s easy to deploy, migrate or upgrade applications in the virtual environment. Similarly, application management is easier because IT staff or system integrators can create virtual machine environments off-site and simply drop the functional system into the on-site location. This decreases the cost and time to implement, and allows for pre-testing on a separate system to ensure a smoother implementation.

Replication and consistency: Virtualization eliminates the need to update software instances on physical servers in multiple locations. By duplicating copies of existing virtual machines, IT managers can create more consistent environments using one installation of the operating system. This decreases installation, deployment and maintenance time.

Network availability and reliability: Virtualization offers a higher level of network reliability without the need for expensive fault-tolerant systems. It allows for multiple hardware platforms to dynamically and automatically move server loads as needed. This enables fault-tolerance and support dynamic hardware load-balancing which are both critical features for maximum uptime.

Security: Historically, it was considered a safer and more secure approach to create “security by obscurity” - separate servers, isolated from each other, housing separate applications. Today we recognize that this model doesn’t improve security and it actually inhibits organizations from efficient server use and data-sharing. Securing a virtual machine environment does not open any additional windows for security risk and can actually reduce security risk factors since policy and configuration guidelines can be more easily duplicated across the enterprise.

One other factor to consider when evaluating virtualization in the industrial environment is the network. Manufacturing organizations are starting to leverage more “smart” data driven devices, such as smart sensors, visual system camera feeds, energy management devices, etc. Organizations need to capture and turn this data into actionable information.

The traditional scenario of separate networks and servers makes it increasingly difficult to centralize data collection for analysis, not to mention the volume of time spent managing the physical hardware and software instances. Eliminating network gateways associated with proprietary networks is key. Industrial IP can be the foundation for virtual architectures, create more intelligent factories, and decreasing total cost of ownership.

With a combination of virtualization and devices running on an Industrial IP network, organizations can create one standard network system, better centralize data from all machines, run analysis across devices and drive operational improvements. The industrial network can also be tied into the corporate or enterprise network, a process made easier by using the enterprise standard of Ethernet.

To ease the implementation of virtualization, the industrial market is starting to see a variety of bundled solutions. For example, manufacturers with process applications can leverage a bundle that features Cisco servers and switches; Panduit cables, patch cords, cable management, testing, validation, and assembly; EMC storage; VMWare Virtual System Licenses; and Rockwell Automation PlantPAX process automation system Virtual Image Templates.

A bundled solution offers two primary advantages:

First, it takes the hardware specification out of the equation, allowing users to easily size and price a solution and have confidence that the server hardware purchased will be able to handle their applications. This activity can save weeks of an engineer’s time. 

Second, by having the hardware pre-assembled a user can be assured that the server cabinet is assembled following best practices for cable and thermal management, as well as system grounding. Pre-assembly also simplifies the on-site installation process – making the commissioning and maintenance of the system faster, easier and more repeatable.



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