- By Steve Schneebeli
- April 29, 2022
- Case Study
Malisko Engineering, Inc. uses Stratus redundant servers for both in-house and client projects, to realize high availability and easy management.
Over the years, many aspects of commercial IT practices have migrated to the industrial automation space. Some common examples are wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi, virtualization, and remote desktop technologies. Redundant computing has also been available in the IT world for many years, but it was expensive and complex, making it difficult to implement for industrial automation projects.
This has changed in recent years with the availability of Stratus ztC Edge and Stratus ftServer computing platforms. It is now simple to deploy and support highly available (HA) IT computing functionality, at or near the operational technology (OT) edge, even in the most challenging locations.
Edge computing is an important capability for many industries and automation projects, especially those seeking to maximize industrial internet of things (IIoT) project benefits. Furthermore, redundant PC computing is needed for critical and general-purpose applications alike.
This article describes why Malisko regularly uses these HA platforms for projects, and even runs their internal development and business systems on Stratus platforms.
Challenges of adapting commercial tech
Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and various forms of PC computing have successfully transitioned from commercial and IT to industrial OT use. This has been partly due to economies of scale, but it has also been driven by user needs for greater performance and capabilities.
Along those lines, capabilities like HA, remote connectivity, and operating system virtualization are more examples of commercial technologies gaining significant momentum in the industrial space. However, implementing these technologies has historically required significant IT expertise for deployment and maintenance.
In particular, PC redundancy has been very complicated to create and manage for industrial sites. Commercial products are simply not suited for reliable operation in these locations due to environmental factors. Also, commercial products typically have lifecycles of less than 5 years, while industrial system are usually expected to operate for well over 10 years.
In applications where HA PC redundancy was required, some end users and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have attempted to implement a variety of commercial-grade PC-based methods. They typically found this approach to be costly, difficult to integrate at the plant level, and hard to support over the long haul.
Supporting industrial needs
Industrial end users, OEMs, and systems integrators (SIs) supporting them are very familiar with PLCs, HMIs, and other associated devices for automating equipment. They have also become very adept at using various networking and PC technologies to support these projects. However, they may not have enough deep IT experience to create and support traditional PC-based HA solutions.
For these reasons, there is an ongoing need for industrial software products that are easily configurable using wizards, with contextual help and clear diagnostics. The ThinManager platform has done this for remote connectivity, and it has added other functions specific to industrial needs, with benefits such as mobile devices and shadow sessions. In this way, virtualization has been simplified and become commonplace, and some software vendors supply ready-made virtual machine (VM) images.
Now, Stratus has made HA redundant computing platforms accessible for anyone and suitable for all types of demanding applications. Stratus offers ztC Edge which provides teams with a zero-touch, secure, and highly automated edge computing platform, purpose built for edge environments. Stratus also offers ftServer, which is optimized for distributed edge-in architectures and delivers the performance needed to support advanced processor and data intensive applications, while also providing the fault tolerance, security and manageability required at the edge of your corporate networks.
Both models are built more robustly than any consumer- or commercial-grade computers. Stratus’ hardware also offers other advantages as well, including:
- Native redundancy
- On-board virtualization
- Self-monitoring and remote connectivity
While both Stratus solutions can be operated in simplex mode, and act as an exceptionally well-built PC, the real benefit is to operate them in redundant pairs, which can be located close together or far apart. A simplex configuration can be made redundant at any time by adding the extra hardware, and configuration is very “clicky” through the user interface, so OT personnel can perform the minimal setup.
On-board virtualization ensures that once the PC is powered, users can deploy virtual machines (VMs) immediately, without the need for additional licensing and setup. Many industrial projects, especially those using server hardware, need to deploy multiple VMs for a complete solution involving industrial internet of things (IIoT) data handling, HMI/SCADA visualization, historization, edge computing, and more.
To handle these types of projects, the hardware is reliable and flexible, with extensive diagnostic and self-monitoring capabilities making it simple to support. Stratus’ solutions detect existing or impending concerns, and they can issue warnings locally and remotely. OT personnel can easily support the Stratus system with minimal training because many components are readily swapped in the field. Phone- and internet-based remote assistance and monitoring is available from Stratus and/or Malisko as needed, providing even greater confidence for end users.
Basically, either Stratus solution acts like a PC or server, but provides exceptional uptime. Malisko has had great success with Stratus ftServer installations, and now leads with this architecture for new projects.
Integrating OEMs: Production skids can be sourced from many companies and countries, using their own standalone Windows PCs, and it is very hard to integrate many different skids into one centralized system. To improve integration in these situations, Malisko has used Stratus and virtualization, and directed each skid vendor to develop their system on a VM. Once the skids are deployed in a plant, all the VMs can be run on one centralized Stratus system hosting ThinManager. The hardware has been decoupled from the software using virtualization, and ThinManager provides comprehensive visibility, providing a middle ground between OEMs and the plant or facility owner.
Badge readers: For one client, Malisko implemented a badge reader system using ThinManager as an integrated session, making it much easier to use in conjunction with the visualization and automation systems. The control room has two 65” 4K TVs, run with two thin clients which each serve up to four 1080p sessions per TV. This deployment replaces eight traditional PCs, with each of the eight VMs supporting any kind of thin manager session (HMI, badge reader, IP cameras, etc.).
Scalability: At a pharmaceutical company, there was already an ftServer for a data logging system. Malisko was able to add other VMs into this underutilized server to host facility automation systems and building automation systems, and to integrate various items of OEM equipment which were formerly “islands of automation.” All applications are now integrated and can be easily backed up.
In-House computing: Malisko has transitioned in-house automation project development systems to run on Stratus, ensuring zero downtime and no lost data. For the same reasons, the business systems—financial computing and file servers—also run-on Stratus. Even if a user does not necessarily need industrial-grade robustness, as in this case, the Stratus solutions still make sense because of their outstanding reliability.
Stratus provides high availability, high-performance virtualization, and remote services—all combined with ease-of-use for initial development and ongoing support. Malisko has used Stratus products with great success for a variety of client and in-house applications and specifies these systems for new projects wherever possible.
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