Essential Recovery: Restoring an HMI

Essential Recovery: Restoring an HMI
Essential Recovery: Restoring an HMI

It is said that a backup system is only as good as the trust you put in it. On the surface, your backup system is good, meaning that the trust level is high, as your business success relies on it. But would you stake your job on the ability to restore your control room human-machine interface (HMI) within an hour of a major equipment failure or, worse, a ransomware attack?

What if…

Consider a possible real-world situation. A severe weather event or a ransomware attack occurs at your facility. The lightning strike, flood, or ransomware attack takes down your primary and redundant secondary server. You are not worried because you have a solid backup of the HMI files. You call information technology (IT) and, fortunately, they have a replacement server in stock. Let the recovery begin.

First, make sure that the hard drive is formatted correctly. Luckily, the partition is preconfigured, so you can skip formatting the hard drive. Now you load the operating system.

Depending on the media, it can take between 30 minutes and five hours to load Microsoft Windows onto a clean computer. Did anyone back up the Windows configuration file? No? Now the entire Windows server setup must be performed. Do you have the manufacturer’s manual for the automation system? You remember a specific configuration is required prior to loading the vendor software.

Finally, the operating system (OS) is loaded. Now you can get the HMI software going. The disks are in the file cabinet next to the new server, but the server doesn’t have a DVD drive. Can you download the software from the vendor’s website? Three hours later, the software is downloaded and installed.

Next, you grab that backup from a USB stored in a cabinet in the data center. You begin the application installation, but you get an error after 30 minutes. The vendor’s website indicates that a software patch is required for one of the features on your HMI. You download and install the feature patch and begin the application installation again. Fortyfive minutes later, the application is fully installed.

You use the application tool to restore the configuration, tag names, and graphic files. It restores without error. You refresh the control room workstation screens with fingers crossed. No new data? What is wrong? You forgot to configure the network interface cards on the server. You find the correct IP addresses on labels on the old servers and refresh the workstations, and new data populates.


In the end, the operation was successful, but it was a frustrating endeavor with a lot of time, money, and other resources wasted on something that is easily remedied. By acknowledging that a good backup and recovery plan includes more than just the application configuration files, recovery will be quicker and more certain. For a less stressful and more reliable process, partner with your automation integrator to perform and, more important, test backups.

Adapted from “Would you bet your job on your HMI backup system recovery plan?” by Bruce Billedeaux in MAVERICK’s newsletter.

This feature originally appeared in Bill Lydon's 7th Annual Industrial Automation & Control Trends Report.

About The Author

Bruce Billedeaux is a senior consultant at MAVERICK Technologies with more than 28 years of network and process automation expertise in the commercial building and industrial central utility environment. He is also a member of MAVERICK’s cybersecurity solutions team.

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