Industrial data now in the Cloud

Industrial data now in the Cloud

 
By Bill Lydon - Editor, October 2010
 
Software Toolbox is now providing a cloud-based repository for industrial plant data which can be accessed with web-based clients. Industrial applications using cloud computing are starting to emerge.   The IT world has been using cloud computing to lower ongoing support costs and provide greater flexibility. I reviewed the Industrial Falcon offering with Kevin Rutherford, Industrial Falcon Brand Manager.
 
Rutherford explained, “Industrial Falcon is basically a form of cloud-based web client application that can be used for storing and visualizing process data collected from OPC and other data sources.” Users can display current and historical OPC data values that are received from the Industrial Falcon OPC client component. That OPC client software is installed on any OPC server machine and feeds that data to Industrial Falcon’s Online Repository in the cloud. It uses Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) that is a combination of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol with the SSL/TLS protocol to provide encrypted communication and secure identification of a network web server.  (HTTPS connections are often used for payment transactions on the World Wide Web and for sensitive transactions in corporate information systems.)
 
Configuration
First, the Industrial Falcon OPC client component is used to identify which tags are acquired from an OPC Server and pushed into the Cloud. Next, the Industrial Falcon Web interface is configured for visualizations, alarms, and scripts using a browser from any PC. The data that was defined in the client component can be associated to a number of pre-configured (included) objects.   Controls and visual components are available to drag and drop into the window, including gauges and trends with configurable attributes for background colors, text colors, value ranges and data source.  Scripting is accomplished with Java expressions and can be used to do calculations for virtual data. Rutherford noted that JavaScript controls work in most every web browser including the iPhone.
 
Data Visualization
Data is stored on the Industrial Falcon Online Repository in the cloud and can be viewed using the Industrial Falcon Web interface from any browser by anyone that has a user account. There is also a read-only view option where a unique URL is defined and no login is required.  User accounts are configurable with access rights by the person administrating the system using a Web browser.
 
Alarming
Alarms messages can be defined and notification is done using email and SMS.
 
How is it deployed?
This is a subscription service where the user pays an annual fee based on the number of source OPC tags and historical points. There is a no cost OPC client component to install on any OPC server machine where data is going to be made available through Industrial Falcon.   Since the visualization component is Web-based there is no additional cost or limit to the number of data viewers.
 
Considerations
Rutherford noted, “You're not going to use this to replace a historian; it would be used more appropriately for getting a snapshot of what is going on from a Web browser.” The time interval to send data from a local OPC server to the system is configurable with a 1 second default value. This is independent of the local OPC sever polling time for field data. "Industrial Falcon natively supports OPC-DA 1.0 and 2.0 and when combined with other tools by Software Toolbox, gains access to OPC UA, Excel, Databases, Linux and many other diverse data sources," says Rutherford.
 
The browsers used with Industrial Falcon need to support JavaScript controls and include Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and, Safari.
 
There is a free demo version available. More Information: www.industrialfalcon.com
 
Thoughts & Observations
Cloud Computing is in the early stages of being used to simplify computer investments and lower ongoing support cost in IT applications. Time will determine how well this works.
 
Security is one of the major concerns and the use of methods such as HTTPS are being used to mitigate the risks.
The Industrial Falcon application is only pushing data out to the cloud so it would appear to be low risk to internal computing systems.
 
As plant people are given mobile devices such as smart phones the value of having information easily available is high.