Industrial Automation and the Cloud

By Alexander Damisch

Damisch PhotoWe’re hearing so much about the cloud lately – and I get asked often what cloud computing means in the context of industrial automation and about the benefits delivered, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the cloud as it pertains to industrial automation.  It's a topic I recently covered in a Q&A session for the Intel Embedded Community.

As embedded devices are increasingly connected to the enterprise, arguably the most cost-effective way to implement these systems is via cloud architecture. Within industrial automation, clear targets for a cloud architecture are typical IT components like manufacturing execution systems (MES) and production planning systems (PPS).  There is no need for discrete servers in industrial automation environments that perform functions for only a few machines or manufacturing processes, when they can be performed as cloud services, and thus operated more efficiently.

In industrial automation, the shift to cloud computing is causing a disruption in the embedded space by changing key paradigms regarding data and the location of intelligence.  Specifically, the cloud is affecting the architecture of IT structures (moving from a fixed client server architecture, to a distributed architecture with local and global intelligence), and it is also impacting machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in the embedded cloud. 

With this disruption, we’re seeing the shift to the cloud deliver many benefits to many market segments.  In the case of industrial automation, as embedded products and systems become more intelligent and connected, there will be significant gains in efficiency, mobility, business productivity, and capability due to cloud computing.  The cloud enables a complete system and service to be offered rather than a single “box” or device – and this also provides benefits in terms of lower costs and higher production and process quality. The key transition point will be the movement from the isolated embedded world into the enterprise and using the cloud to take advantage of greater business intelligence for better decision-making, making it effective from both a cost and use standpoint.

I believe the embedded world and cloud computing will be increasingly intertwined in the future, and I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to help companies across a wide range of market segments solve the many challenges that come with cloud computing and enable them to effectively implement device-to-cloud topologies. Moving from the isolated embedded world and connecting into an enterprise or potentially the cloud is highly disruptive, and it can have a significant impact on businesses. All the rules change once this level of connectivity exists, but it also brings about incredible opportunities for everyone.

Industrial automation companies, as well as companies in other market segments, need the complete infrastructure and services that are used in embedded cloud-based solutions today. For example, the ability to scale a services-oriented architecture from single- to multi-core and from the real-time operating system level to multi OS support via embedded virtualization becomes very important in the embedded/cloud discussion.

I know the cloud can mean different things to different groups/industries – I would be interested to know what you think.


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1 Comment

  1. David Laing

    If there is one point of resistance regarding M2M cloud connectivity it would be around storing process data that could reveal trade secrets about a company’s process or the yield they are achieving in the cloud. At VDC Research Group we believe there are plenty of cost saving business opportunities even without including sensitive data.

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