The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) offers enormous potential for manufacturing and process enterprises alike, allowing these companies to generate insights that promise to transform efficiency and productivity.
But, like anything else, the IIoT doesn’t come without its challenges. In fact, many manufacturing operations rely on production systems that may be years (or decades) old, and it is expensive and unrealistic to expect them to ditch it all and create an entirely new infrastructure from the ground up.
In this eWEEK Data Point article, Jason Andersen, Vice-President of Business Line Management for Stratus Technologies, shares with readers the key success factors for achieving next-gen automation capabilities in legacy environments.
Data Point No. 1: Define an architecture that releases the insights locked in your data.
One challenge faced by current industrial environments is that they are often composed of “siloed” data stores throughout a facility. Another challenge is that many of the operational technology (OT) systems keeping the plant up and running are often outdated applications residing on dedicated hardware. This creates multiple single points of failure and makes it very difficult to integrate the data needed for advanced analytics. Sharing and consolidating data are key components of IIoT’s value offering, so an important step is designing your next architecture with industry-standard interoperability techniques.
Data Point No. 2: Find the right home for your new applications.
Gathering data and making it actionable with things (sensors, machines, etc.) at the edge of the network is the foundation of IIoT success. Today’s edge infrastructure relies more on monolithic data collection and alerting applications that are not a great fit for cloud based deployments. But other future applications are cloud native. As you consider adding these new applications and upgrading your existing apps, take a hard look at the best places to host those applications. Inevitably you will find a need for a more advanced edge optimized digital infrastructure to support these next generation applications. Edge-optimized infrastructure is designed with the local operator or users in mind, so it’s easy to manage, ultra-reliable and secure.
Data Point No. 3: Seriously consider virtualization.
We often find that edge sites aren’t virtualized and that’s probably a mistake. Virtualized servers that can reside on low-cost, standards-based hardware greatly reduce the amount of physical systems that must be purchased, configured and maintained. Beyond hardware consolidation, virtualized servers offer many additional benefits, from increased interoperability and greater infrastructure efficiency to easier application upgrades.
Data Point No. 4: Prioritize data resilience and security embedded in your infrastructure.
Data is central to the operations of any IIoT project, which means that the risk of losing data or having it compromised is very real. Data loss can have a huge impact on the reliability and functionality of the IIoT. For that reason, companies need to be careful to protect and secure their edge data and applications. Especially for manufacturers who are moving toward IIoT, fault tolerance must be a mission-critical priority.
Data Point No. 5: Modernize your digital infrastructure.
In order to tap the potential of next-gen, intelligent automation, one must modernize the foundation on which it is built. Once your next edge architecture is planned, it’s time to look at existing OT infrastructure, which often includes old desktop hardware and servers running outdated operating systems and software, dedicated PCs for each application and proprietary systems that have been patched for years. This legacy infrastructure presents many problems, including security, connectivity and the challenge of managing a complex interconnected infrastructure. In order to minimize vulnerabilities, OT and IT must update the digital infrastructure in a way that strikes a balance between zero-tough simplicity and enterprise-grade resiliency.
Data Point No. 6: Create the right team to carry you forward.
The different outlooks of OT organizations and IT organizations is a common barrier to the IIoT transition. The gap between these two cultures needs to be bridged to meet the competing priorities on both sides in order to achieve the full potential of the IIoT. Recently, “industrial technologists” who bring a combined IT/OT perspective to the enterprise are beginning to emerge. Because they live on both sides, they play a key role in meeting both OT and IT priorities and understand that for IIoT to be a reality, “always on” availability needs must be met.
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