Manufacturing in the clouds

The term “computing in the cloud” is the latest topic in the enterprise computing space. The image of a cloud is used in network architecture diagrams to represent the Internet. Computing in the cloud simply means using applications and services available through the Internet.


The term “computing in the cloud” is the latest topic in the enterprise computing space. The image of a cloud is used in network architecture diagrams to represent the Internet. Computing in the cloud simply means using applications and services available through the Internet.

Computing in the cloud is essentially the outsourcing of a complete service where the service user does not know or care where the service is hosted. Examples of services available “in the cloud” are sales force automation, customer relationship management, payroll, taxes, e-commerce, accounting, and data backups.

Cloud computing service providers use computer clusters and large server farms to meet expected demand. With a large number of users, they can offer inexpensive services because of a significant economy of scale.

Cloud computing users also gain some significant economic advantages. They have no capital expenses. They have reduced service costs because of a simplified IT infrastructure. They do not have to buy systems scaled to their worst case use scenarios, and there is a reduction in large client applications. The primary disadvantages are the risks associated with Internet reliability, and the financial stability of the service provider.

As cloud computing becomes more commonplace, IT managers and CTOs will ask if manufacturing can operate in the cloud, and manufacturing organizations should have an answer. The typical cloud computing application adds a lot of risk in a manufacturing environment. The service is accessible through an uncontrolled network (the Internet), and there is little control of external problems, such as bankruptcy, flood, fire, earthquakes, and weather disasters.

These problems mean that cloud computing cannot be used for mission critical applications. However, manufacturing organizations can use the concepts of cloud computing in mission critical applications in a local mode.

We can use cloud types to describe different types of cloud computing. The highest clouds are cirrus clouds and the cirrus cloud model can be defined as Internet hosted services. Stratus clouds are intermediate level clouds and can represent the cloud computing model used within your company's business network. Cumulus clouds are low lying clouds and can represent the cloud computing model used within your company's manufacturing operations network.

Not mission critical

The cirrus cloud computing model is suitable for non-mission-critical applications, such as document management, analysis applications, and system backup. These services can often be offline for short periods of time and do not require 24x7 accessibility.

Applications that are not business critical can follow a status cloud computing model. These would be applications hosted through the company's intranet in a single server cluster. This is often the model used for corporate email, controlled document management, document workflow applications, and knowledge management applications.

Applications that are manufacturing mission critical and that normally run in a company's manufacturing operations network can follow the cumulus cloud model. In this model all of the manufacturing operations networks within a site would be combined into a single network. This is a network that is firewall- and access-protected from the business network with no direct access to the Internet. Common applications would then be hosted from a site manufacturing server farm.

Examples of these applications include MES, SCADA, HMI, LIMS, and data historian systems. There are significant advantages of scale if you can provide site-wide services from a single server cluster. However, not all applications can operate in a cluster, so check with your vendors to see which applications can be clustered and consolidated into a single manufacturing server farm. Answer upcoming questions about manufacturing computing in the cloud by creating your own site-level computing cloud for mission critical manufacturing applications.


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Also see, from Control Engineering : Honeywell Process Solutions: 34th Americas User Group, 6 areas of change in next 10 years

Author Information

Dennis Brandl is president of BR&L Consulting in Cary, NC, . His firm focuses on manufacturing IT. Contact Dennis at .

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