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Digital disruption from farm to fork: Tracking the food supply

9.5.2017ManufacturingBy:  

As published in Food DIVE

By 2050, the Earth’s population is set to swell from 7 billion to 9 billion. According to a 2015 report from the World Resources Institute, the agricultural sector will need to increase production by approximately 25% in order to meet the resulting demand. According to a recent article in Environmental Science & Technology, however, we’re wasting enough calories from food we’re already growing to be feeding an additional 1.9 billion people. This alone is nearly enough to cover the spike in population, if we were only able to lower the world’s food waste, with about a third of the crops produced annually going to waste worldwide.

The rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), with its sensor technologies and real-time data analytics capable of monitoring the food supply from farm to fork, now offers a first-ever, end-to-end solution for reducing food waste, limiting recalls and improving overall food safety.

Food supply goes digital

Farms and ranches are going digital. Food manufacturing and warehousing are going digital. Food distribution and retailing are going digital from the checkout counter to the family dinner table. Digitization of the food supply enables the IIoT to leverage its technologies to monitor and analyze the entirety of the process. From the standpoint of food quality, timeliness of delivery, waste, spoilage and recalls, the IIoT represents a change in the utilization of technology in feeding the planet.

Recalls have become a critical pain point that many are calling the food industry’s greatest threat to profitably. A joint industry study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association showed that the average cost of a recall to a food company is $10 million in direct costs, in addition to brand damage and lost sales.

The study points out that “Most recalls (56%) resulted from operational mistakes, such as incorrect labeling, the presence of an undeclared ingredient or contamination during the production process. While biological causes, such as the detection of listeria, salmonella and E. coli were also factors, a significant number of food safety alerts were actually due to food fraud and corruption by suppliers further down the supply chain. This highlights the need for food producers to invest in ensuring the traceability of their products back through the supply chain.”

Whether operational or biological, end-to-end traceability is key to avoiding a recall, which is precisely how the IIoT’s digital scrutiny of the food system comes into play.

Intelligent, real-time end-to-end monitoring

Of course, this end-to-end real-time visibility and traceability requires a whole new level of data sharing between food manufacturers and their suppliers and distributors. Traceability through digital visibility — tracking products at every point in order to spot potential issues in real time — requires secure, cloud-based systems that collect data from across the supply chain and make it available for centralized data analytics engines.

The potential for IIoT sensor and analytics technologies to mitigate the risk of recalls is undeniable. Yet many food manufacturers are taking a cautious approach to IIoT investments. In an industry with thin margins and intense competition, how can manufacturers be sure these investments will pay off?

Three keys to IIoT successdd

1. Prioritize existing and evolving critical control points.
IIoT-based monitoring of the entire production process would be cost-prohibitive for most food manufacturers. Instead, target those areas most critical to food safety and quality, starting with hazards analysis and critical control points (HACCP). Thereafter, expand the IIoT “footprint” along less critical processes.

2. Use the IIoT to ensure compliance.
Food manufacturers understand the impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act, increasing their obligation to prevent threats to the food supply. Implementing IIoT technologies can significantly enhance their ability to meet this challenge.

In addition to automated in-line quality analysis via the IIoT, the presence of intelligent IIoT technologies also generates data that demonstrates to regulators that the manufacturer is monitoring food quality and safety, a key compliance requirement.

3. Minimize the risk of data loss.
Data is the lifeblood of the IIoT and protecting it throughout the supply chain is essential. That means investing in high-availability, fault-tolerant systems that prevent data loss and ensure continuous operation of critical production and monitoring equipment.

First step in the IIoT journey

The reality of safeguarding the food system from farm to fork via the IIoT is that most manufacturers will start with limited implementations that target key quality control points.

As they recognize the value generated by intelligent tracking, tracing and analysis of the supply chain and production process, they can then extend their IIoT infrastructure into new areas.

Obviously, reducing the risk of recalls is a high priority worthy of investment. However, the IIoT also enables significant economic benefits that impact other areas of the business — from optimizing production efficiencies to responding in real time to product diversion and theft in transit, to analyzing consumer preferences faster in order to improve business agility.

A great first step is a thorough assessment of the entire supply and demand chain and production process to identify the most critical control points.

From that assessment onward, it then becomes a journey of connecting one critical control point to another to evolve and optimize the overall IIoT infrastructure.

Stratus will be at PROCESS EXPO, the global food equipment and technology show® on September 19-22, 2017 in Chicago. This event represents the pinnacle of food technology bringing together the world’s most successful food and beverage processors, equipment manufacturers and leaders in the field of academia. To learn more about the role Stratus plays in the Food & Beverage industry, please visit us at booth #3619.

Curious findings at Automation Modernization

5.10.2017IA, IIoTBy:  

It’s always an interesting experience to go to events in the field and have the opportunity to talk directly to customers and partners. Recently, I had the chance to participate in an “Automation Modernization” event organized by the Tulsa office of our partner, Rexel. With over 180 attendees, it was a great platform to hear the challenges that end customers face and what kinds of automation modernization projects are on the horizon. While the media, including Stratus, is focused on “what’s next” and how to implement new concepts and technologies— such as Industrie 4.0, IIoT and smart factories— events such as this one in Tulsa bring home the reality of what most automation engineers and operational technologists are faced with. In the technical education sessions, there were great presentations on a wide range of topics. One of our automation (OEM) partners, Rockwell, used the general sessions to show how analytics can improve operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) and streamline operations in general.

In the Stratus booth, we had a wide range of literature available, but as I talked to people and watched what collateral they picked up, I noticed something. It really struck me that while IIoT, machine learning and analytics might be great, it’s not where much of the industrial automation industry is focused today.

Our most popular piece of literature at this event was “Virtualization for Dummies”, a book in the “Dummies” series that was sponsored by Stratus. If you are interested, you can download a copy here. In some respects, I was quite surprised, as I have spent a lot of my time in that “forward looking” world.

On reflection, I think this continued interest in virtualization has positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, automation vendors would like everyone to be focused on moving to analytics platforms, but in reality, most of the industry is just not there yet. Virtualization of control systems is a key pre-requisite to making this happen. On the other hand, its good because there is a definite recognition that virtualization is a technology enabler for smoother operation of existing applications and a springboard to implement the next wave of applications that are coming along. The transition is accelerating and at Stratus we are enabling our customers to make that transition as smooth as possible while taking the complexity out of availability. Our standards-based platform that is simple to implement, easy to manage and requires no IT expertize to service is key to providing peace of mind when all your applications are running on a single machine.

 

And the cloud, how to use it, and moving control applications away from the plant; not a subject that even came up once. It’s just not what the engineers tasked with maintaining and upgrading automation systems who attended this event are currently looking for.

I look forward to attending more of these events. It’s a good way to come down to earth and understand the practicalities that face many in industrial automation. For me, it’s an opportunity to learn about a whole variety of industries and their challenges around automation, and to meet customers and partners. It also gives me the opportunity to help people understand how Stratus may be able to help them with a current or future project.

Road to IIoT: Lessons for Manufacturers from Other Industries

5.4.2017IIoTBy:  

For most manufacturers, the road to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is an evolutionary journey. And while it may be marked with twists and turns, it doesn’t have to be fraught with risk and uncertainty.

In a recent article I wrote for Manufacturing Business Technology, I explain how manufacturers can learn from other industries that have already headed down the path of IIoT. Here are some highlights from my article:

1. Go for Standards
Legacy automation infrastructures are often proprietary, and upgrades are typically controlled by a single vendor. That’s not only costly, but also limits options for introducing new, modern capabilities like IIoT. It’s similar to the challenge telecommunications faced until some forward-thinking carriers saw the promise of industry-standard solutions and operating systems. That opened the door for delivering enhanced services that gave them a competitive advantage over traditional providers of basic dial tone services. By adopting standards-based technology, manufacturers could open the door to a new wave of business-enhancing innovation.

2. Open the Door to Integration
Operations technology (OT) organizations like to keep their industrial control systems (ICS) walled off from the rest of the enterprise to avoid points of vulnerability. But enterprise-wide connectivity is essential to gain the intelligent automation capabilities of IIoT. Consider how the highly risk-averse financial services industry made the leap. Using the latest network security and continuous availability solutions, they allowed connectivity to business-critical transaction systems. This created a wealth of new business opportunities for financial firms in today’s mobile, digital consumer marketplace.

3. Tap into Distributed Intelligence
One of the hallmarks of IIoT is the gathering of data from a wide range of sensors and systems to gain valuable insights. This distributed intelligence is central to improving production efficiency, enabling predictive maintenance, and sparking innovation. Many industries have already seen this. Take oil and gas companies, for example. They use data collected from sensors at remote pipeline compression stations to run analytics that detect early signs of component failure. With advance warning, these companies can shrink maintenance windows and avoid costly unplanned downtime.

4. Protect the Avalanche of Data
One thing is certain: as manufacturers embrace IIoT, the volume—and value—of production data will increase substantially. So manufacturers must ensure availability of both the data and the automation systems generating it. The building automation and security industry, for example, needs to make sure they protect the fountains of data generated by their video monitoring solutions. To mitigate risk of losing valuable video evidence, these companies make end-to-end fault tolerance a priority. You can do the same to prevent data loss or downtime from the production floor to the historians that store ICS data to the analytics engines creating insights from that data.

The road to IIoT might seem lonely at first. But it’s easy to see that you have good company from firms in other industries that are making the journey. While each industry has its own challenges and priorities, they all stand to gain similar benefits by charting a course to next-generation IIoT automation. Unlocking valuable insights and strategies enabled by IIoT is helping all companies across the spectrum compete better and improve their efficiency and profitability in a meaningful way.

Snuff Out Downtime in Industrial Automation

3.22.2017IA, IIoTBy:  

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can pay big benefits for organizations that do it right. It’s no surprise that a report by LNS Research and MESA International shows that more than 50% of manufacturers plan to pursue IIoT in the next 12 months. In fact, one of our gas pipeline customers has already saved over $9.8 million in maintenance downtime costs primarily because of IIoT.

Avoiding downtime is a huge motivator for companies embarking on IIoT. Outdated operational technology (OT), such as physical sensors, proprietary control-system software, SCADA, and historians, represent significant downtime risk. When they fail, costs are high. According to the Aberdeen Group, the cost of downtime went up to $260,000 per hour on average between 2014 and 2016.

Here are four best practices about keeping your eyes on uptime as you embark on IIoT:

1. How much uptime is enough?

Downtime isn’t cheap. You already know the direct costs of delayed product deliveries, idle time and overtime pay, and repair expenditures. Your business may also need to factor in damage to reputation, environmental damage, litigation, and more. Stratus has a downtime calculator to get you started.

Once you know the hourly cost of an outage, determine your tolerance level. While 99% uptime may sound fantastic, that’s actually 88 hours of downtime in an average year—or potentially millions of dollars. Or would you prefer five minutes a year? That’s where fault-tolerant solutions pay dividends with 99.999% availability.

2. Protect before you recover

While a disaster recovery plan allows you to return to operation after a catastrophe, it’s not enough.

By the time disaster recovery kicks in, considerable damage is done—and often irretrievably. Data traveling in your production environment is primarily “inflight” data, occurring in milliseconds and requiring instantaneous response. That data is lost in an outage. Controllers, temperature monitors, and failure analytics can’t wait while systems resume operating.

You’ll want an availability solution that prevents outages from occurring, ensuring zero data loss.

3. Keep it simple

When merging IT and OT systems to achieve IIoT, simplicity is critical. Operational staff often doesn’t have the advanced IT skills needed to manage complex IT deployments. So choose an availability solution that is simple to deploy and easy to operate and manage. That way, you can focus on making sure your plants are performing well.

Virtualization is also essential to simplicity. Virtual machines are isolated from unexpected problems elsewhere, and servers can be smoothly migrated offline for orderly upgrades and updates. The challenge is that consolidating IT and OT systems on a single physical machine replaces multiple points of potential failure with a single point, increasing your risk exposure.

You can overcome this risk by deploying a hardware or software-based continuous availability system. Such solutions run on standard-type servers in virtualized environments, and requires no special expertise to maintain.

4. Solve today’s problems with an eye on the future

Most industrial automation organizations are not ready to perform a full-scale upgrade all at once. So phase your planning to solve real problems immediately. A couple of early wins will get your project off to a strong start.

Just leave ample room for future growth and modification. Build on industry standards and proven methodologies. An availability solution you can implement and forget about will pay itself back in future compatibility and productivity.

IIoT is no longer merely for the early adopter. When done right, IIoT can create enormous savings and competitive advantage. As you face this complex undertaking, remember to factor uptime into the equation. You’ll build a solid foundation for achieving genuine, measurable benefits.

Capture Immediate Business Value with Incremental Investments in IIoT

3.15.2017IIoTBy:  

Hydrocarbon producers face extreme pressures to reduce operational costs and boost efficiency. This is easier said than done. Standing in the way are outdated operational technology (OT) infrastructures that run supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, historians, and automation control systems at satellite facilities and remote pumping stations. Often installed decades ago, these systems gather potentially valuable data, but it’s painful or even impossible to extract it for high-level analysis.

Meanwhile, IT teams at these same energy firms are making huge strides with virtualization, connectivity, and data analytics. If OT upgrades continue to be stalled, energy producers are handcuffed from tapping into the power of the industrial internet of things (IIoT) technologies that are redefining the oil and gas industry. Linking machines, equipment, and sensors with advanced control systems and analytics is vital to propelling efficiency gains and unlocking business insights to drive growth.

What can you achieve as an intelligent, connected enterprise? Consider Columbia Pipeline Group (CPG) (recently acquired by TransCanada Corporation), an operator of nearly 15,000 miles of gas pipelines across the U.S. CPG upgraded its OT with fault-tolerant, SCADA systems that generate real-time operational data and business analytics. In the first year, CPG saved $2.3 million in maintenance and reductions in unplanned downtime and expects to run at 100% capacity with near-100% availability. Today, those savings are over $9.8 million.

How can you evolve your firm into an IIoT-enabled enterprise without pursuing a total upgrade right out of the gate? At Stratus, we recommend a step-by-step approach:

Step 1: Begin at the center

First, upgrade your control environment, such as level 2 supervisory control and level 3 operational and control infrastructure. This enables immediate gains in uptime performance and efficiency, while creating a foundation for incrementally upgrading distributed control systems throughout the plant and at remote locations. While data from level 1 process controllers and sensors remains unchanged, you still use that data for advanced analytics to improve operational and business planning.

Step 2: Expand outward

Extending an intelligent, connected enterprise to individual machines throughout an operational infrastructure—including individual sensors, actuators and control valves—takes automation and predictive management to an entirely new level. Rather than collecting data every few seconds, your environment collects data almost continuously from hundreds of sensors and feeds it to analytics engines. Future upgrades to the level 1 basic control environment and level 0 infrastructures can unlock tremendous value through increased productivity and efficiency, and reduced unplanned downtime.

Regardless of your upgrade plans, a solid availability strategy is essential to capturing the full benefits of modernization. Replacing outdated PCs with virtual servers offers significant footprint reduction, streamlined diagnosis and repair, simplified provisioning of new applications, and reduced systems management workload, among other gains.

Despite the advantages, consolidating control applications on a single physical machine replaces multiple points of failure with a single point of failure, which can increase risk of unplanned downtime. This can be easily addressed with a fault-tolerant, always-on virtualized processing environment. Unlike traditional failure recovery, these fault-tolerant solutions prevent failure from occurring and loss of in-flight data. An uninterrupted stream of data is critical to IIoT, especially as the volume and value of data increases.

While change introduces risk, it’s essential to keep pace with intensifying demands on the hydrocarbon industry to increase efficiency and reduce costs. A thoughtful, incremental approach to upgrading automation and control infrastructure helps you reap the advantages of modernization while minimizing risk. Don’t wait. The sooner you take the first step, the sooner you will capture the compelling financial and competitive advantages of IIoT.

Strategies to Reduce Downtime and Increase Plant KPI’s

3.2.2017Industrial AutomationBy:  

Ask any business line executive associated with a production line, or a continuous process, what is it that they fear the most and the almost universal response is “unplanned downtime”. This is the one thing that can wreck KPI’s and negatively impact overall equipment effectiveness in unexpected ways. Of course, unplanned downtime does not have to be caused by dramatic equipment failures, it can be the result of products that don’t meet shipping criteria, such as being underweight, or having the wrong mix, as some presenters shared during the session on Strategies to Reduce Downtime and Increase Plant KPIs at last month’s ARC Industry Forum in Orlando.

In his opening remarks, Craig Resnick, Vice President at the ARC Advisory Group, talked about the use of data and analytics to improve KPI’s and eliminate unplanned downtime. Storing, accessing and analyzing this data generally means crossing the traditional divide between operational technologists (OT) on the plant floor and information technologists (IT) in the data center. The traditional antagonism between these two organizations is why many plant operations remain completely segregated from the rest of the business, if for no other reason than the fear of cyber threats. However, when bringing these two groups together you can often find that there is significant common ground between OT and IT, and by harnessing common concerns, a cooperative environment can be built.

Cyber-security, standards-based, scalable and upgradeable, no unscheduled downtime and future proof are some of the key attributes valued by both IT and OT. At Stratus, many of these topics are a common theme we hear from our customers. The combination of a simple, integrated, redundant solution that is fault-tolerant, a service model that proactively detects potential failures, automatically sending replacement parts that are easily swapped, and experts who are constantly monitoring anomalies in overall operation to supplement OT/IT resources are the key things that draw companies to Stratus.

So what are some of the things that end users in the session have done improve their operations? This ranged from using data to understand where pre-mixed weight in raw materials and product mix in the final product were impacting quality and profitability (compensating low weight in cheaper raw materials with higher cost mixers) to providing constant feedback to plant floor operators via local HMI’s so that instant adjustments could be made in sensitive product environments to greatly reduce product wastage and increase overall quality. In all cases, one factor that stood out was the importance of the data, something that Stratus is ideally suited to protect, and a vital element in the move to IIoT and improved KPI’s.

Major Gas Pipeline Company Boosts Safety, Reduces Costs

2.2.2017Fault Tolerance, IABy:  

When it comes to utilities, we as consumers find interruptions to electricity, heat, water, and phone service as extremely disruptive and even dangerous. For utility providers, the impact of such outages also is severe when it comes to lost revenue, customer dissatisfaction, and liability risks. In the natural gas industry, downtime incidents can present even more dire consequences.

This became abundantly clear when a compressor station operated by a North America gas pipeline company suffered a catastrophic failure. The result was a fire that cost more than $550,000 in damages and lost natural gas. Because the station was in a rural location, fire and damage fortunately was contained to the compressor and there were no fatalities.

While the pipeline company highly valued safety and reliability, this frightening incident was a lightning rod to take continuous operations to the next level. The pipeline company engaged in a detailed analysis of 15,000 miles of pipeline and facilities across 16 states, which transports over one trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year to customers.

The resulting modernization report recommended significant system upgrades to comply with the Control Room Management (CRM) regulations issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). For example, the pipeline company implemented compressor stations with fully redundant systems, such as compressor pumps, turbines, valves, and safety and control systems.

A bigger challenge was creating a continuous availability computer solution to operate the company’s SCADA, historian, HMI, and related control system applications. The pipeline company also wanted the solution to support big data analytics that would proactively predict, detect, and resolve compressor station problems before unplanned outages occurred.

Initially, the pipeline firm planned to deploy six or eight servers to support the full range of applications but discovered this approach had several shortcomings. For example, there were significant space and power constraints and lack of IT support at the compressor stations. If a server failed, automation staff at the headquarters location would need to reconfigure the server’s operating environment, physically deliver it, and perform the install. The unacceptable outcome: two to three days of server downtime and data loss that would generate sub-par analytic results and decrease operational efficiency.

After considering various options, the pipeline company chose a Stratus ftServer, a virtualized continuous availability solution with integrated redundancy. This centralized, easy to manage solution reduced the number of servers and associated service burdens. Automation engineers now remotely run virtualized applications from the primary control centers without requiring trained IT staff at the compressor station to conduct maintenance. Uninterrupted access to real-time analytics also provides the firm with complete operational visibility, eliminating “blind moments” and further improving availability and efficiency.

In fact, since implementing the ftServer three years ago, the pipeline company has run operational systems without any downtime or data loss. According to a lead automation electrical engineer at the company Stratus provides an added benefit: “We can get a lot more flexibility by adding applications in the compressor stations without the need for IT expertise.”

Are you looking to improve the safety and reliability of your operations while reducing costs and increasing efficiency? Stratus offers a compelling solution with virtualization, continuous availability and integrated redundancy.

NEXT STEP: Watch this video and learn more about how this pipeline company added value to their critical operations

Peace of Mind for Pinellas County Utilities with Always-On Industrial Control Systems

11.30.2016IABy:  

Lately, people have been asking more questions about the safety and reliability of their water supply. That’s because recent incidents of system contamination such as the crisis in Flint, Michigan and storm damage from hurricanes Matthew and Sandy have thrust water and wastewater issues into the public eye. And that’s put increased pressure on municipalities and counties to get a better handle on their water and wastewater operations.

To do that, utilities like our long-time customer, Pinellas County Utilities (PCU) in Florida, rely on industrial control systems such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), historians, and human machine interfaces (HMIs). PCU monitors and controls about 20,000 assets, including valves, pumps, and temperature gauges, 2,000 miles of pipe, 13 well fields, five surface water sources, three wastewater treatment facilities, and 350 lift stations. These systems simply cannot go down.

To maintain high availability, PCU previously relied on clustered commodity servers but the problem was that they were getting old and expensive to support. So PCU decided to replace them with Stratus ftServers. Ken Osborne, PCU’s SCADA supervisor, explained: “Keeping the water on is a public health and safety issue. We can’t tolerate any downtime. Replacing clustered failover servers with ftServers saved us a lot of money and simplified the entire operation. I’ve never looked back.”

The utility deployed eight ftServers in three geographically dispersed control sites and their central control room. The ftServers run PCU’s Wonderware environment supporting SCADA, historian, HMI, and other applications, as well as Microsoft SQL Server and terminal services. PCU also virtualized almost everything with VMware.

By running virtual machines (VMs) on ftServers, PCU achieved several important benefits:

  • Efficiency was improved by centralizing remote access to the entire SCADA system. This lets technicians monitor physical components across water and wastewater operations anywhere, any time. It also gives them visibility into how everything is working or any issues that require attention. PCU management also analyzes real-time and historical operational information for insights that help further improve performance and efficiency of water and wastewater systems.
  • Protecting critical VMs with ftServers made good economic sense. Osborne figured that using server clusters instead of ftServers would have doubled his project costs and taken weeks longer to implement. The fault-tolerant virtualization solution also makes it easy for PCU to consolidate other applications and add new ones by simply creating another VM instead of facing the capital expense of buying additional servers.
  • Perhaps most important, PCU doesn’t have to worry about unplanned system downtime for its critical SCADA and other industrial control systems. Ken Osborne put it this way: “Our operation has relied on Stratus systems with no unscheduled downtime caused by a server failure. The server always runs and we never lose a thing. That’s peace of mind.”

If you’re looking for a similar level of confidence in the reliability of your industrial automation operations, talk to Stratus. We’ll show you how to eliminate unplanned downtime and modernize your infrastructure for better efficiency and higher return on assets.

Modern Water Control Systems Boost Public Safety, Plant Efficiency

11.23.2016Industrial Automation, ManufacturingBy:  

Water is getting a lot of attention lately. Whether it’s contaminated water in Flint, Michigan or environmental impact from hurricane-damaged wastewater facilities, incidents like these raise serious questions about safety and reliability.

That’s where industrial automation systems, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), historians, and human machine interfaces (HMIs), come in. They’re critical to seeing how your operations are performing. And they yield valuable data that, when combined with analytics, can help improve efficiency and predict maintenance needs before problems arise.

A common issue for water and wastewater facilities is their SCADA and HMI systems are getting old. They’re going down unexpectedly, which leaves operators flying blind. And older systems typically lack critical hooks into analytics.

In a recent InSource Solutions webinar, I laid out a plan for how water and wastewater facilities can modernize their industrial automation infrastructure, eliminate unplanned downtime, simplify management and maintenance, and gain greater insight and control over critical operations. Stratus, which has 35 years of providing continuous availability systems to a variety of industries, recommends that it’s industrial automation clients first virtualize their SCADA/HMI systems.

Unlike traditional implementations that run each industrial automation application on a dedicated physical PC or server, virtualization lets you run multiple applications on a single machine, with each application isolated on its own “virtual” machine. That saves you a lot of money on hardware. It simplifies management. And it lays the foundation for introducing new applications and technologies without needing to overhaul your infrastructure.

When you move to a virtualized platform there are many factors to consider, including proper sizing and configuration. But one of the most important considerations is how to protect your virtualized systems from unplanned downtime. Equally important is ensuring you have a solution that simplifies management and maintenance, and which does not re-introduce new complexities to prevent outages.

So what are your options? Using a standard server with hot or cold standby, the best you can expect is to get back into production within several hours. Most organizations we talk to can tolerate no more than 10 minutes of downtime. Alternatively, you could opt for clustering or get high availability from a virtualization vendor. But these approaches are complex and costly, and could still take up to 30 minutes to recover. And with any of these choices you can still expect some data loss.

We recommend putting your virtualized applications on a continuous availability system like Stratus ftServers. Here’s why: ftServers prevent unplanned downtime and avoid data loss entirely. They’re designed with fully integrated redundancy, so even if something does fail, the system and your virtualized applications keep running. The best part is ftServers  run standard off-the-shelf virtualization layers and operating systems, so they look and act like a commodity server. Best of all, they only require a single operating system and application license per virtual machine, so you save money and eliminate complex availability configurations. And with Stratus support and service, you don’t need IT expertise to hot swap components or diagnose problems.

Virtualizing your SCADA and HMI systems offers a whole host of benefits that will make your life easier. But the key is to virtualize on an infrastructure that’s simple to manage and always on.  That way you can spend more time using data from SCADA and HMI systems to make your water and wastewater treatment facilities safer and more efficient.

A Modernized ICS holds the key to reducing unplanned downtime

9.30.2016Fault Tolerance, Industrial AutomationBy:  

Unplanned downtime has long been the nemesis of industrial operations. In recent years, we’ve seen tolerance for unplanned downtime get even lower. In fact, a recent survey by Stratus and the ARC Group reports that almost 40% of respondents said they could handle no more than 10 minutes of downtime per incident.

More than 20% said they could not tolerate downtime at all.

One reason is that industrial control systems (ICSs) produce data that’s become increasingly valuable to the business. A modern ICS can collect data down to the millisecond. When combined with analytics, this data enables initiatives like real-time automation and predictive maintenance, as well as accelerates adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and smart factories. Simply put, the more you automate and reduce human errors through real-time system intelligence, the more you improve operational efficiency and drive higher profitability.

Recently, when I led an IndustryWeek webinar, I asked attendees what concerned them most about unplanned downtime. Not surprisingly, 54% identified potential revenue loss, 15% referenced loss of visibility resulting in a safety violation, and 13% highlighted the additional cost to run things manually.

Industry statistics support these concerns. According to ARC’s research, unplanned downtime results in 2-5% production loss in the petro-chemical industry. It costs natural gas companies about $10,000 per hour if a compression station goes down. Across the board, unplanned downtime in process industries costs ten times more than planned maintenance.

Modernizing ICS can lower these impacts and improve operating efficiency. So why don’t more organizations modernize? Many are concerned about complexity. They have numerous applications running on different machines that vary widely in age and configuration. The thought of upgrading such a jumble of systems can be a major inhibitor.

That’s why we see virtualization as the prime way forward for modernizing the ICS. Instead of needing lots of hardware, virtualization can often reduce everything to a single physical machine running multiple applications assigned to individual virtual machines. This makes it much easier to manage various elements of industrial automation, as well as add or upgrade applications.

Virtualization also takes the pain out of modernizing ICS because you can migrate systems gradually. A virtualized system can easily reside alongside your existing systems. Then you just move one application at a time from the traditional environment to the virtualized one.

Now, the infrastructure you choose for your virtualized ICS environment is critical. I asked the IndustryWeek webinar attendees what they considered the most important decision factor. Nearly 40% of respondents identified lifetime value because this is a system that could be in operation for at least seven to ten years. Another 26% of attendees referenced operational simplicity. Automation engineers don’t want to spend their valuable time on system administration; they want to focus on running the plant. And they want an infrastructure that helps minimize, if not eliminate, unplanned downtime.

Stratus fault-tolerant servers address every one of these points and more. So if you’re looking to modernize your ICS, Stratus can provide you with some compelling options.

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