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IIoT Hot Buttons for 2017


In our 35-plus years of providing continuous availability solutions for enterprises, we’ve seen only a handful of technology shifts that you could call “seismic.” The globalization of eCommerce was a big one that was transformational for mission critical infrastructures. At Stratus, we believe that the next big transformation – the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – has the potential to be even more seismic.

Over the past year or so we have been more and more engaged in pilots and solutions for IIoT. We see this as a major shift in how industries such as utilities, food and beverage, pharma and others will deliver products to market and become more efficient. IIoT is on the minds of just about everyone working in these and other industries today on some level. But, there’s a lot of information out there to digest and it’s still very much in its infancy.

Based on our experiences to date, here are our predictions for how IIoT will shape up in 2017.

1. Companies will need to get educated about IIoT

IT vendors have started to create awareness of the value of IIoT. This has helped users begin to run pilot projects and experience the benefits of IIoT first hand. In response, more companies will need to get educated. This will lead to frank assessments about infrastructure, which often will reveal that most operations lack secure connectivity, virtualization, and reliability needed for IIoT. Addressing those infrastructure weaknesses will be a top agenda item for 2017.

2. Small wins will yield bigger investments in IIoT

We expect many companies to start their IIoT journey by pursuing short-term projects that have big efficiency or cost impact. For example, one of our customers has been doing some cool work piloting analytics technology to diagnose and troubleshoot issues in a production line. This produced valuable intelligence that has made the production line more efficient. Small victories such as these will become more common and will give industrial automation decision makers more confidence to support bolder investments.

3. Reliability and security are the hot buttons for companies considering IIoT

Success with IIoT requires starting with an infrastructure you trust. So 2017 will be the year to lock down reliability and security. Then you can focus solely identifying those IIoT investments that will return the powerful benefits to your business. In manufacturing and energy, the primary benefits will be efficiency and productivity gains. Building security and management should look for cost savings by shrinking the technology footprint. Financial services can expect improved performance, data integrity and business agility.

At Stratus, we believe the potential impact of IIoT on an array of industries is huge. A number of early adopters have already proved this. However, the best approach is to start with a reliable infrastructure to support your IIoT vision. If you agree, keep in mind that =Stratus has been an driving availability in the Industrial Automation market for decades. In fact, our first customer was in the food and beverage industry. But further that just our zero downtime advantage industrial customers really value how Stratus solutions dramatically simplify their unique operational requirements.

Key Take-aways from Wonderware Live 2016

10.6.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

This week Stratus participated at the Wonderware Live 2016 conference in Orlando, Florida. While the conference was eventually impacted by the hurricane Matthew, it started off on a high note with a quick succession of keynote presentations featuring a dizzying set of new announcements and improvements to Wonderware’s rich software portfolio.

Wonderware’s strategic narrative was centered around three areas:

  1. Industry solutions – the introduction of a more templated and integrated approach to reduce time to value
  2. IIoT – the expansion of capabilities by leveraging its market, ecosystem and customer presence to cover new ‘connected points’
  3. New consumption models – the provision of both subscription and/or cloud based delivery models

For all areas, there was ample emphasis on the value derived by its partner ecosystem – including the likes of Stratus. If you allow me to digress – Stratus increasingly teams with Wonderware distributors on large multi-site implementations including systems integration partners so we know this strategy works well for Wonderware.

With regards to IIoT, Wonderware and its competitors are seeing a slow yet steady uptake of IIoT projects. Both Wonderware and distributors mentioned an increasing trickle of albeit small budgets being set aside to implement basic IIoT initiatives but that the more sophisticated deployments would take time to come to fruition. However, they are starting small to align with business value which supports Wonderware’s viewpoint: neither connectivity nor hype will drive IIoT uptake but common business sense and a willingness to embrace disruption in support of innovation will. Meanwhile, Wonderware continues to build out IIoT integration features (e.g. MQTT, OPC UA and SNMP enablement) into its software set, allowing customers to ‘ease in’ and become incrementally IIoT ready.

On the topic of Cloud (and its Microsoft partnership), EVP Ravi Gopinath stated that 150 customers per month are registering for Wonderware online, while also mentioning that IA customer momentum was moving towards a gradual adoption of private and hybrid architectures (referred to as “Cloud also”). In addition, Wonderware executives discussed the increasing demand for flexible consumption models, such as pay by the drip (i.e. metered cloud). Most of the cloud based architecture presentations were couched with the statement “Cloud – for when you are ready”; suggesting that with only a few IA customers expected be fully cloud-based in the foreseeable future, IA cloud adoption is still progressing slower versus other industries.

The most significant announcement was reserved for Wonderware’s multi-site MOMs customer segment with Prometheus, a horizontal and vertical automation collaboration tool across (virtually) any PLC and (virtually) any HMI. While ambitious to say the least, it’s a laudable objective given the wide-spread IA system heterogeneity in any large multi-site environment. The second announcement was the evolution of what was the Wonderware System Platform, now named InTouch Omni. Targeted at the most demanding and distributed HMI/SCADA customers with large applications, this software platform converges the IT/OT function and provides access to all the information across a company and supply chain by simply clicking on a device on the map and drilling down into its details.

Overall the presentations were geared towards illustrating Wonderware’s vision, its key product portfolios and related offer updates. Perhaps in the future we can come to expect customer and partner proof points giving the audience more insights into deployment successes and lessons learned.

Stratus’ success with Wonderware customers has increased considerably over the past years, so stay tuned for more exciting wins, as well as reference architecture content and best practices, on the soon to be launched Stratus Wonderware customer and partner page.

3 Approaches to Bridging the IT/OT Divide

9.16.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

As companies across the energy value chain look for ways to become more efficient and agile, the Industrial “Internet of Things” (IIoT) offers attractive opportunities. Harnessing sensor data, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and Big Data analytics enables oil and gas companies to take automation and efficiency to new heights, while creating the foundation for new business models.

But to realize the potential of IIoT, companies must first bridge a yawning gap: the technological and cultural divide that often separates their information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) organizations.

Why the divide? In most industrial organizations, including oil and gas producers, IT and OT traditionally have different priorities. For OT, ensuring the uptime of production automation systems is paramount. Reducing risk is the top priority, which is one reason why automation systems are often in service for years, if not decades—change equals risk. For IT, innovation is the top priority, often leading to continual change and upgrading. This difference in priorities helps explain why OT often insists on keeping automation systems completely isolated from IT.

The IIoT changes the status quo, creating a new imperative to share data from machine sensors and automation systems managed by OT—including SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems—with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and analytics platforms managed by IT. How can oil and gas companies bridge the gap between these two worlds, while ensuring that the competing priorities of OT and IT are met?

Approach 1

One approach employed by some energy companies is to effectively merge the two, integrating OT within the IT group. On the surface, this seems like the most straightforward approach, essentially forcing OT and IT to work in coordination. In practice, however, the cultural differences can remain. For example, IT may try to impose its standards-based approach on an OT team used to systems specialized for particular production tasks. Unless IT has a clear understanding of the requirements of these automation systems, the result can be a lack of coordination that decreases system stability. For this approach to work, OT must have a voice in the combined organization.

Approach 2

Another approach is to create a technology team free from these traditional distinctions, responsible for all OT and IT functions. This approach is feasible in an entirely new organization or for a large company spinning off a new satellite organization. But for most large, complex oil and gas producers with established technology groups and lots of legacy infrastructure, it may not be a workable alternative.

Approach 3

The third approach is one we’re seeing more and more in forward-looking organizations, where there is a new breed of “industrial technologists” who have a combined IT/OT perspective. They understand the need for stable, highly available automation systems, but they also understand the enterprise system integration and analytics required to make the IIoT a reality. With a foot in both worlds, these industrial technologists play a key role in ensuring that the priorities of both OT and IT are met.

The benefits of the IIoT are too attractive not to take advantage of them. Bringing OT and IT together in a way that effectively manages risk is the key to unlocking the tremendous potential of the intelligent, automated energy enterprise.

LNS and MESA Research Underlines IIoT Progress in Manufacturing

7.13.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is attracting more attention by manufacturers, especially as the Internet of Things (IoT) takes hold in consumer and business markets. Many manufacturers are getting excited about opportunities enabled by applying advanced analytics to information generated by plant sensors and business systems. A recent LNS Research and MESA International report, Manufacturing Metrics In An IoT World: Measuring the Progress of the Industrial Internet of Things, validates this trend.

Here are some key findings from the report and infographic:

Understanding of IoT is way up – In a 2015 report, LNS and MESA found that 44% of those surveyed did not understand IoT. In 2016, that category plummeted to 19%. Also encouraging is 50%-plus of respondents reported their companies were planning IoT initiatives in the next 12 months.

Manufacturing data is moving beyond the plant – More manufacturers are looking at predictive modeling, plant analytics, and manufacturing intelligence. This indicates that they are taking a more integrated view of manufacturing operations rather than focusing on point solutions. Also, while most manufacturing operations management (MOM) and manufacturing execution system (MES) software is still deployed on-premises, movement toward cloud-based solutions is starting to take hold.

Manufacturers still care most about financial metrics – Nearly half of respondents ranked financial metrics as their top concern. The survey also reported that key financial metrics—manufacturing cost per unit, revenue per employee, and net profit margin—are improving. What’s interesting is these gains largely come from quality and operational efficiency initiatives. The question is how much more could be achieved with big data analytics?

Adoption of analytics is still limited – Surprisingly, only 14% of survey respondents have a manufacturing analytics program. The vast majority of these companies use analytics internally for process improvements. Few manufacturers are using advanced analytics that incorporate unstructured data such as climate data and images.

Our position, which is supported in the report, is that manufacturers need to dive deeper into big data analytics to adopt capabilities such as real-time machine learning and predictive maintenance. This direction will lead to more operating efficiency—and ultimately drive greater financial improvements.

We also agree with the report’s recommendations for manufacturers ready to further explore IIoT:

  1. If you don’t understand IIoT, investigate its potential impact on your operations immediately. Form a cross-functional team and plan some IIoT trials.
  2. Explore analytics that go beyond shop floor data. Vendors like Stratus can recommend solutions that provide uninterrupted access to analytics and help you understand what private and public cloud options exist.
  3. Once you’ve taken these steps, conduct a full-blown pilot with more complex analytics involving plant and business data.

There are always challenges with any major new initiative. IIoT is no exception. With more than a decade of experience supporting business-critical industrial automation, Stratus can help you work through the challenges and achieve the metrics that matter most to your operation.

What’s keeping automation engineers up at night?

7.12.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

What keeps automation engineers up at night – both literally and figuratively? It sounds like a bad joke, but unplanned downtime is the one event that cause havoc in a plant, leading to safety, business, regulatory and environmental issues.

When SCADA/HMI assets fail, operators are literally blind to what is happening resulting in extreme measures to restore visibility. Many of these SCADA/HMI systems are old and fragile with non-existent or antiquated redundancy systems which can result in unacceptably long periods of downtime. Modernizing your SCADA/HMI assets can relieve the headaches associated with unplanned downtime, delivering increased efficiencies and preparing for the coming wave of IIoT applications.

Join me and Robert Landrik of CB Pacific on Wednesday, July 20th for an Automation World webinar to understand how virtualization and fault-tolerant platforms are providing the future ready infrastructure to run your SCADA/HMI and other critical applications.

During the session Robert and I will explore:

  • Key causes and impacts of unplanned downtime and how to get a handle on the problem
  • Challenges with traditional HMI/SCADA deployments
  • Virtualization: What is it and how to streamline HMI/SCADA and related operations
  • Why fault-tolerant servers are a critical part of a virtualized solution
  • Case studies on the deployment of fault tolerance and virtualization

To find out more and to register here

Why Stratus and the Industrial Internet of Things Go Hand in Hand

7.5.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

There’s so much happening today with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it’s important to understand where Stratus fits. For one, we’re proven as we’ve played a role in supporting mission-critical industrial automation for decades. This includes supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), human machine interface (HMI), and historian database solutions. We agree with many industry analysts like ARC who see the evolution of these technologies naturally supporting the adoption of IIoT.

IIoT offers exciting opportunities for improving efficiency and productivity. But there are many components to consider beyond machine-integrated sensors. Networking and communications, data collection and analytics, automated controls, and decision support are the connective tissue of IIoT. Stratus is an important part of this big picture because our hardware and software protects this connective tissue in thousands of facilities today. We believe that our existing deployments will help those customers deploy IIoT more quickly. However, the benefits provided by an Always-On infrastructure in an IIoT environment go beyond preventing unplanned downtime.

For starters, the evolution toward IIoT enables industrial automation technologies to be deployed into new industries and places. For instance, in many process industries, endpoints and stations, say in an oil pipeline, have needed to be manned. New technologies enable more and more of these remote sites to be remotely monitored and completely human free. But this remote visibility comes with a price. If the system that provides remote monitoring goes down, nobody knows what is happening. In the natural gas industry, this is called a “blind moment” and it’s a BIG deal. This situation is not limited to oil and gas pipelines. As factories in the semiconductor and other industries get larger and more automated, the goal is to get better productivity with fewer people. Always-On visibility will be a requirement to ensure that goal.

Additionally, compliance comes into play. While data generated by IIoT is critical for production efficiency and productivity, in some industries this proliferation of date will require oversight and reporting. A good example is the food and beverage industry. If you’re subject to regulations, you can’t afford to lose data as it could result in expensive recalls, audits or even fines. If your solution runs on hardware or software infrastructure from Stratus, data availability and integrity won’t be a concern because our servers are always on.

Lastly, the transition to IIoT will come with implementation costs. Many organizations are taking their first steps toward IIoT by deploying virtualization to reduce costs. However, the combination of the Always-On requirements with virtualization in a non-data center environment can actually add costs and complexity. Stratus builds fault tolerance, virtualization, monitoring, and downtime prevention features into a single solution. That gives you a smaller technology footprint that doesn’t require a platoon of people who are necessary for many of the clustered environments.

Ultimately, this means that Stratus can provide an easy on-ramp to a fortified IIoT solution.

Smart Buildings – The “hot topic” of the Week at IFSEC London

6.30.2016Building Automation, High Availability, IIoT, Smart BuildingsBy:  

Having spent three days at IFSEC with our partner Tyco and 33,000 plus global security professionals, it was clear that Smart Buildings was the topic of the week.

Are Smart Buildings just hype and the buzz word of the week that the bandwagon is jumping on, or are they a reality?

Buildings today are varied, complex structures with equal systems and technology.

Over time development and advancements, with needs of security managers, has led to significant improvement with additional investment. These improvements have touched access, lighting, heating, ventilation, security and air conditioning.

Taking building security and access technologies as an example, it’s true that these systems are becoming more and more intelligent by the day. The access cards or dongles that would have traditionally served the single purpose of giving you access to a building are expanding their functionality to additional use cases – from starting up your PC, to ordering your coffee, to activating lighting in your office. With more and more functionality, interconnectivity and use cases being addressed, the need for a reliable technological foundation for building management and security environments becomes greater.

Security managers have started to look at what comes next and to understand the new and future needs of building owners and employees. This also extends to environmental elements, such as electricity. To meet these new requirements, it is not enough to simply offer comfort, light and safety. The multiple systems needed that are managed independently today, will be managed centrally by IT command and control centers in the future.

When consolidating multiple technologies with IT and to ensure compliance with new objectives, businesses today are virtualizing their applications. In security, putting all your eggs in one basket requires significant and robust systems that must not fail.

Stratus is addressing this need with the latest evolution of our software solution – the Stratus Always-On Infrastructure for Smart Buildings. According to Vernon Turner, Senior Vice president of Enterprise Systems and IDC Fellow for the Internet of Things, “This latest evolution of the Stratus software portfolio combines Stratus’ always-on infrastructure with enhanced monitoring capabilities. The strong underlying infrastructure and visibility delivered by everRun Enterprise with everRun Monitor is addressing the challenge of managing the requirements for the consistent operation of Smart Buildings’ disparate infrastructure while maximizing efficiency and reducing cost.”

The evolution of the Smart Building is in its infancy and will remain so until buildings can really think for themselves without human intervention. That said, it’s not merely a reality of the future; advancements are being made every day. And analyst firm Gartner stated that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices – that’s a lot of connections!

Industrial Internet of Things: The Alignment of OT and IT

6.28.2016IIoT, Industrial Automation, Oil and GasBy:  

When it comes to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), there is a general feeling that operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) organizations are at odds. To a certain extent, that’s true.

In the data center, IT is largely concerned with reducing costs through consolidation and standardization. On the production line, OT also wants to decrease costs but strives to keep productivity as high as possible to drive revenue.

IT also is generally more comfortable with change. Servers and software are updated all the time. New, more cost-effective IT solutions seem to emerge daily. For OT, stability and reliability are most important. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” thinking often dominates. As a result, OT wants systems that chug for 10, 20, 30 years or more.

Examples of these differences in thinking are quite common. For instance, one practice in the gas delivery is to maintain proprietary networks to connect their pumping stations more securely. For OT, this is brilliant because it protects the network from hackers. But IT sees solutions like these as costly, and antiquated that should be replaced with less expensive, standards-based equipment secured with software. Both approaches achieve network security; they just come at it from different angles.

Now let’s look at IIoT. Here is an opportunity for OT and IT to overcome their differences and achieve common goals.

Things like predictive maintenance, enabled by IIoT, help OT run production lines more efficiently and with less unplanned downtime. This is certainly good for productivity and revenue. But predictive maintenance requires continuously monitoring and analyzing key system data. Enter IT.

IT staff are experts at installing software, servers, and networking needed to deliver predictive maintenance analytics. But they also must work with OT to understand parameters to be measured and key performance indicators that will drive operations and maintenance decisions.

For OT, the IIoT solution must be absolutely reliable and available 24×7. IT will want the solution to be efficient, secure, and cost-effective. What they both want is simply the right tool for the right job. The good news is there are solutions available today that accomplish the goals of both OT and IT.

For example, fault-tolerant servers provide stability and longevity required by OT, and they meet IT’s need for standardization, security, and ease of management. These perceived differences between OT and IT are simply alternative approaches to reaching a common goal, which is to streamline business operations through IIoT. And everybody wins. OT drives increased productivity and revenue while IT keeps costs in check.

Breaking Down Three Myths of the Industrial Internet of Things

6.21.2016IIoT, Industrial Automation, ManufacturingBy: There’s a lot of buzz around the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT. That’s good because it’s getting operations technology to consider how smart, Internet-connected devices can improve production efficiency and reduce unplanned downtime. The problem is the flood of industry information often makes it difficult to distinguish hype from reality. This has led to misconceptions that may hold back some companies from implementing solutions that could substantially boost their operating equipment efficiency (OEE) and profitability.

Let’s break down the three biggest IIoT misconceptions:

1.  My operation is too small to justify IIoT

Unplanned downtime is costly regardless of an operation’s size. The gating factor is understanding how IIoT could reduce your particular risk factors and improve your operational goals.

Compression stations for natural gas pipelines are generally small operations in and of themselves, typically located 100-150 miles apart along a pipeline. Yet, they are deploying IIoT with success. Columbia Pipeline Group (CPG), for example, upgraded their compression stations and deployed an IIoT solution to optimize their turbine maintenance. By monitoring such things as temperature, oil pressure, and vibration, analytics can deliver insight into the performance of a turbine to predict when it requires attention. Imagine being able to predict the failure of a gearbox or drive motor used in a small production line.

The impact of unplanned downtime, such as safety risk to operators and cost, are critical considerations that can easily justify investment in IIoT—regardless of operation size.

2. Payback time is too long

Payback relates to the value IIoT brings to your operation. To ensure acceptable payback, you need to establish goals and metrics, which are generally part of return on asset (ROA) calculations. Is the goal to reduce unplanned downtime triggered by aging automation systems that fail? If so, would a failure take down production for two hours or two weeks? Then, calculate the cost of remediation, lost revenue, and potential regulatory or environmental impact fines.

Perhaps your goal is to improve operating efficiency and streamline the supply chain. In this case, determine how cost-competitive you could be by improving efficiency just 5 or 10 percent. Then calculate how much additional profit this would drive for your operation.

With these metrics and an IIoT solution sized to meet your goals, getting a desirable payback is possible in weeks or months, not years.

3. IIoT is not mature enough

IIoT is continually evolving. That doesn’t mean you can’t gain value from what’s available today. We recommend IIoT to collect any data you can and use available analytics tools to drive incremental efficiency gains. As IIoT evolves, you will only stand to improve on those benefits.

There are many companies benefitting from IIoT today. CPG is again, a prime example. In fact, CPG considers IIoT so critical they run their IIoT on fault-tolerant servers because if there was an outage, their operators would essentially be running blind and potentially increasing safety risks. And any lost data would compromise predictive analytics they rely on to prevent unplanned downtime.

The good news is that there are IIoT solutions that fit your operation and deliver measurable value today.

What does it take to eliminate unplanned downtime and future-proof automation system assets?

6.16.2016Cost of Downtime, Fault Tolerance, High Availability, IIoT, Industrial Automation, technical webinar, uptimeBy: Craig Resnick of the ARC Advisory Group shared his insights on how to eliminate unplanned downtime and future-proof automation system assets in a recent webinar. The webinar reviewed the ever-present consequences that can occur from unplanned downtime and some of the leading causes. Strategies to reduce unplanned downtime through implementing updated SCADA systems and using technologies such as virtualization and fault-tolerant computers were discussed, as well as how organizations can leverage those strategies to prepare for the coming wave IIoT.

Here’s a summary of the key take-aways:

  • Understanding the true impact of unplanned downtime can lead to a better understanding of where investments can be made in automation systems to reduce such events.
  • Unplanned downtime can occur from a variety of areas, including human errors, failure of assets that are not part of the direct supervisory and control chain, and failure of the SCADA systems themselves. The result is lowered OEE, decreased efficiency and reduced profitability.
  • Adopting standards-based platforms and implementing technologies such as virtualization can consolidate SCADA server infrastructure and deliver a range of benefits, such as simplified management, easy testing and upgrading of existing and new applications and preparation for the IIoT.
  • When virtualizing it is important to understand that you need to protect your server assets, as moving everything to a single virtualized platform means that everything fails if the platform fails. There are various strategies to prevent this, but it is important to ensure that you don’t swap the complexity of a single server per application for a complex failure recovery mechanism in a virtualized environment.
  • Fault-tolerant platforms are a key way to avoid this complexity, delivering simplicity and reliability in virtualized implementations, eliminating unplanned downtime and preventing data loss – a critical element in many automation environments, and essential for IIoT analytics. It is important to note that disaster recovery should not be confused with fault-tolerance. DR provides geographic redundancy in case of catastrophic failures, but will not prevent some downtime of data loss. In fact fault-tolerance and DR are complementary and they are often implemented together.
  • IIoT is driving OT and IT together so it is important to understand the priorities of each organization. In fact, OT & IT share a lot of common ground when it comes to key issues and this is a good starting point to cooperate in the move towards IIoT. Common requirements include no unscheduled downtime, cyber-security, the need for scalable and upgradeable systems and applications, as well as measurable increases in ROI, ROA and KPI’s. Last but not least is future-proofing systems and preparation for future IIoT applications.

This webinar is a good way to start the process of looking into what needs to be considered for upgrading and modernizing automation compute assets, using technologies such as virtualization and fault tolerance, as the industry evolves to increased levels of efficiency and moves towards implementing IIoT.

Watch the webinar

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