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.