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.