I talk to a lot of people in the industrial automation world, and almost without exception they share the same challenge. They need to prevent unplanned downtime while preparing for the future, which includes evolving to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and smart factories.

This perspective was only reinforced when I asked attendees at a recent IndustryWeek webinar what concerned them most about unplanned downtime. In my online poll, the top three concerns were: potential revenue loss (54%), loss of visibility resulting in a safety violation (15%), and additional cost to run things manually (13%).

During the webinar, I laid out a strategy for addressing this challenge. My recommendation: modernize your industrial control systems (ICSs). The first step is virtualization, which consolidates multiple physical machines onto a single hardware system.

Virtualization eliminates the need to run individual control and automation applications on their own physical systems, each of which represents a potential single point of failure. Instead, your applications run on virtual machines (VMs) that share common computing resources across the underlying infrastructure. Each VM is securely partitioned to ensure data integrity, but you’ve eliminated all those points of failure. You also now have just one physical system to manage and support rather than many.

By now, you’ve probably recognized a new potential single point of failure. What happens if that one physical machine with all your virtualized control and automation applications goes down? It would be catastrophic, of course.

So the second most critical step is to protect your virtualized systems.

Here are four options:

  1. No protection. Yes, some people opt to take their chances because historically they’ve never had a system failure. This approach avoids any capital expense, but if recovery is required, it would take many hours if not days and be very expensive in terms of lost revenue and productivity.
  2. Hardware failover cluster. This is a common high-availability approach in IT that can reduce recovery time to minutes or hours. But clustering requires multiple physical systems, which defeats the purpose of virtualization by adding both cost and complexity.
  3. High-availability virtualization software. The approach is essentially the same as hardware clustering, but uses virtualization software to enable failover. You still need multiple systems. And while failover can be virtually instantaneous, it requires an application restart, which can take minutes to hours.
  4. Fault-tolerant server. This is an integrated system with built-in redundancy to prevent system failure. There is no need to fail over to another machine. It’s simply one physical machine that’s always on. Even if a component fails, the server, VMs and applications all keep running.

Plus, fault-tolerant servers are ready for the future of industrial automation today. That’s important because as you upgrade your ICS and move toward IIoT, you need a solution with enough horsepower to process massive amounts of data collected from across your operation. At Stratus, we’re seeing our customers achieve early wins in IIoT with things like predictive maintenance analytics to drastically reduce unplanned downtime. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re looking for the path of least resistance to prevent unplanned downtime and set a course for the future of industrial automation, then start by modernizing your ICS on fault-tolerant Stratus servers.