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Process automation on virtualized IT systems

Process automation on virtualized IT systems

Today it is very common for people to start their working day by switching on their laptop and logging in to their work network. With the current situation, a lot of people switch on their home laptop and log in to the work network using a remote connection. Often the users use a centralised network storage, a centralised user management system, centralised anti virus, backup and update systems. But there are also companies that have gone more virtual.

With the introduction of virtual systems to the workplace the user and IT manager have gained a number of advantaged that they did not have when using standalone computer systems. Even though the shared network storage and anti virus system work well on standalone, managed, computer systems, an update of one of these systems can not be validated quickly. So updates are usually pushed to the computers without going through a compatibility check. Also because the computers are bought using a certain specification, when it turns out that an application needs a bit more performance, it cannot easily be given to that user/application.

But how does this apply to Process Automation IT systems?

In a typical process automation environment, the process hardware, piping, valves and motors, usually stay in service longer that any of the computer hardware. This means that new computer hardware needs to be purchased every 3 to 5 years. This purchase of new hardware then comes with an upgrade of the running software, because usually the software is not able to run on the new hardware, because of compatibility issues. Keeping the old hardware serviced is usually very costly, and would in the long term result in a very big and difficult software upgrade, when the hardware can not even be serviced anymore.

Using a virtualized process automation IT environment, give you the opportunity to keep your system current, and also keep the software running as is, without having to make any changes to the running system, while updating the hardware layer. This will result in lower costs in the long term. When the decision is made to upgrade the software, a virtualized environment also has many benefits. Because a system can easily be extended without having to switch off the system, a new control system, or migration, can be loaded on the existing hardware, and both systems can be run in the same environment, until the new system can take over.

Will virtualisation help us in operations?

With the new virtualisation systems like HPE Edgeline or our own iAUTOMATION VPP, an operations management and monitoring system is included in the offering, to make sure that the process automation is monitored in the same environment as the IT components. Using tools to monitor network, computer, automation and virtual system performance, give the IT management an idea of the processes running on a site, but also gives them control over changes, updates and resource scheduling. This makes it possible for IT managers to define performance of systems based on rules, and not in technical configurations.

Another great help is that management can be centralised, as the systems can be monitored and maintained from a central control interface. The central interface will be the same from site to site, and could even be connected. So IT management can also be centralised, and work in the same environment for all sites or systems the manage. They can, for instance, test updates or changes centrally and use the test data to chose to carry out the change or update for all sites.

iAUTOMATION Network Configuration Manager Box

Operations management dashboard

Which process automation systems are supported?

With virtualisation we can support almost all process automation systems. The older systems can often benefit from being virtualised because they can be made into a high available virtual machine. Managing newer process automation systems has other benefits, for instance dynamic resource scaling for HMTL5 based process automation systems, where HMI clients can be made and removed based on the demand of HMI clients needed.

The typical components for any process automation system can be virtualised, so Engineering computers, HMI or Tag servers, Batch servers and HMI Clients can all be virtualised. With that, on the same platform, any other application machines can be loaded, so any maintenance, diagnostics or external visualisation or logging tools can be run in an independent virtual machine on the same hardware. This separation of applications on own virtual machines, on the same hardware, minimises any collisions or incompatibility of applications within the same operating system.

Will it improve maintenance work?

Because of features like templates, centralised backups, centralised anti virus, configuration management and central monitoring, maintenance can be optimised and streamlined. Where normally a lot of hardware needs to be inspected, and all systems must be monitored individually. Now, with virtualisation, all systems can be maintained from a single interface, and all maintenance actions like backups, are also managed centrally. This will increase the reliability of backups, because they are kept in a similar form, and also improve the data handling of backups, because they can be copied to an offsite location as a bundle of data, and so it will be much faster.

More importantly, any hardware work can be carried out while the system remains operational. Replacing physical servers can be done online, and so downtime will be minimised, which gives you time to plan and think about improvements rather then planned downtime. This system availability helps you when planning to put a process automation system in a no- or minimal-operator environment.

Interested to know more about virtualisation in control system/process automation?

iAUTOMATION has a system call virtual production platform which is a ready made solution for any process automation or control system. This dual cabinet solution will replace all computers onsite, and will save you a lot of money and downtime in future. With our virtual solution, we have already virtualised many control system applications (PLC/Scada, PCS, DCS, Packaged Unit Control, Lab automation) like:

  • Teleperm XP/ SPPA T2000
  • SPPA T3000
  • Siemens PCS 7
  • Siemens PCS Neo
  • Siemens WinCC
  • Siemens Tia Portal
  • ABB 800xA
  • Rockwell Factory Talk
  • Rockwell RSLogix
  • Wonderware InTouch
  • OsiSoft PI
  • Emerson DeltaV
  • Emerson Ovation

We have done this for a number of packaged units and equipment, like:

  • Siemens Turbines (100/300/400/700/750/800/A35) [4,0 to 66MW]
  • Siemens/Dresser-rand Compressors (Single shaft, Pipeline, axial, single-stage, reciprocating)
  • Siemens Electrical drives
  • GE Turbines
  • Mitsubishi heavy Industries Turbines
  • Solar Turbines
  • MAN Energy Solutions Turbines
  • Thermo Fischer lab equipment
  • Industrial Filling stations
  • Industrial Freeze drying units
  • And different complete industrial processes.

Are you interested in receiving more information on industrial virtualisation? Please contact iAUTOMATION at sales@iautomation.nl or +31 88 5225 000.


iAUTOMATION is an automation specialist that focuses on industrial automation, IT and the links between these two fields. With many years of experience in the industrial automation and IT world, iAUTOMATION is a mature partner that will benefit you.

iAUTOMATION provides complete projects for the industrial automation world with a specialty in PCS 7 consultancy and engineering. But other systems are also known to us and can be implemented by iAUTOMATION.

With knowledge of virtualization, networks, domains and IT management, iAUTOMATION is also a very suitable partner for all your IT questions and projects. We will always assist you with great enthusiasm and knowledge in your projects, and try to relieve our customers by proactively and positively tackling your project.

    About the author

    Dennis is Technical Director at iAUTOMATION, where he is responsible for all the technical queries and technical solutions that iAUTOMATION provide. Dennis also helps customers and the iAUTOMATION consultants with the technical side of projects and designs. Dennis has a lot of experience with process control systems and IT infrastructure, this is why his experience is key in projects that include both these areas of expertise like MES, virtualization and process automation projects.

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