It is not always clear what the best way forward is, or whether is it worth the investment of changing from industrial spec computers to virtualization in industrial IT environments. This is often due to the vendor specs, older software, proprietary interfaces or just the fact that it is working, so why change it. We at iAUTOMATION believe it makes sense to consider a virtualized approach for all industrial IT environments. The reasons for changing from Industrial PCs to virtualization, will make you money, and we have taken the time to explain exactly how it will, in this article.
Because it is very common for industrial IT systems to be used until they break, it often costs a lot of money to find and replace a legacy PC system. The software it would need to run, it most of the time only compatible with an old operating system, and that OS will not run on new hardware. So a lot of money has to be spend on older hardware, and sometimes even on reused hardware which has an unknown life cycle. Virtualization makes it possible to replace hardware while production is running. It also separates the operating system from the physical hardware, so off the shelf, new hardware can be bought and any old system will be able to run on it.
Another way to save money on maintenance is when changes to the industrial system need to be made. No longer, will you have to buy a new computer or application server, when expanding or changing the industrial system. With virtualization you simply create a new virtual computer, install what you need to test, connect is for a test, and disconnect it when the test is completed. After that the new system can be connected permanently, the old system can be archived, and the resources used be the old system, will now be used by the new system. So no investment, no additional hardware cost, configuration cost, or new hardware to buy spare parts for.
The maintenance of a virtualized Industrial IT platform is also a lot easier then the maintenance of physical computers. The reason for this is, is that all computers are virtual, and so there is no different maintenance manuals to read. All computers can be maintained the same way, on a central console, which greatly reduced maintenance time of the industrial IT environment, and more time to maintain the process equipment. The spare part count is also reduced, because there are not so many IT systems any more, and the equipment used to build the virtual environment can be found at short notice at most IT suppliers.
For most industrial applications a redundant system is created to ensure continuation of operation when somethings fails. For older applications this is not always available in the application. With a virtual system, any application can be made redundant, or a backup copy of the machine can be saved, which can be activated in seconds when something fails. This means production can be resumed, instead of having to be stopped, cleaned and restarted.
A virtual industrial IT environment can be setup on 2 servers that are the same prices as 2 industrial PCs. When having to replace or buy 10 to 15 PCs for an industrial application, it can save up to 75% in hardware CAPEX. This means money could be spent else where on the production system, and not having to be spent on computer hardware that needs replacing every 3 to 5 years. There are also a lot of costs saved when looking at the complete architecture. As all systems will run of the same hard disk set, a more resilient system can be selected as a base for hard disk management. Where usually only a server will have a hard disk redundancy, where one or more hard disks can fail without losing data, now all virtualized computer can benefit from this architecture.
Money is also saved on the operator system side of the control system. Because the operator systems do not have to be full PCs, any client with an internet browser can be used to connect to the operator screens. A much cheaper device can therefore be used, or the operator could take a tablet into the field if necessary. These options can be used with any industrial automation system, not just the ones that have HTML support. When choosing a purely html control system, the choice for a new virtualization technology like containers, could even save a lot more money, as you will not have to pre-provision any host functionality.
During operation is where the most money can be saved when switching to virtualization. The power needs to run these server is much less then the industrial PCs would use, and even more important, it weighs through in cooling capacity, spare parts and operational management as well. Because these computers are virtual, they are made up of software commands, these sets of commands only have to be created and save once, and can then be reused to create many new PCs, this is called templating. When setting up a software defined, or virtual industrial control system, a template can be use to “roll-out” as many similar systems as the control system needs without much effort. This means that any change to one, can also be directly applied to all, and so you save a lot of money on managing the configurations, updates, changes or any other day to day work that needs to happen on the industrial control system PCs.
When updating software or hardware, you will really notice the flexibility, scalability and reduction in cost compared to a standard industrial PC based system. Updating software can be done very quickly by creating a copy, updating is, connecting the virtual networks, validating it, and reconnecting the virtual network to the base virtual machine, in minutes. No longer will you have to buy a new PC, get net network cables put in, just to test new software.
Hardware replacement and updating is even more convenient, as you can move all virtual machines while they are active from server to server, and so replace hardware with a fully operational redundant system, that does not even have to lose its redundant partner while replacing hardware. This cost saving is often multiples of the initial purchase value of the virtualization system.
The exact amount of money saved depends on how much technological flexibility you need from your industrial IT system. We often see that the initial purchase of industrial computer hardware, and a virtual system hardware are very similar in price. For industrial PCs the price point is often around €6000 per industrial PC, and for most projects around 5 systems are needed. But industrial PCs are not the only thing you need. Accounting for networking, backups, firewalls, racking, cooling, power supplies and UPS’ and adding to that the setup, commissioning and validation cost, the hardware would be around €160 000. A virtual system for 5 systems, for all stations is around the €130 000 price point, including all GxP validation documentation, networking, security and backup.
Although this 5 server example is sort of a minimum reasonable size, going up from 5 gives you more and more reason to go virtual. Case studies show savings of up to €300 000 for 50 computers, and even more when virtualizing more stations. Additionally when virtualizing just 5 systems, add the savings in running not 5 machines, but actually just 2 machines, and the fact that the system can now be run, updated, migrated and replaced while operations continue for the next 30 years.
There does not really seem any reason not to go virtual, and if you are looking to go virtual, have a look at our iAUTOMATION VPP solution, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the complete solution for GxP validation industrial IT virtualization solution.
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.