You're almost certainly using the cloud on a regular basis for personal purposes. And odds are you're also using it at your company for business purposes.
You use the cloud for personal purposes if you have a web mail account (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.); if you have a social media account (Facebook, Twitter, etc.); if you've ever downloaded music or a movie; if you've used a file transfer site; if you store data such as photos or documents on the web; or if you've ever downloaded software from the web.
"We see private cloud technologies becoming commonplace in the industrial space because they provide redundancy, project backup and easy restoration, while adding the benefit of reduced hardware costs," says Steve Schneebeli, lead systems engineer at Malisko Engineering.
The cloud can be confusing, so let's start with a few definitions, namely what constitutes a public, a private and a hybrid cloud, and what types of services are typically provided through each.
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What Kind of Cloud Is This?
"A public cloud infrastructure is owned by an organization, and that organization typically provides access to its cloud services for a fee or in exchange for subjecting the user to advertising," explains Larry Combs, vice president of customer service and support for InduSoft. Web mail is a good example, as are file storage and transfer sites.
The table on page 62 lists some of the advantages of using the public cloud instead of an internal infrastructure. In almost all cases, the public cloud will be much cheaper, faster to bring online and easier to expand. For applications that require large file downloads, such as software updates, the faster local access provided by a public cloud is a virtual necessity.
A private cloud infrastructure is operated by and for a particular organization, and it may exist either on or off its premises. A virtualized server farm within a process plant would be a good example of an on-premise, private cloud.
Hybrid clouds are a type of public cloud hosted for a particular application or customer. An example would be an application hosted by a cloud service provider for one of its customers, with the particular application and customer separated from all others.
In all cases, virtualization is used in the cloud to allow multiple operating systems and associated applications to run on a smaller number of computers than would be required with a traditional one PC/one operating system architecture.
Virtualization obviously saves money, space and energy because fewer PCs are needed, but its chief advantages are greater reliability, improved application longevity and simpler upgrades and changes.
Public and hybrid cloud computing services can be divided into three categories: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).
"IaaS provides on-demand provisioning by a cloud service provider to a customer of virtual servers, storage, networks and other fundamental computing resources," notes Combs. It can be provided as a public cloud, as with commercial file storage services, or as a hybrid cloud. In either case, customers only pay for the computing resources that they use, and they can quickly bring additional capacity and resources online as needed.
"PaaS is a set of software and product development tools hosted on the cloud provider's infrastructure and used by customers as desired. Developers use these tools to create applications via the Internet. Google Apps is a leading example, with Google providing word processing and other web-hosted applications. PaaS is almost always provided as a public cloud," adds Combs.
SaaS, like web-based email, affords consumers the capability to use a provider's applications that are running on a cloud infrastructure from various devices such as a PC, a smart phone or a tablet—often through an app or a web browser. Consumers generally pay a fee or agree to be subjected to advertising for this public cloud service.
And it turns out that SaaS has found a home in the process industries, namely for remote access. With remote access and other related applications, SaaS makes the cloud-based computing infrastructure someone else's responsibility, freeing the process automation professional to focus on operational functions as opposed to IT matters.
SaaS Improves Remote Access
With SaaS for remote access, a supplier creates a cloud-based application that can communicate to various types of hardware and software platforms such as RTUs, PLCs and operator interface terminals installed at remote sites. The application can also communicate to remote access hardware including smart phones and tablets, PC-based HMI platforms, and databases.