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IaaS underpins The Connected Enterprise

June 12, 2017
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) helps industrial organizations to convert capital investments in servers, switches, cables and other network components into a more readily manageed operating expense.

For all their high-flying, big-shot advantages, every kind of software and industrial network must still run on servers, cables, switches or other hardware somewhere in the physical world. Because the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the cloud and other types of data digitization must have a solid foundation, Rockwell Automation developed and launched its Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) program several years ago.

IaaS also supports the company's customers in their efforts to join The Connected Enterprise, and can help reduce and spread out what would otherwise be costly capital expenditures over several years. IaaS can similarly minimize the financial burdens of maintenance, administration, warranty and software license management.

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“We do complete, turnkey solutions that include hardware, software, factory assembly, onsite configuration and documentation," said Christopher Di Biase, senior architect for visualization in the Network and Security Services division at Rockwell Automation. "We try to do more pre-assembly now, so we can do simpler plugging in onsite. Pre-engineered solutions also help us do build-outs more quickly. We also jointly test equipment, so it will work the way it's designed and expected by customers."  

Rockwell Automation is offering innovative approaches for manufacturers and equipment builders including on-premise or cloud.

To give its IaaS program the widest possible scope and capabilities, Di Biase added that Rockwell Automation collaborates close with many of its well-known partners, including Cisco, Microsoft, VMware, Panduit and Dell EMC. Di Biase presented "IaaS: optimizing your capital with pre-engineered solutions" this week at the Rockwell Automation TechED event in Orlando, Fla.

"IaaS also reduces the costs of downtime with more and better monitoring," added Di Biase. "This is especially important because the total, worldwide cost of unscheduled downtime is about $20 billion, which includes 8% on figuring that problems are real, 21% on diagnosing problems, and 47% on finding the resources to fix problems. This adds up to 76% spent on problems before any actual fixing event starts."

This is where IaaS can deliver its most substantial benefits, according to Di Biase. "If we know that an industrial infrastructure can identify KPIs for itself, and monitor those points, then we can also do predictive maintenance on them," added Di Biase. "This cuts out a lot of the time that it usually takes to find problems."

Di Biase explained that taking a longer-term view of implementing and maintaining networks, software and related devices allows them to become regularly scheduled costs, rather than huge, one-time expenses. Many of the IaaS projects are typically paid for over five years, much like the software as a service (SaaS) or other subscription-style programs that are well-known in the IT and consumer service fields.

"Rockwell Automation still owns the switches and servers, but we deliver them to our customers just like any other service provider," said Di Biase. "The difference is we also treat this as an on-premise service with 24/7 monitoring and diagnostics. I think the most special thing we do is remote administrative services, which are staffed by career IT administrators and solutions integrators. They're able to respond to alerts and alarms faster than traditional IT staffs, and have eyes on processes in our customers' manufacturing environments.

"As a result, potential users need to ask themselves if their IT response team is going to be able to meet their OT needs. The IT departments at some pharmaceutical clients really get what OT needs, but others have no onsite IT or they've outsourced it to larger organizations that don't realize that mission-critical applications exist outside of their data center."

Di Biase concluded that IaaS is really a marriage of former remote monitoring and administration services with pre-engineered solutions and technical support. "We combined administration with the hardware that goes with it," said Di Biase. "To realize The Connected Enterprise, we're bringing complex IT products and services to the plant floor, and Rockwell Automation provides the care and feeding of that equipment."  

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.