For several decades, industrial machines have had onboard, proprietary digital systems that are as physically isolated within the machine as they are logically. They communicate with each other over digital links—also often proprietary. PLCs, HMIs, industrial PCs (IPCs), and PACs run fixed-function applications, calling on other subsystems to move material, interface with operators, connect to servers, protect employees, and perform a function. Such a siloed and disparate architecture results in high maintenance costs, increased complexity, and difficulty in scaling to accommodate growth. Consolidating workloads onto fewer platforms helps to address these issues.
A consolidated approach to industrial operations helps to reduce costs, increase operational efficiencies, and enable agility. This is due to the following benefits:
- Consolidation eliminates many dedicated, costly hardware components that require unique spares for repair.
- Platform standardization allows leveraging of off-the-shelf components, thereby increasing the range of hardware choices, reducing total cost of ownership (TCO), and preventing vendor lock-in around proprietary hardware.
- A simpler overall architecture means fewer components that can fail and faster repair times.
- Functional upgrades can be completed either partly, or even entirely, with new software that can be pushed to the system by the manufacturer, creating a workflow that is nearly seamless and invisible to the plant.
Early virtualization deployments from over a decade ago taxed system performance, and solution providers offered little support for a software-defined infrastructure. Advances in multicore CPUs, real-time operating systems (RTOS), lightweight hypervisors, and virtualization allow for an evolving, modernized solution stack for IIoT.
A workload consolidation stack boosts the responsiveness of virtualized systems and enables performance solutions. Equipment developers can now consolidate deterministic and nondeterministic applications onto a single board, creating a credible path to streamlined operations, improved productivity, and reduced cost and complexity. This is detailed in the following table.
|Virtual PLCs - Analytics - HMI - Legacy Apps (Historian, SCADA)
|Industrial Platform offerings
|Litmus Automation, Software AG, PTC (ThingWorx), Hitachi Lumada
|VMware vSphere, Cloud Foundation, OpenStack, Docker, Kubernetes, Apache Mesos
|VMware ESXi, NSX, KVM, Docker, Azure Stack, AWS Greengrass
|Sensors, Actuators, Edge Gateway, Intelligent Edge Nodes.
|VxRail, Dell PowerEdge with Intel processors