Providing anytime, anywhere access to data can help improve productivity and drive operational efficiencies. Despite this, there remains a reluctance to embrace cloud technology such as Software as a Service. Andy Graham looks at how the Cloud can be used to deliver ‘always on’ access to data to enable improved scalability, security and mobility
Modern power generating environments are filled with multiple devices collecting data from every end point and an average site can easily generate, and store, millions of data points every day. Harnessing that data is vital for effective decision making, but finding a way to access, analyze and manage vast volumes of data is easier said than done.
For years, these environments have feared connectivity, believing it leaves them vulnerable to security breaches. However, for those looking to initiate an IoT strategy, connectivity is a must and it’s here that Software as a Service (SaaS) comes in.
Software as a Service can be accessed via a web browser or app, as opposed to software that needs to be purchased up-front and installed on your computer or machine. The most prominent examples of SaaS solutions include Google, Facebook and YouTube – you haven’t installed them on your machine, you simply use them as a service.
Although SaaS solutions are now used by the majority of people on a daily basis, the mere mention of a cloud-based service still makes many companies recoil in horror. But the reality is that cloud services are not going to go away and embracing them will only bring benefits to your business. Besides, if you use Office365 in more than one location across your business, you’re actually already embracing Software as a Service. And if you trust the cloud with your confidential business data, why not trust it with your production data?
In energy production, the cloud is your ally. Nobody is suggesting you operate your real-time production there, but a cloud-based service such as SaaS can correlate all the other business data you collect – across multiple sites and historians – before collating and presenting it in a way that does not require additional IT expertise or capital expenditure.
Power stations, for example, could leverage cloud-based services to enable engineers to monitor machines remotely, analyzing energy consumption data and production data, providing valuable insight to their operations to help them to drive efficiencies.
Energy generation is an industry in a near-constant state of change, with increased external legislation and regulation requiring data to be provided to third parties more often than ever before. Cloud assists this level of collaboration by ensuring that data is readily available and collated, meaning that information for metrics such as energy usage can be accessed by those with relevant security clearance, whenever and wherever they need it.
Organizations with multi-location operations are another potential beneficiary of cloud. Historically, each site would be managed independently, with data and process information never leaving the plant.
However, when data is fed to the cloud, a business can then get a real-time overview of the operation and performance of all its sites, making it easier to compare productivity and measure efficiencies. This can prove invaluable when identifying why plant A outperforms plant B.
Connectivity within each site is also improved through cloud, paving the way for the implementation of mobility across the facility. This gives everybody who needs it instant access to real-time data and analytics of the running of the plant.
Given today’s mobile technologies, this can now be tailored to specific areas, meaning relevant data is made available as soon as engineers walk into a different zone. Similarly, devices tailored for use in hazardous zones have also risen in prominence.
Improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), the metric that looks at the performance, availability and quality of operations, is also a key driver for switching to the cloud. Cloud can quickly monitor and react to data, meaning that systems outages can be pinpointed before they become a reality.
Similarly, cloud also provides a low-cost and convenient way of upgrading systems, as there is no need to purchase expensive hardware and system updates can occur without costly downtime.
Security is often one of the objections raised by organizations when talking about the cloud. However, many are already utilizing cloud services in their corporate and commercial processes and, as such, there is no reason why non-critical production processes shouldn’t be moved there too.
Andy Graham is Product Manager at Wonderware UK and Ireland, which produces Wonderware Online InSight, data intelligence supported by the Microsoft Windows Azure Cloud Services environment. www.wonderware.com