Cloud computing is one of the key elements in the era of intelligent systems identified by research firm IDC and now the major focus of the recently renamed Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. Wanting to get a better understanding of how cloud computing figures into one of our key markets, industrial automation, I recently had a question and answer session with Alexander Damisch, director of industrial solutions at Wind River Systems, an Associate member of the Alliance.



Director, Industrial Solutions, Wind River


What does "cloud computing" mean in the context of industrial automation?

As embedded devices are increasingly connected to the enterprise, arguably the most cost-effective way to implement these systems is via cloud architecture. Within industrial automation, clear targets for cloud computing are typical IT components like manufacturing execution systems (MES) and production planning systems (PPS). There is no need for discrete servers in industrial automation environments that perform functions for only a few machines or manufacturing processes when they can be performed and operated more efficiently as cloud services.


In industrial automation, the cloud is already affecting the architecture of IT structures as these move from a fixed client server architecture to a distributed architecture with local and global intelligence. It is also impacting machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in the embedded cloud. In short, the shift to cloud computing is causing a disruption in the embedded space by changing key paradigms regarding data and the location of intelligence.


What are the benefits of cloud computing for industrial automation?

The embedded world and cloud computing will increasingly be intertwined in the future. In the case of industrial automation, as embedded products and systems become more intelligent and connected, there will be significant gains in efficiency, mobility, business productivity, and capability due to cloud computing. The cloud enables a complete system and service to be offered rather than a single “box” or device – and this also provides benefits in terms of lower costs and higher quality. The key transition point will be the movement from the isolated embedded world into the enterprise and using the cloud to take advantage of greater business intelligence for better decision-making, making it effective from both a cost and use standpoint.


Where will we see the first applications of cloud computing? Are any of these applications using cloud computing now?

In industrial automation, we’re currently seeing applications of cloud computing in MES and PPS, as well as in preventative maintenance, which requires every potential machine parameter to be collected and analyzed to derive an intelligent decision that typically would not be possible locally.


How will the introduction of cloud computing impact the development process?

With cloud computing, the development process stays the same, but the architecture changes. With designers moving from creating discrete “boxes” to providing essential “services” to the bigger system, there are several key considerations, including:


  • Data is no longer strictly local any more, and the quality of this data will impact the whole process.
  • Data needs to be available beyond static tag mapping.
  • Data needs to be secure to avoid disruption through corruption.
  • Services need to scale from discrete devices to intelligent systems that allow workload consolidation (cost optimization).
  • Depending of the criticality of the process, safety impacted by security can no longer be an afterthought.


What can developers do to simplify the integration of cloud services into their designs?

Developers can simplify the integration of cloud services into their designs in several ways, including:


  • Using open communication standards.
  • Eliminating complex and/or proprietary architectures (with simplicity comes power).
  • Thinking in terms of “services” and not discrete boxes.
  • Making sure that the architecture provides sufficient separation to scale into the cloud. (If a real-time communication stack has a compile-time dependency with the soft PLC and the HMI, scaling to an intelligent system or cloud architecture will be difficult.)


Do you offer any cloud computing solutions specifically designed for industrial automation? If so, what are the features and benefits?

Wind River is helping companies across a wide range of market segments solve the many challenges that come with cloud computing and helping them effectively implement device-to-cloud topologies. Moving from the isolated embedded world and connecting into an enterprise or potentially the cloud is highly disruptive, and it can have a significant impact on businesses. All the rules change once this level of connectivity exists, but it also brings about incredible opportunities for everyone.


For companies in industrial as well as other market segments, Wind River provides the complete infrastructure and services used in embedded cloud-based solutions today. For example, Wind River allows customers the ability to scale a services-oriented architecture from single- to multi-core, and from the real-time operating system level to multi OS support via embedded virtualization. In addition to a comprehensive portfolio of embedded technologies, Wind River can play a key role throughout the entire development process with its tools, services and support, and deep industry relationships.