18 Aug 2017

Cloud computing for small to mid-sized companies

Small and mid-sized companies have long resisted the cloud computing trend. However, this phalanx of the resistance is slowly crumbling. In fact, more and more decision-makers are realising that the use of cloud computing can provide major cost savings. Many requirements from customers and employers cannot be delivered without the support of cloud-based services. Data security remains a continual issue – as it should.

Data in the cloud – gone with the wind?

Cloud computing refers to non-local data processing. The hardware and software are not located locally at the company (referred to as on-premise or private cloud) but rather located in a remote data centre and then made available by a cloud provider via internet. Perhaps it is the term itself which causes some of the decision makers discomfort. Is company data safe in the cloud, or is it “gone with the wind”?

Cloud Computing or On Premise?

The storage, performance and security offered by cloud computing providers is generally more cost-effective than providing the hardware and personnel locally. And this is also a great advantage for SMEs, since they don’t need expensive server rooms and IT specialists. The ability to analyse large amounts of data at high speeds, in particular, often cannot be implemented by the local IT department at a reasonable cost.  Software is also increasingly being used as a service from the cloud (software-as-a-service, or “SaaS”). Thus, expensive programs do not have to be purchased and installed. Cloud computing is also advantageous compared to on-premise installations when several sites are to be networked and supplied with identical software. The same applies when providing operational information on mobile devices. Many such applications are already available from our MICA.network partners.

Big data for machine learning 

Das Bild zeigt in einem Dashboard zwei Graphen von Klimadaten (Temperatur, Luftfeuchte) über die Zeit.
Combining environmental data (climatic data shown in photo) with order data and machine data

 

A typical cloud computing scenario in manufacturing companies is context-based information presentation. Employees from the manufacturing or service department automatically receive the information that they currently require – typically on their mobile device (tablet, smartphone or smartwatch). The necessary information must therefore be compiled from real-time and historical data and then analysed. The real-time data is collected using existing or newly installed sensors. Temperature sensors, for example, detect the ambient conditions of machines. Cloud services start learning the machine’s behaviour by analysing long track data, and draw conclusions about possible future events, such as disturbances or risks, and put them in relation to the machine temperatures. As a result, machine wear can be detected early based on temperature deviations. This additional information is communicated clearly and at an early stage via notifications or dashboards so that the necessary repairs or replacements can be scheduled. As a result, production losses or delays are avoided. Significant costs and risks do not spring up unexpectedly.

IoT gateways: data from the sensor to the cloud

Condition Monitoring System
Condition Monitoring System

Devices in the automation pyramid, starting with autonomous sensors and controllers, are not normally designed to transfer data to the cloud. There are so-called IoT gateways which are used for this purpose. The best tools for this job are small industrial PCs, such as HARTING’s MICA, because their performance, connectivity and return on investment (ROI), have been optimized for these tasks. As an IoT gateway, the MICA collects data from sensors or the PLC. It then converts this into an interpretable data format (such as OPC-UA) and transmits the data to the cloud using an installed Cloud Connector. The container architecture of the MICA enables connectors for various cloud providers to be easily installed as apps. Apps for well-known cloud providers (Dimension Data, IBM Bluemix, Microsoft Azure and SAP Hana) have already been implemented or certified.

Data security for cloud computing

Many companies are, understandably, very concerned about data security. This includes both protection against third-party access (hackers) and against the unauthorised use of data by the provider of the cloud infrastructure. This protection usually is provided by VPN (virtual private network) connections between the IoT gateway and the cloud or even the end application. However, these must be easy to operate and compatible with standardised hardware and conventional communication channels.