May 7, 2021

The top six tips for keeping up with industrial IT trends

Martin Hodgson
5 min
Martin Hodgson, Country Manager at Paessler AG, shares his top six tips for keeping up with induatrial IT trends over the next five years
Martin Hodgson, Country Manager at Paessler AG, shares his top six tips for keeping up with industrial IT trends over the next five years...

It is currently estimated that, by 2025, the IIoT market will be worth $110.6bn. This will only add to the rapid growth of trends that have been developing in industrial IT in recent years, but how can manufacturers keep up with them? These trends over the next half a decade or so will pose new demands and challenges for the IT that supports industrial infrastructures. 

The OT environment increasingly needs to interface and connect with previously segregated networks. New data is being delivered by IIoT devices that needs to be processed, stored, and analysed. All of this means that IT in production environments will need to be scalable and flexible enough to support the new processes and functionality making their way into the infrastructure.

Here are 6 ways that manufacturers can adapt to keep up with IoT trends:

1. Use IT and OT convergence to get a view of the big picture

It’s an exciting time for industrial IT as IT and OT convergence remains the biggest driving force for transformation in this sector. A siloed approach, as was the case previously, is no longer useful, instead IIoT sensors are now capable of delivering data about all aspects of production. Whilst there are now far more interfaces and touchpoints between several different areas in manufacturing – notably, IT, OT and the IIoT – than previously, and this brings its own challenges. 

Technicians and system administrators need to work together to ensure that the interfaces are functioning and that information flows from the production floor to the data centers or the cloud as it should. Their main focus should be on finding the best way to get an accurate overview of the entire picture.

2. Bring cybersecurity to the forefront

The pandemic is said to have led to a massive uptake in cyberattacks in the last 12 months so it’s important to get a sound cybersecurity strategy in place. The supporting IT will need to be adapted to meet the new demands of OT security and to secure IIoT components and devices. Monitoring can be also used as an additional security measure to uncover unusual behaviour and monitor other security applications. Digitisation in manufacturing has brought about its own unique challenges when it comes to cybersecurity in industrial environments.

3. Transitioning towards Industry 4.0

Considering how important data coming from the production floor and IIoT devices is, industrial edge gateways (or smart gateways) have begun to play an even more important role in manufacturing environments. There are clever ways to gather information from various elements on the factory floor via devices that aggregate data and send them to various endpoints. 

This enables IT managers to gather important data and insights about the production process as they move towards what’s known as ‘Industry 4.0’. This can pose potential security risks so it’s therefore important to protect the whole infrastructure as much as possible both from online as well as physical threats.

4. Standardise communication protocols

In the modern industrial IT set-up there is a need for a common “language” to ensure the components of different technologies communicate. This is because of the interconnectedness of IIoT sensors and devices with OT and other touchpoints. The OPC UA standard is rising as a widely-adopted option – and this trend is expected to continue in the coming years so it’s important to get the right infrastructure in place. Monitoring tools that support OPC UA also exist, and therefore can bring together IT and OT.  

5. Choose the right flexible cloud solution

Multi-cloud architecture is a flexible solution which should be well utilised. Thanks to modern technology, critical processing can happen in various places: in the cloud, on-premises, on the edge, or even a combination of these. Manufacturers should identify their requirements, and design or select the best cloud solution based on their specific use-cases. By monitoring these multiple components all in one place, the overall network performance and availability can be maintained. 

For example, they can choose services from multiple clouds so that they can be combined into one single solution. Another option is the usage of hybrid scenarios, where edge devices, on-premises hardware, and cloud services are combined into an integrated solution.  

6. Process and analyse data – the smart way

The challenge many IT managers for manufacturers face these days is to identify what data is delivered and figure out how to use it. This understanding will also inform how the IIoT is implemented, and therefore plays a crucial part of the puzzle. The very nature of the IIoT means that there is data being generated by sensors, devices, and connected machinery. Monitoring and collecting this data can be extremely useful in identifying trends, getting insights into the production process, and for making decisions. But there needs to be a solid strategy in place before collecting the data so that the right processes can be put in place. 

For example, do you want to gather information about how well a machine is operating in order to evaluate when it will need to be maintained? This lets technicians perform predictive maintenance instead of maintaining the machine wholesale based on the calendar date, and thus saving unnecessary costs. However, that data needs to be collected, the insights it generates must be understood, and where necessary, alarms must be sent out when factors indicate that the machine needs servicing – when certain values exceed defined thresholds, for example.

Or is energy efficiency important? With the increased awareness of climate change and the importance of sustainability, there is growing pressure on manufacturers to increase energy efficiency. By collecting data from power meters (communicated via protocols like Modbus), manufacturers can analyse their energy usage and identify ways to improve. Technology on the factory floor is changing, and keeping up changes is imperative. Understanding how IoT affects cybersecurity, the development of Industry 4.0, the cloud and the way data is managed will enable IT admins within the manufacturing space to stay ahead of the curve and ensure that systems and processes run seamlessly.

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Jun 6, 2021

Unlocking the next chapter of the digital revolution

Tim Loake
5 min
Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies highlights the importance of often-overlooked digital infrastructure

As the world retreated to a hybrid world in 2020, our reliance on technology took the spotlight. But it was the jazzy new social and video calling platforms that took the encore. Behind the scenes, our servers worked overtime, keeping us connected and maintaining the drumbeat of always-on newly digital services.  Let’s take a moment to pay our respect to the unsung technology heroes of the pandemic – the often-forgotten IT infrastructure keeping us connected come what may. After all, as we look ahead to more resilient futures, they will be playing a central role.

Servers could be likened to our plumbing – vital to well-functioning homes but rarely top of mind so long as it is functioning. Never seen, rarely heard – our servers do all the graft with little praise. But it is essential to reflect on the incremental advances in GPU and CPU power, which have paved the way for new workloads that previously were not possible. Chatbots and native language processing that provide essential customer touchpoints for businesses across the retail and banking sectors rely on powerful servers. They also keep businesses competitive and customers happy in an always-on world. 

Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies
Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies

Serving workplace transformation

But, as businesses grappled with pandemic disruptions, the focus was largely on adopting connected devices – and awe at the rapid increase in the datasphere.  As they reined in their budgets and attempted to do more with less, one aspect was perhaps overlooked—those hard working servers.

When it came to building resilience into a newly remote workforce, the initial concern was focused on the device endpoints – keeping employees productive.  Many companies did not initially consider whether they had the server infrastructure to enable the entire workforce to log in remotely at the same time. As a result, many experienced a plethora of teething problems: virtual office crashes, long waits to get on servers, and sluggish internet connectivity and application performance, often rendering the shiny new PC frustrating and useless.

Most businesses only had a few outward-facing servers that could authenticate remote workers – a vital gateway as the vector for cyber hacks and attacks increased exponentially. That’s not to mention the fact that many business applications simply weren’t designed to work with the latency required for people working from home. What businesses discovered at that moment was that their plumbing was out of date.  

Business and IT leaders quickly realised that to stay ahead of the curve in the hybrid working world, a renewed focus on building agile, adaptable, and flexible IT infrastructures was critical. More importantly, it accelerated the inevitable digital transformation that would keep them competitive in a data-driven economy. It is now abundantly clear to businesses that they need IT infrastructure to meet the demands of diverse workloads – derive intelligent insights from data, deploy applications effectively, and enhance data management and security.  

Ripe for a digital revolution

Unsurprisingly, IDC noted that there was an increase in purchases of server infrastructure to support changing workloads. However, it also forecasts this uptick will be sustainable and last beyond the pandemic. As the economy begins to reopen, business leaders are looking ahead. IT will continue to play a crucial role in 2021 and beyond – and we have already set the foundations for the digital revolution with next-generation servers. 

As we enter the zettabyte era, new innovative technologies are coming on stream, with 5G turbocharging IoT and putting edge computing to work.  Exciting new services improved day-to-day efficiencies, and the transformation of our digital society will be underpinned by resilient IT infrastructures.  By embracing the technological innovations of our next-generation servers, businesses keep pace with the coming data deluge.

The next generation of server architecture promises more power with less heat, thanks to improved, directed airflow, and direct liquid cooling, resulting in reduced operational costs and environmental impact. As we rebuild post-pandemic, manufacturers and customers alike strive to achieve ever more challenging sustainability goals. With this in mind, a focus on environmentally responsible design is imperative for the servers of tomorrow -  uniquely designed chassis for adaptive cooling and more efficient power consumption will be critical, improving energy efficiency generation over generation.

The most notable evolution is the configuration of these next-gen servers around more specific organisational needs. Unlike clunky and often unstable legacy infrastructure, the infrastructure of tomorrow will be sturdier and more modular. The next iteration is streamlined, and in this modular form, can be more easily tailored to business needs. This equates to essential cost savings as businesses only pay for what they use.  

Resolving the problem of the future, today

Tomorrow's IT challenges will focus on response times and latency as Edge and 5G technologies go mainstream. As businesses develop new and innovative services that utilise supercharged connectivity and real-time analytics, staying on top of these challenges will give them a competitive edge. For example, in the world of retail, automation will power new virtual security guards and even the slightest delay in the data relay could result in financial loss. 

Similarly, in the smart cities of tomorrow, the network must be responsive. With city-centre traffic lights controlled by an AI-powered camera that monitors pedestrians, delays in data transfers could cost the life of an elderly pedestrian who has fallen in the road. The stakes are far higher in a 5G-enabled world. As our reliance on technology deepens, the margins for error narrow, placing greater emphasis on the efficiency of those critical underpinning technologies.

Fully enabling the hybrid work model today is just a stepping-stone towards more fluid, tech-enabled lives. A work Zoom call from an automated vehicle on-route to an intelligent transport hub is a highly probable vision of our future. But it requires incredible amounts of compute and seamless data transfers to make it possible. These glossy snapshots need super servers to come to life, making that IT plumbing glisten with next-gen innovation essential. Without exemplary server architecture, we risk future tech advances and the human progression that it enables. 

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