The concept of virtualisation is not a new one. It has been a feature of corporate IT departments for several years and IT professionals have been successful in encouraging companies to adopt this technology due to the demonstrable benefits it has for business.
There are a number of reasons why IT departments are pushing virtualisation technology:
- Due to the ability to consolidate hardware there are substantial economic savings from using less physical machines. This in turn leads to a reduction in energy usage, so costly energy bills are brought down dramatically. Also, because virtualised applications are insulated from hardware and software shifts, the life cycle of the machines are extended, and delivers better return on investment for the business.
- Fewer machines mean faster deployment, so new functions can be applied much quicker. With just one central control, maintenance will only ever need to be carried out in one location, rather than at several server locations – again saving time and money.
- More sophisticated backup operations eliminate data loss.
- With the introduction of failover technology, users can rest assured that there will be high availability and, often, zero downtime.
Here are some specific benefits of virtualisation which can be felt by manufacturing businesses.
- More effective and efficient utilisation of physical assets, such as pumps, motors and drives, which are often some of the most expensive items. Industrial systems need to provide information and allow operators to make the most of these assets, and making the change to this kind of architecture can directly increase their effectiveness.
- Consistent/standardised IT builds across the business. The ability to manipulate virtual machines makes the challenge of taking an existing system and replicating it again in a new location much easier.
- A reduction in management and maintenance costs. Often the consequences of downtime are so high that businesses are forced to invest heavily in resources to ensure systems remain repaired and in good health. Virtualisation and thin client technology allow this burden to be significantly reduced.
- The ability to more easily adjust the architecture (also known as scalability). Manufacturing systems are often subject to change, whether it is to accommodate new products or a change in the build process. Virtual systems are more flexible and allow these changes to be made more easily.
- The ability to create flexible testing and development environments, where new processes can be tried out without disruption to production. This is particularly relevant in the industrial world where change often has a direct impact of profitability, so the ability to do this faster in a safer environment is desirable.
- Potential legacy benefits. The operational lifecycle of manufacturing equipment is often measured in decades but operating systems change every few years. Virtualisation allows for the possibility of these applications to run on newer hardware in their original environment without forcing an upgrade.