Thursday, February 9, 2012

Industrial IT – let ‘em roll!

When it comes to the future of NonStop and to marketplaces more receptive to the HP NonStop Server, it's hard to ignore the manufacturing and distribution industry where there's been a lenghty association with NonStop!

I have always had an affinity for manufacturing. Not the small stuff – but the really big plants, “Macro Engineering”, as I used to refer to it, the type of mills that often stretch for a kilometer. Sometimes, even longer! If the vehicles that are being used to move product around a facility are shod with tires taller than a pick-up truck, that’s even better! I’m even more impressed!

As a teenager I spent time away from school deep inside the pits below large web-offset printing presses. My father was responsible for the operations of a second-tier “suburban dailies and regional weeklies” newspaper plant. With web-offset technology, where images on aluminum plates were transferred to grease rollers that then came in contact with ink before transferring to the paper, there was always a need to be beneath the towers housing these giant rollers to ensure they stayed “clean”. Working during the height of summer, underneath corrugated iron roofs, temperatures would soar past 45degress C on a regular basis!

It would come as no surprise then that my first real job was in Wollongong, a little south of Sydney, which would see me working in the steelworks. While I have covered this previously in a 2008 post to Real Time View, “A question of balance!”, my earlier experiences working with newspapers had me looking for the first job that offered air conditioning and the only job opening where air conditioning was involved was IT!

Industrial IT, as I have heard it best described, addresses the field of computing as applied to the types of operations you would easily recognize as Macro Engineering. Steelworks, power plants, car and truck manufacturers, as well as oil and gas refineries along with many of the very large chemical plants. These are easily recognized – typically situated outside of smaller regional towns and villages, almost as if they had been dropped on the unsuspecting locals as a gift! Of them all, the factories I most like are those dedicated to assembling cars.

Recently, a former colleague from my time with NonStop, explained that while “PC technology is now powering a big share of corporate IT, nobody is surprised by frequent malfunctions and poor service levels anymore; most people have just come to live with the common misery. Complaining against poor IT service levels might even jeopardize their jobs! So anything that looks like office automation, including ERP and CRM systems and the like, may not be as good a market for NonStop these days.”

Fair enough. On the other hand, he then added how, “Industrial IT is a different field. Unlike human beings, machines and technical devices are not patient and not forgiving; should the service levels that Industrial IT systems were designed for be not met, costly outages will occur. In some cases, products will get spoiled or production infrastructure may be damaged - and furthermore, there might even be serious health dangers or lives at stake. In this case, Industrial IT is clearly an area where deploying NonStop make good sense.”

Yes, it really does come back to the superior levels of availability provided by NonStop. But are there NonStop systems still being used in this manner? Can NonStop provide solutions for Industrial? In the preliminary work I have been doing for an opinions white paper for another client, I became acutely aware of just how many large engineering operations depended on NonStop, and in particular how many of them were associated with car manufacturing. And of these manufacturers, many were using products from comForte, including terminal emulation as well as security offerings – it seems even in manufacturing, with Windows PCs sitting in their factories, security is particularly important as even today, some piece of PC malware makes it into their production environment with the potential of causing havoc!

Mercedes Benz, Porsche and Audi continue to rely on NonStop for oversight of their assembly lines. And of these probably Mercedes Benz has the most systems installed. And globally! Yes, every manufacturing plant, including the plant building the SMART car, has NonStop Servers deployed. Rolling off the assembly line it’s good to know NonStop is part of what it makes it all happen! In the post of February 7, 2012, “Partnerships built to last …” on my Blog Real Time View I cover this in more detail, as the value being provided by the HP NonStop Servers is hard to ignore.

The only down side with Macro Engineering is that anything rarely changes and “in general, manufacturing could seem rather ‘static’,” according to comForte’s Thomas Burg. But then again, “the relationship we have with these customers has endured for more than ten years; very little changes apart from the upgrades in response to the growth we see at these manufacturers.” However, in many ways, even this is encouraging as NonStop continues to provide the levels of availability simply not present in other solutions. And the partnership comForte enjoys with these companies will continue for many years to come.

With the continuing transformation of NonStop the attributes that have appealed to car manufacturers for all these years can be easily applied to other applications. “Industrial automation technology used in manufacturing is the same as is needed in support of automated operations in retail, or logistics – an automated warehouse does not care at all whether it stores parts for a manufacturing customer or goods to be distributed to the stores of a retailer, or parcels that need to be forwarded by a logistics service provider,” explained my former colleague. “It is always the same technology, and I usually refer to ‘Industrial IT’ as an umbrella term for solutions driving automation technology.”

Yes, there are more car and truck manufacturers, and even steelworks, depending on the uptime that only NonStop provides, reliably and routinely. PC’s provide value and boost in productivity is hard to ignore, but when it comes to Macro Engineering, it takes so much more and for that, running NonStop is more than up to meeting the demands!

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