What’s in the cloud for me?
22 June 2022
There are very few of us who aren’t already using the cloud in some form. If you own a smart phone, use email, stream music, videos or TV, then the chances are that data is stored in the cloud. From a manufacturing viewpoint, what do we need to know about the cloud?
Originally, the cloud simply meant a network of servers where software applications, information and services are stored and accessed. By this definition, most companies have a cloud! However, the term is increasingly thought of in the context of how it is accessed, what is available to use on it, and where it is physically located in relation to you, i.e. if it can be accessed from anywhere that has an internet connection using a variety of different devices. There are many software applications on it that you may or may not own.
Private and public clouds
There are a large number of public cloud providers, the biggest being very well-known names such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. These provide a broad range of services which are available to both individuals and to multinational companies. Private clouds can only be accessed by a single organisation, can be located either on or off premises and are typically used by large organisations who only host software used by that organisation. There are also specialist cloud providers who sit somewhere between the public and private, providing elements from both.
There are four service models available, of which Software as a Service (SaaS) is the most commonly available to individuals. Software from the most basic to highly sophisticated, requiring specialised computing, can be used by anyone, giving users access to software that would otherwise be too expensive.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) gives users access to servers, hardware and storage. These facilities are maintained by the provider, eliminating the cost and resources that the user would normally need to implement.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) is the next step up from IaaS, as it also provides operating systems, web servers, databases and other application software. The service provider maintains not only the hardware but also the integration of all the software, ensuring that users have access to the latest upgrades and patches.
Network as a Service (NaaS) provides the networking facilities, including Firewalls and VPNs. The user benefits from scalability and maintenance.
What is accessible under these Services will vary from one provider to another, and not all models are available from all providers. Choosing which one to use is one of the questions that trouble most users. The other most asked question is “What’s in it for me?”. There are many benefits to cloud computing and each user may have different priorities. Some benefits include:
• Cost of applications. As multiple users from many different companies can use the same software, and the hardware needed to run it, each user pays less than if they had to own it themselves.
• Cost of maintenance. The cost of software and hardware maintenance is spread across all users, reducing or eliminating the IT support requirements for each user.
• Always up to date. Software, hardware and security patches are kept up to date by the provider, thus reducing IT costs and increasing security.
• Flexibility. Users are quickly able to grow and shrink their cloud services to match their changing requirements without the costs of purchasing new equipment or having excess unused equipment.
24/7 Availability. Cloud providers are easily able to afford spare hardware to replace failures, 24/7 maintenance and IT personnel, which may be cost prohibitive for individual companies.
Why should manufacturers use the cloud?
Probably the better questions are: “Can I improve my production?”; or “Can I reduce my costs?”. The majority of manufacturing sites can benefit from condition monitoring, gathering data for OEE and providing production status/statistics/warnings at the desk or on a phone. The cloud may well be a part of this, and it is easier to start the journey than people may think.
The cloud is just another tool, like a torque wrench. If the features it offers are a benefit to you then use it; if not, use a spanner.
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