The benefits of server virtualization in the data center are well documented, from server consolidation to improved utilization and simplified management. Now we’re starting to see the technology bring benefits that may make it even more compelling in an entirely different environment: manufacturing plants.
One of the chief benefits of virtualization technology in manufacturing is improved lifecycle management for applications. Automation applications such as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) routinely have lifecycles of 7 years or more, far longer than the typical useful life of a business application.
Once they’re in production, companies want to ensure stability and reduce risk by avoiding changes to the software application, the operating system and the server hardware on which it runs. After all, these applications are business-critical and any unplanned downtime means lost production time. In regulated industries like pharmaceuticals, downtime can also compromise data integrity, forcing companies to destroy any product that’s in production.
But operating system vendors routinely upgrade their platforms and eventually withdraw support for their older OSs – often while manufacturers are still relying on them for automation applications.
Virtualization offers a solution, enabling companies to abstract the OS from the server hardware. In short, you can support older OSs within a virtual machine and, hence, run the older applications that rely on those OSs.
You can also upgrade the server hardware that virtual machines run on as requirements dictate, so you won’t need to stock hard-to-find components required to keep older machines up and running.
Virtualization in the plant environment does present some challenges, however, notably ensuring the kind of availability a manufacturer requires. Some will say clustering provides high availability, but there are instances where it’s not reliable enough. For clustering to work effectively, a server has to be running to migrate its load to another member of the cluster. Should a fault cause the server to crash, its workload won’t be transferred.
What’s required is a server that has high reliability built in, so it simply doesn’t go down. That’s the kind of servers Stratus Technologies has been building for more than 30 years. They feature multiple layers of proactive diagnostic, monitoring and self- correcting services. And now we’re a Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Technology Partner, so you can get a Stratus server that’s pre-integrated with the applications you buy from Schneider Electric.
To learn more about the benefits and challenges inherent in bringing server virtualization technology to manufacturing plants, check out the Stratus Technologies white paper, “Server Virtualization in Manufacturing.” Or visit the manufacturing section of our web site for info on high-availability solutions that will help you realize all the benefits virtualization has to offer.