Virtualization benefits for manufacturers

Virtualization growth in manufacturing is continuing as more end users are taking advantage of the cost benefits it offers such as increased efficiency, reduced costs, and better security.


A manufacturing executive looking to increase profits while reducing costs should be taking steps to move in a virtual environment. Virtualization growth in manufacturing is continuing as more end users are taking advantage of the cost benefits it offers.

In a tight market and reduced workforce, it is imperative to keep a weather eye on the network to make sure it is running properly and that there are no outsiders peering in trying to gather, or steal, vital information.

The goal is to the keep the network up and running by eliminating any unplanned downtime, so that is where network monitoring comes into play as a strong tool to alert and keep end users aware of nuances and changes going on in a network. In short, increase network visibility.

Virtualization is growing in all industries, especially manufacturing and the numbers seem to back that up with one industry snapshot saying the global storage virtualization market will enjoy a compound annual growth rate of more than 24% from 2015 to 2019, according to Technavios market research.

From a hardware perspective, virtualization makes it possible to run more applications on the same hardware, which translates into cost savings. If less servers are purchased, then there will be fewer capital expenditures and maintenance costs.

Virtual machines can end up centrally managed and monitored, which allows a manufacturer to more easily achieve greater process consistency across the enterprise. Benefits include ease of continuous process improvement, greater agility and less training burden as employees transfer, or leave the company, get promoted, or retire.

Manufacturing software such as manufacturing execution systems (MES), among others, have a long lifecycle, given the upfront time and cost to implement, as well as the needed ongoing training. Oftentimes, manufacturers avoid making changes to their software configurations as a way to reduce risk. By separating software from hardware updates, a virtual IT environment might offer benefits to ease this management lifecycle of software and OS system updates. Hardware purchases can also occur on a regular or scheduled basis, resulting in greater consistency in system specifications.

Virtualization provides greater cost savings 

As mentioned, virtualization is growing on the industrial, or OT, side. Automation's gains over the past decade have come from the ability to connect business systems to the plant floor and drive factories based on orders received and collect data out of the plant and use that to analyze and improve performance. Knowing and understanding all that, end users are deriving great cost savings by virtualizing PCs onto fewer physical servers.

When doing that, the top benefit is cost savings and another benefit is manufacturers are protecting themselves against hardware failure. Downtime would be lower because users can build clusters of PCs that add redundancy that would not be there if each application or server was running on its own dedicated piece of hardware.

Along those lines, with manufacturers increasing their network dependency, it means more network connected devices which will all need a monitoring tool.

In a complex cloud style cluster of virtual machine servers, there is a need for monitoring and configuration tools.

CapEx-OpEx spending down

Virtualizing servers in a manufacturing environment does return a considerable cost savings in terms of the amount of equipment the user would need to purchase. So capital expenditures (CapEx) would be down when going to a virtual environment and operational expenditures (OpEx) over time would also reduce because the less CapEx means the less a user has to buy in three years when the warranty runs out.

By going the virtualization route, it gives the manufacturer the ability to buy two physical servers and then run five or six virtual servers on each of those and if one fails the other five or six virtual servers on the other machine can continue to run so it reduces downtime in a failure for a business that has a mission critical application. That reduced downtime can lead to an increase in productivity, which leads to making more product which could mean higher profitability.

Another aspect in an industry always looking to squeeze more and more out of its processes is it can also reduce costs for staffing. Traditionally, a manufacturer may have internal IT staff, but they would need less staff to manage a platform that has been virtualized. In addition, a staff that works over a virtualized platform has a cross pollination of their skill set so there is not one person focused on the network and another for the servers, there are just folks skilled on the virtualized platform.

One more aspect often overlooked is virtualization allows a manufacturer to scale up or down according to market demands.

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