Virtualization: Playing well with others

One thing that we all learn in kindergarten is to play well with others. Unfortunately that is often a lesson that vendors of many manufacturing IT applications failed to learn. Manufacturing applications are usually certified to run only on servers with no other applications. If other applications are running, then the vendor may not provide support.

06/01/2006


One thing that we all learn in kindergarten is to play well with others. Unfortunately that is often a lesson that vendors of many manufacturing IT applications failed to learn. Manufacturing applications are usually certified to run only on servers with no other applications. If other applications are running, then the vendor may not provide support.

One large, well-known control system vendor requires five separate servers for its manufacturing application suite—and many of its customers, of course, also use other applications that have their own server needs. The variety of possible applications include HMI servers, manufacturing execution systems, laboratory information management systems, data historians, document management systems, communication concentrators, maintenance management systems, print servers, file servers, PLC source code control systems, and general purpose databases.

The proliferation of dedicated servers is causing a problem in many manufacturing facilities because there is not enough controlled environment space for all the servers. Often, the manufacturing servers have been placed in the few environmentally controlled cabinets somewhere near the production lines. Many times the manufacturing servers have to share space in the cabinets with telecom equipment and general I/O connections. As IT solutions are added to the factory floor, there may not be space for the required servers.

One answer to this problem is through an IT industry solution: virtualization. Virtualization has been around since the early days of computing, but only recently are major operating system vendors supporting it.

Virtualization is a method for running several independent copies of an operating system and application on the same machine at the same time. For example, a single physical server could run Linux and an Oracle database on one virtual server, and still run Microsoft Windows 2000 and an HMI application on a second virtual server, while running Microsoft Windows XP and an MS-SQL database on a third virtual server. This takes minimal overhead, because new virtualization solutions take advantage of virtualization hooks in the latest Intel and AMD chips. Most virtualization systems provide near-native performance.

Fortunately, many manufacturing applications were designed for slower servers with less memory and smaller disks than are available today. If fact, the recommended resources for most applications mean that servers often run at 20% or less utilization. Virtualization allows you to tap into the unused CPU cycles and memory, allowing more applications per server, each in its own environment. When a single large server takes the place of multiple smaller servers, you can simplify server management, improve disaster recovery, and lower administrative and hardware costs.

Virtualization is available from multiple vendors. The open source option includes XEN ( www.xensource.com ); Microsoft has Virtual Server 2005; Sun has VMWare ( www.vmware.com ) from EMC. Red Hat and Novell also provide options.

Know your boundaries

When virtualizing manufacturing systems, it is important to remember the network boundaries and collect applications at similar levels. For example, database servers, print servers, file servers, and some application servers would run in the network DMZ—the space between a firewall to the corporate network and a firewall to the control network. These applications could be virtualized to a one machine. Likewise, servers at the control network level could be virtualized without compromising the security or integrity of the network segmentation. Virtualization works best on manufacturing applications that use standard device drivers.

Virtualization, scaleable as needed, is becoming a valuable tool to allow manufacturing systems to play well with others, and simultaneously reduce server space problems.


Author Information

Dennis Brandl, dbrandl@brlconsulting.com , is the president of BR&L Consulting, Cary, N.C., which is focused on manufacturing IT solutions.




No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
Control Engineering Leaders Under 40 identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn more about methods used to ensure that the integration between the safety system and the process control...
Adding industrial toughness and reliability to Ethernet eGuide
Technological advances like multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) transmitting and receiving
Virtualization advice: 4 ways splitting servers can help manufacturing; Efficient motion controls; Fill the brain drain; Learn from the HART Plant of the Year
Two sides to process safety: Combining human and technical factors in your program; Preparing HMI graphics for migrations; Mechatronics and safety; Engineers' Choice Awards
Detecting security breaches: Forensic invenstigations depend on knowing your networks inside and out; Wireless workers; Opening robotic control; Product exclusive: Robust encoders
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
News and comments from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
Anthony Baker is a fictitious aggregation of experts from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration.
Integrator Guide

Integrator Guide

Search the online Automation Integrator Guide
 

Create New Listing

Visit the System Integrators page to view past winners of Control Engineering's System Integrator of the Year Award and learn how to enter the competition. You will also find more information on system integrators and Control System Integrators Association.

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.