Small Steps to the Cloud

Nov. 28, 2022
As more industrial companies migrate data and operations technology to the cloud, there can be concerns over the effect this might have on operations. By starting small or with something new, users can more easily overcome these issues.

As cloud technologies approach more main-stream acceptance in industry, the steps towards higher levels of adoption often requires a series of small steps. This is important for users to realize amid many pitches we have seen that suggest an all-or-nothing approach to the cloud. This approach can lead to adoption hesitancy for many manufacturers. Because change is typically met with resistance, total system re-design changes are often dead on arrival unless driven internally.

A lot of the hesitancy we encounter in discussions around the cloud deal with connection issues, data buffering, offline access, and integration with existing IT and OT (operations technology) infrastructure. Though there are many best practices available on these topics, there will always be an inherent fear of that first deployment. Following are some tips to help facilitate taking that first step.

Start Small

One of the first things we do for prospective clients is help them identify a small system as a pilot project. Even at smaller scales you are likely to work through some of the same issues you might see at larger scales with system connectivity, data buffering, edge connections, etc. Choosing a small or low-impact system builds confidence and can help facilitate conversations around the larger enterprise.

Another advantage to starting small is getting a feel for what a segmented migration approach might look like. More often than not, our cloud migrations are done in segments based on shutdown schedules, infrastructure changes, etc., and this helps mimic that future state. In some cases, this approach also allows for easy reversion to an on-prem status without a cost impact if needed.

Start New

In several cases our clients have opted not to migrate existing technologies but instead to put a new piece of software or an expansion area into the cloud. This has often been a new SCADA or data historian in an expanded area or building.

The benefit of this approach is you still get the chance to encounter roadblocks or troubleshooting scenarios of a large deployment, but have the added benefit of comparing the same platform deployed both on-prem and in the cloud. Most of the time this comparison eases a lot of worries about cloud deployments and leads to a larger scale deployment plan.

Unified Name Space

The benefits of hub and spoke models, as seen with Unified Name Space (UNS) deployments, have been widely discussed due to the ability create a central location (hub) as the source of data for your plant assets. A UNS central repository then allows connections to edge devices as well as other platforms and databases (spokes), thereby decreasing the number of separate connections that must be maintained.

This approach can also be used to explore cloud deployments. As part our UNS projects, we typically place connected software or a data repository in the cloud. This combines the benefits of the “start small” and “start new” approaches into one that accomplishes both.

Regardless of which path you take, taking small steps can be a great path to cloud deployments. Each company’s cloud deployments can have unique requirements, so ranking desired outcomes, risk tolerance, and manufacturing schedule are all an integral part of the decision-making process. By starting small, starting new, or working cloud technology into an existing data focused project you can learn from issues you might see later in a full-scale deployment. This approach can help build trust and greater awareness during future deployments.

Will Aja is vice president of customer operations at Panacea Technologies, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Panacea, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.