Building the Infrastructure for Digital Transformation in Industrial Automation

Building the Infrastructure for Digital Transformation in Industrial Automation


I’ve discussed in my recent blog posts (“Software-Defined Infrastructure Sparks Digital Transformation of Industrial Automation” and “Software-Defined Infrastructure in Industrial IoT: How it Works”) how a software-defined infrastructure approach and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are driving the digital transformation of industrial automation, replacing today’s custom-built, proprietary solutions with a more flexible alternative built on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software and hardware components. In the earlier posts, we explored how software-defined infrastructure works for automation systems and the many benefits it can deliver versus proprietary systems: more interoperability, significantly lower CapEx and OpEx, greater agility to adjust to changing market demand, and the ease of upgrading with innovative technologies as they come online.

Now, let’s look at what is required in a software-defined infrastructure in order to realize those benefits.

Software-defined infrastructure automation solutions must run reliably and safely, gathering real-world industrial data and triggering real-time responses. In order to achieve this, a software-defined infrastructure must consolidate operations and control functions, and satisfy these criteria:

Low-latency virtualization: Software-defined infrastructure servers must support virtualization in order to run the diverse functions and applications found in industrial systems. The virtualization technology must have minimal overhead in order to provide real-time, deterministic performance for critical applications while optimizing resources for non-critical applications.

Deterministic networking: Fully deterministic, real-time communication via the IoT is essential for control functions in industrial environments. Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) achieves this by enabling a shared view of time and scheduling among industrial components.

High availability: In the event of software failure, software-defined infrastructure servers and applications must be able to perform automatic failover quickly enough to maintain control system integrity. Failover speeds need to be orders of magnitude faster than standard IT solutions. Carrier-grade telecommunication NFV solutions are approaching the automatic failover speeds needed for software-defined infrastructure. Virtualization technology facilitates failover in a number of ways – for example, restarting a clean backup software image without a reboot or turning control over to a full redundant server to avoid catastrophic failure.

Robust security: A software-defined infrastructure approach allows security technologies to be built in from the ground up across hardware platforms, middleware, applications, communications, and cloud infrastructure. The flexibility of software-defined infrastructure allows security solutions to adapt over time to respond to system and threat changes.  Required technologies include secure boot, robust roots of trust (for example, Trusted Platform Module or TPM), digital random number generators, secure identities, local and remote attestation, anti-malware, data encryption, firewalls, authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA), IDS/IPS, SIEM, and VPN tunneling.

Lifecycle management: Automation systems are typically expected to remain in continuous operation for years. Users must be able to perform lifecycle operations, such as software upgrades, live patching, capacity expansion, hardware updates and replacement, and physical and logical networking changes, without any loss of service. IoT solutions that allow easy installation, remote provisioning, and extensive monitoring of platforms, hardware, applications, and services are essential to maintaining system uptime and performance.

Enhanced platform awareness and monitoring: Software-defined infrastructure solutions need to support awareness of hardware and software status to guarantee required levels of service. IoT-powered platform awareness and monitoring capabilities enable automated resource allocation and reallocation as needed to adapt to change while maintaining performance, safety, and resiliency.

Best-in-Class Applications: Based on open x86 virtualization architecture using COTS hardware, software-defined infrastructure solutions must support the easy integration of IT technologies (Hadoop*, Apache* Storm*, Java* Analytics engines, Linux*, and Linux containers). At the same time, solutions must implement operational technologies capable of satisfying real-time requirements (that are more stringent than IT) through the use of industrial strength real-time operating systems. System integrators and operators can then take advantage of the open platform to incorporate ISVs and best-in-class applications.

It all sounds fairly complex, but many of these infrastructure requirements have already been addressed by telecommunications networks that implement network function virtualization (NFV). One example is Wind River’s fully integrated, full-featured virtualization software platform. Designed to work with COTS hardware, it allows software-defined infrastructure automation solution providers to jumpstart development and focus on building applications rather than infrastructure. That, in turn, will enable industrial companies to accelerate the transformation toward software-defined infrastructure-powered automation and the many benefits it can deliver.

I predict 2017 will be a revolutionary year with respect to digital transformation in industrial automation…and it’s very exciting that Wind River software is helping drive and accelerate this digital transformation.

For more information about Wind River’s software-defined approach, visit: