Industry

3 Unique Considerations for the Use of Cloud in Operations

Enterprises must evaluate the value of cloud to determine if it's a secure location for operational workloads
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Join us for the upcoming webinar, “The Industrial Journey from Operations to the Cloud“, live on at 11 AM/ET, where Jonathan Lang will lay out IDC’s framework for evaluating industrial workloads in a digital world where edge, on-premise, hybrid cloud, and cloud-first use cases must work in concert do deliver Industry 4.0 capabilities.

Digital transformation is an amorphous and loaded term that has taken unique meaning for each enterprise in recent years. As different industries and roles pursue digital use cases and working models, they have identified technologies and architectures that fit best with their business needs. For many of these companies’ IT departments tasked with enabling these initiatives, digital transformation has started to become synonymous with the cloud. According to IDC’s 2021 Future of Operations survey, the cloud has become the number one investment priority for operational enterprises by a margin of nearly 5% compared to the second highest priority.

But companies must be careful not to apply the same strategy that has worked for knowledge work and back-office functions to operational environments and workloads in settings such as factories, oil fields, utility operations, and other asset-intensive spaces. IDC defines operations as the activities responsible for the safe, reliable, and efficient execution of a physical process central to an organization’s business.

For example, these processes can include producing goods or services, moving goods or services, and maintaining assets, infrastructure, or facilities. In operations, unique considerations come in to play that must play a central role in evaluating the applicability and value of the cloud in their transformation, compared to hosting options at the edge or on premises.

  1. Latency – Operational settings are filled with automation systems and co-dependent and interrelated assets. For years, the path to competitive advantage including cost savings and increased throughput has been speed. Industrial control systems and related processes and applications run at millisecond and in some cases sub-millisecond speeds.

    And the loss of connectivity within the operational system can result in waste, equipment damage, and safety hazards. While the speed and reliability of internet connectivity are increasing, latency must be a top consideration when evaluating the viability of an operational workload to be reliant on the cloud.
  2. Reliability – Just as latency is a consideration that carries high risk and cost of failure, the reliability of a given system has the same dire implications. This is one of the reason why the industrial automation systems of the past have been vertically integrated and air gapped from the influence of outside systems. While many systems are becoming more open, leveraging technology like containerization to provide flexibility and ease of remote management of applications and workloads, enterprises must recognize that there is a time and a place for such an approach.

    In some cases, a workload may become more reliable by being distributed across devices or even through a connection with the cloud. In others, this may open the enterprise to significant risk of failure. These considerations must be evaluated on a case by case basis in collaboration with the line of business.
  3. Security – Operations has historically been an ‘air-gapped’ setting, meaning the network has been local and isolated from enterprise networks as well as the internet. This is no longer the case for most organizations and the cloud is now connected one way or another through the operation. Just as IT departments were weary of the cloud for security reasons some years ago, operations is at the very cusp of this evaluation and are more risk averse than other lines of business, since the cost of failure can involve the loss of life and limb or threaten public infrastructure.

    It is possible that, over time, this evaluation will reveal that the cloud is a more secure location for many operational workloads, but which ones and on what timeline remains a dynamic evaluation that each enterprise must undertake.

In the end, all future operational architectures will span across device-level hosting, distributed on edge devices like gateways and ruggedized servers and PCs, on-premises in centralized or distributed server rooms, and in the cloud – in many cases across multiple clouds. IT is faced with the task of making this plumbing cohesive and patching leaks along the way. That’s why we’ve developed a framework to help IT professionals evaluate the role of each of these models across common industrial workloads in order to navigate the complexities and nuance of IT/OT convergence.

To learn more, join us for the upcoming webinar, “The Industrial Journey from Operations to the Cloud“, live on at 11 AM/ET, where Jonathan Lang will lay out IDC’s framework for evaluating industrial workloads in a digital world where edge, on-premise, hybrid cloud, and cloud-first use cases must work in concert do deliver Industry 4.0 capabilities. Click the link below to register.

Jonathan Lang

Research Manager, IT/OT Convergence