Recently I had a discussion with a C-level executive from the process automation business who expressed some pessimism about the prospects for open process automation systems. “Our customers do not want to live in a plant where they have to manage their application software across thousands of devices from many different suppliers,” he explained.
According to this executive, it is difficult enough to manage a plant’s automation software across a far smaller number of controllers made by only a few vendors. Managing an application for a unit or plant that would involve hundreds or even thousands of hardware modules from many different vendors with software from different suppliers would require major advances in automation system technology. Such systems would have to be vastly better at deploying and orchestrating its software than the systems running in plants today. He makes a valid point.
And yet, today we find that not only the industrial automation industry but several other major industries are now creating architectures for highly distributed automation and functionality that have many similarities. For instance, the automotive industry is developing a reference architecture that will encompass on-car features for safety, autonomy, remote services, infotainment, and convenience. Part of that architecture is the definition of a standard set of software known as Automotive Grade Linux. In telecommunications, another massive industry, companies are developing architectures that virtualize processing functions at the base of cell towers. This is called NFV (network function virtualization). They are even developing architectures that replace physical central switch installations with virtualized ones.
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Keywords: Cloud Computing, Containers, Docker, Embedded Systems, Industrial Automation, Open Process Automation, Open Source, Software Development, ARC Advisory Group.