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Industrial cloud computing is a broad term for cloud technology used in asset-intensive industries such as manufacturing, telecommunications, mining, construction, waste and water management, and energy generation/distribution.
Large capital assets – plants, equipment, machines, vehicles, controllers, pumping stations, etc. – can be equipped with sensors capable of reporting vast amounts of operational data through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to one another and to operators. Industrial cloud computing provides the infrastructure for the transmission of this data to the applications that operators are using on computers or mobile devices; or software programs that automate workflows. As organizations are able to capture more and more of this data, they are using it to more strategically manage assets and overall operations.
Cloud architecture refers to all the infrastructure, software, and systems that make up a computing cloud. Cloud architecture consists of a variety of components, typically grouped into five layers.
The hardware infrastructure layer includes data centers, servers, storage, and other physical components. The virtualization layer is comprised of virtual machines and networking resources that give customers accessibility to the of physical infrastructure's computing power. The platform layer includes virtualized operating systems, middleware, and runtime systems. The application layer contains network accessible software that’s powered by the preceding layers of the cloud architecture. Finally, the client layer consists of the network-connected desktop, mobile, or other devices customers use to access the cloud.
Each layer in the architecture can be classified as part of the cloud’s backend or frontend. However, the layers that make up either the provider-administered backend or the customer-administered frontend can vary depending on the cloud’s service and deployment models.
There are three main service models for cloud computing: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).
In the IaaS model, cloud service providers (CSP) only manage the hardware and virtualization layers. Essentially, customers receive the raw computing power to administer their own platforms and applications via a virtualized data center accessible through the internet. With IaaS, customers can use all the virtual computing resources they need without needing to build, manage, or maintain a physical data center.
In the PaaS model, the CSP administers the components in the platform layer of the cloud architecture – as well as the underlying hardware and virtualization layers. Although the customer has no direct control over these elements, the CSP typically customizes them according the customer’s specifications as part of the service agreement. With PaaS, customers can leverage the tools and resources of the platform to create, host, and deploy applications with greater efficiency – without needing to manage or configure the middleware, OS, runtime, and other enabling resources.
In the SaaS model, CSPs host and administer software applications (as well as the infrastructure, virtualization, and platform that powers the applications) in the cloud, and customers pay to access the software via the client layer. Since all the computing resources responsible for delivering SaaS are managed by the CSP, the customer only needs to manage the client layer.
Asset-intensive industries may subscribe to a variety cloud computing service models depending on business goals, internal resources, and needs. For example, a global manufacturing company may utilize workflow automation software through a SaaS agreement, a PaaS-provided operating system to collect and analyze IIoT data from multiple plants, or an IaaS so they can build and control proprietary versions of those tools.
The deployment model refers to how the cloud environment is made available to users and who is authorized to access it. There are four main types of cloud computing deployment models: private, public, hybrid, and community.
In a public deployment model, the cloud environment is accessible through a network that is open to the public (i.e. the open Internet). The CSP hosting a public cloud often provides multiple service models to a variety of clientele.
A private deployment model refers to any cloud environment that is provisioned for exclusive use by a single enterprise customer. A private cloud may be managed by a third-party CSP, or owned and operated entirely by the enterprise itself. In either arrangement, the enterprise is the sole user of the cloud's computing resources – which are only accessible via authorized client devices or credentials. Of all the deployment models, the private cloud gives the customer the greatest control over data, information security, and flexibility to allocate computing resources.
In a hybrid deployment model, a private cloud and a public cloud combine resources to operate as one infrastructure. When the computing resources of a private cloud are not enough, capacity can be expanded by incorporating a public cloud – often at a lower cost compared to expanding the private cloud's infrastructure via additional hardware and the associated management costs. Although the two are networked together, each cloud that makes up the hybrid is still its own entity. Typically, the most sensitive data and projects stay in the private portion of the hybrid cloud's resources, while the public portion is used to handle the enterprise's other computing tasks.
When a computing cloud's resources and infrastructure are shared by multiple enterprises working together, it's operating under a community cloud deployment model. These enterprises come from the same "community" of industry sectors and use cloud computing to cooperate on business objectives, share data, and split up the costs of administering the cloud. Similar to hybrid clouds, community clouds can include two or more private clouds that have merged infrastructures so that likeminded enterprises can share resources with each other, but not through a publically accessible network.
Due to their security, data use, and flexibility requirements, most industrial enterprises use private cloud deployment models. Although private clouds are preferred, asset-intensive businesses may adopt hybrid or community cloud models to offload low-risk or non-critical computing tasks, or to cost-efficiently benefit from expanded access to data and computing resources.
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