Approaching Process Automation Using Virtualization Technology

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Read more about author Nahla Davies.

Process control practitioners frequently use virtual machines (VMs) when deploying and managing process automation applications. However, developments in operational technologies have created new and better ways to streamline management on cloud data centers. 

Orchestration and containerization – next-generation virtualization concepts – are transforming automation and freeing users from the frustrating and time-consuming process of wholesale digital control system migrations. In this article, I will discuss these new developments and how they are impacting industries in a positive way.

What’s the Difference Between VMs and Containers?

Containerization allows developers to develop code along with all related configuration files and libraries, free from any dependencies. Unlike virtual machines, code is not dependent on a specific computing environment that may result in errors when moved to a new location. By being separated from the host operating system, the container is more flexible and transferable, capable of being run across any platform or cloud-based environment.

The portability of containers comes from their operating system kernels, which make them compatible with the machine’s operating system. As such, they do not need an operating system within each application. Therefore, they require less start-up time and take up less memory, reducing server costs and adding to their efficiency. 

Before containerization, virtual machines presented a great development because they consolidated applications onto a single server. VM applications no longer needed a separate server for each to run, resulting in faster server provisioning, improved disaster recovery, and a reduced footprint. 

However, virtual machines do require separate operating system images, which greatly increases the amount of memory that is needed for their functionality. This, in turn, adds a lot of complexity to the software development cycle and limits their portability to the cloud, an increasingly important environment for IT applications. Because of these issues, Data Management professionals have come to embrace containerization for storing and organizing virtual objects.

The increase in remote work has made migrating to the cloud more popular than ever. Companies are increasingly depending on project management software with critical features such as automatic data backup to the cloud for supporting remote teams. Containerization works better in a cloud-based environment because they share an underlying OS. 

Containers are also isolated from other containers, which enhances security and portability. Everything that an application requires to run is wrapped up in a single container, which functions separately yet can be connected through a network. 

Process automation containers are movable among locations and hosting computer hardware. Google’s release of Kubernetes has helped companies organize, manage, and maintain their container inventory, helping with the balance of computer loads in accordance to resource availability. 

What Is Orchestration?

Kubernetes tools facilitate orchestration by improving system resilience. This is achieved by restoring what is known as declarative distributed system configuration. Orchestration also allows users to revert changes, which is crucial if mistakes are made and a reset to an earlier version is needed.

Furthermore, system administrators can avoid dependency issues that surround virtual machines when they use containerized applications. Coordinating many applications on a server machine can be inconvenient, with multiple application dependencies across all applications running on the same server. 

With optimized fault isolation, containers enable developers to identify and isolate any technical issues without affecting the function of other containers. This results in less downtime overall and an easier system maintenance process. This is also better for protecting sensitive data, which is especially a matter of concern for today’s increased remote workforce. 

As those in IT know, minimizing downtime for applications and websites is important. Excessive downtime can delay entire operations and result in lost revenue. As web developer Gary Stevens from Hosting Canada notes, the reliability of your host is determined by a few key factors. 

“Website uptime and downtime determine how reliable a host is,” Stevens says. “These are some of the most important things to consider for any business, as downtime can be a major issue. It looks unprofessional and can be highly detrimental when it comes to your brand … This means that you get advance notice, and a quality host will also try to have that kind of downtime at the most convenient time of the day.”

With more and more businesses moving to the cloud, downtime for maintenance and other IT issues is becoming a thing of the past. Containers bundle dependencies so their applications can run independently from other containerized applications. This greatly cuts down on expenses – in both time and money. 

Although virtual machines allow multiple applications to run on one server, various virtualized OSes and a hypervisor are still needed, all of which need to be updated and managed. Containers greatly streamline and simplify this process and improve cybersecurity for businesses that use them.

Separating Software from Hardware

Separating software from hardware provides a huge advantage for those who embrace virtualization. Process automation practice has evolved as companies and organizations have embraced the cloud environment. In fact, many users of cloud-based services may be using containers and not even realize it. 

Containers can be located on-premise or in the cloud or even be embedded on to devices that live on the asset. Containers have been used in historian, engineering, and analysis-in-the-cloud applications as well as product-registration platforms. Software companies with native cloud-based platforms have supported containers for a while now, leading the way in containerization because they are already compatible with their platform. 

Automation contractors can now devise entire control systems that are virtualized, embracing container technology for their projects. Once built, they can test and verify these systems before downloading them to the local hardware. Containerized software not only allows flexibility but also gives companies the ability to develop applications before they are needed and place them in storage. 

Enabling colleagues to work together remotely on a cloud-based project using a set of VMs has made project pipelines more efficient. Gone are the days of groups of people working on physical machines, many times in remote areas. Delivering a container with the application ready to go eliminates the need for frequent travel or carrying around hard copies of code. 

Conclusion

As technology evolves, so do process automation practices. Now, containerization surpasses traditional embedded system software technology. Embracing container deployment and orchestration software will give a competitive edge to companies looking for more efficient ways to develop and test applications while also keeping data secure and minimizing downtimes. 

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