Manufacturers are facing a wave of technological innovation that is pushing them to advance their digital initiatives or fall behind. Cloud computing is the centerpiece of this transformation as the cloud provides the applications and infrastructure businesses need to take advantage of the data they can collect from across all aspects of operations. The cloud could be the glue that connects isolated IT initiatives across manufacturing, but getting maximum value from the cloud is heavily reliant on strategic infrastructure investments, particularly in the network, to keep up with new demands.
The urgency of the cloud
At its core, cloud computing is an IT democratizer. Cloud services eliminate the high capital costs that have prevented small and mid-sized businesses from keeping pace with their larger counterparts. Smaller manufacturers can leverage cloud apps and services that give them state-of-the-art functionality within a price package based on usage and value, no up-front costs.
"While the cloud is attractive from a financial point of view, it comes with its own challenges."
While the cloud is attractive from a financial point of view, it comes with its own challenges in terms of management, security and supporting technologies. This has given many organizations pause about diving into the cloud space, but those concerns are receding. An IndustryWeek report went so far as to say that manufacturers still asking if the time has come for a cloud migration have already fallen behind. The issue, according to the news source, comes down to a few key points:
- Manufacturing customers are demanding flexibility that has been impossible in the past. As such, manufacturers are facing pressure to deliver accelerated product cycles, more customization and greater adaptability to market demands, all without sacrificing quality.
- Increased pressure for speed and agility is becoming an issue across the entire supply chain, making stronger coordination with partners and between lines of business especially important.
- The rapid pace of change is making data-driven decision-making essential in the sector.
These factors are making cloud adoption urgent, something that was emphasized by Manufacturing Business Technology. The news source pointed out that organizations can't afford to isolate how they measure and deliver quality within specific departments or business units. Instead, they must coordinate data and operations across all segments. Cloud services provide the IT accessibility and functionality needed to achieve this end.
Getting your infrastructure ready for large-scale cloud efforts
There's a good chance you're already dabbling in the cloud. The technology is so common that most businesses have at least one or two apps in place. But the kind of robust cloud effort that drives efficiency and adaptability requires a blend of apps, infrastructure and platforms that can penetrate the entire business. Simply subscribing to quality cloud solutions is only the starting point. Businesses that want to take full advantage of what the technology offers must also:
- Upgrade or optimize their WAN systems to support data-rich cloud applications and handle large quantities of information moving between work locations via the internet.
- Ensure 100 percent network penetration across facilities to provide connectivity regardless of where an employee is working. Wi-Fi is a necessity in most cases, but high shelves, thick walls, machinery and signal-emitting operations technologies can all disrupt Wi-Fi signal strength. It's often best to get specialized help to ensure high-quality signal that can support cloud users without disruption.
- Rework data center network architectures to support more data transit between servers and storage machines, not just out to users, in response to data sharing between cloud apps and internal systems.
- Update industrial Ethernet systems across automation and control networks to handle a wide range of data types that all depend on real-time delivery in zero latency configurations.
- Create multiple network segments to support users and devices of different priority. You don't want an industrial machine to falter due to a dropped data packet because a sensor is sending too much information through the network.
These types of infrastructure updates are critical in fully supporting the cloud. In part, cloud apps simply create new demands that push the boundaries of what traditional networks can handle. However, the cloud also enables new operational strategies, such as increased use of internet of things devices and entry-level artificial intelligence programs, that put even more stress on the network. Don't let these demands intimidate you. Get help. At ICS-Support, we specialize in helping smaller manufactures establish and maintain robust IT systems that enable them to keep up with the competition. Contact us today.