Cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) versions of long-used and new industrial software packages have been appearing for a few years now. The pace of such announcements has become almost dizzying recently, leaving one to wonder if all software will be SaaS in the not-too-distant future.
But a complete SaaS approach to industrial software is not being advocated by even its most ardent supporters. At least not yet. The realities of industrial production operations still require a certain level of on-premises software.
The upcoming release of Inductive Automation’s Ignition Cloud Edition shows how industrial software can incorporate cloud-computing aspects yet not be a SaaS product. Ignition Cloud Edition will first be released on AWS on April 3, 2023.
Travis Cox, chief technology evangelist at Inductive Automation, explains that Ignition Cloud Edition, while not being available via SaaS, is a product designed for use in a company’s own cloud infrastructure.
With Ignition Cloud Edition, “we are not hosting Ignition or providing a service,” Cox says. “It is the same as a user installing Ignition on their own and purchasing a license from us. The difference is that users can leverage a pay-as-you-go model and spin it up from AWS or Azure’s marketplace. That licensing model is very common to SaaS offerings, which is why a lot of people get confused about Ignition Cloud Edition being SaaS. Ignition Cloud Edition allows a customer to use an operating expenditure model [rather than a capital expenditure mode] in the cloud, but they are responsible for deploying, configuring, and maintaining the system.”
Why not SaaS?
A key reason for the type of cloud-based deployment model Cox describes is due to Ignition’s design. It is meant to be modified and built upon by the end user, therefore it can’t be effectively supported as a pure SaaS product.
Carl Gould, chief technology officer at Inductive Automation, says, “We think on-premises software is important for control apps, but hybrid environments (on-premises and cloud-based) are good for applications like data storage and compute and access to machine learning models.” Such hybrid applications are what Ignition Cloud is intended for.
At Inductive Automation’s 2022 Ignition Community Conference, Cox told Automation World: “Ignition is meant to be a toolkit that an end-user or integrator uses to build their solution. We want customers to deploy that in their own environment. For the most part, Ignition is deployed on-premises. However, deploying Ignition to the cloud can provide a lot of benefits, especially for providing enterprise dashboards. Ignition Cloud Edition is designed to make it easier to use in the cloud, especially for elastic deployments. If we hosted Ignition in the cloud for the customer, we would just simply be making it easier to spin up Ignition. The customer would still have to build their solution using our designer.”
Gould notes that Ignition Cloud has no direct data acquisition drivers, but cloud connector modules for connectivity with document databases, message queues, and key value stores are available.
Cox adds that other companies, such as 4IR, do provide platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for Ignition. “We highly encourage [customers to work with companies like 4IR] since most customers don’t have cloud expertise. 4IR can ensure best practices for security and compliance with 21 CFR 11 or GAMP.”
Considering the usage parameters that define Ignition Cloud’s use, what are the benefits of using this version of Ignition? According to Dante Augello with Indictive Automation, there are three key reasons:
- Reliability: The cloud is available 24/7 and uses a self-sufficient server infrastructure like the Internet, which means you will not have to worry about physical maintenance, power redundancy, and cooling issues, as these will be handled automatically by the provider.
- Speed and Accessibility: Ignition Cloud Edition will be easily accessible from your cloud infrastructure, won’t require installation, and will work as fast as your internet connection. This means anyone with the login key will be able to leverage its features and data and it will provide access to redundant and/or geographically dispersed data centers.
- Scalability and Cost: If you find that you need more or less computing power than you anticipated, you will be able to scale the infrastructure much more easily than with an on-premises infrastructure, without incurring additional maintenance costs. Acquiring extra storage will be much like buying cloud storage space for a smartphone.
Using Ignition Cloud Edition
To further clarify the purpose of Ignition Cloud Edition, Cox offered four use case examples:
- Extend on-premises installations to aggregate data; build enterprise dashboards; leverage databases for long term storage in the cloud; move data to other cloud services, such as Kafka, MongoDB, AWS IoT SiteWise, Azure Digital Twin; and provide more scalability.
- Deploy a cloud-native application, allowing users to leverage Ignition at the edge to get data to the cloud through MQTT with minimal footprint on-premises. (See case study example below).
- Enable elastic architectures, which allow for auto-scaling such as “spinning up more visualization servers as demand gets higher,” says Cox.
- Leverage the pay-as-you-go model and pay for Ignition through the cloud provider. In this way, users can leverage the money spent with their cloud providers and not have to buy a license from Inductive Automation for deploying Ignition to the cloud.
Ultimate Service Associates (USA) is a provider of generator set maintenance and repair management with clients among the Fortune 500. USA found the use of Ignition Perspective in the cloud via AWS (as noted in point #2 above) helpful in correcting USA’s inability to interface with local and national fleet offices or customers via the third-party monitoring systems USA has been using.
To resolve this issue, USA developed a system that worked across all of its customer accounts. This new remote monitoring system is called Gen+Check.
Dee Brown, principal with Brown Engineers (the system integrator that developed this new system for USA), describes Gen+Check as being an “Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution built on industry standards to make it scalable throughout the country. Key features of the system include security certificates to keep our customers secure and provide the ability to do bi-directional communications for command and control to work on any generator in any location. It’s an incredible platform using cloud-based Ignition with MQTT servers gathering data from the field to get it into the application for monitoring.”
Key technology components of the Gen+Check system include:
- SignalFire Ranger wireless telemetry used to deliver sensor data from the generators to the cloud using MQTT and featuring onboard I/O, cellular LTE-M1, and GPS (for generator location).
- Cirrus Link MQTT Broker via AWS.
- Ignition Perspective via AWS.
Brown says this combination of technologies provides for persistent connection to assets in the field, the ability to report on issues by exception, TLS security certificates, response within two to three 3 seconds, and bi-directional communications for command and control.