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ABB and HPE Forge Partnership to Blend OT/IT

HPE, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, ABB, IT, OT, manufacturing
ABB and Hewlett Packard have joined forces to deliver an OT/IT combination.

ABB and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) have created a partnership that combines ABB’s digital manufacturing system ABB Ability with HPE’s information technology (IT) solutions. The partnership is designed to provide manufacturers with actionable insights from vast amounts of industrial data. The goal is to increase the efficiency and flexibility of manufacturing operations.

Meg Whitman, CEO of HPE; Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB; and Antonio Neri, president of HPE; introduce a joint partnership to blend OT and IT. Phone courtesy of ABB.

The partnership blends ABB’s operations technology (OT) and HPE’s IT capabilities. The companies will deliver combined solutions designed to merge OT and IT in order to turn data into automatic action. The joint solution will combine cloud platforms like Microsoft Azure with IT systems running in corporate data centers and at the edge of the network. The companies will employ a mix of IT platforms to accelerate data processing in industrial plants while also enabling control of industrial processes across multiple locations.

Design News talked with Volkhard Bregulla, VP of Global Manufacturing Industries at HPE, to get the details on the combined OT and IT services.

Design News: As part of the agreement is to overcome OT/IT conflict, I would guess the companies see this as an ongoing problem. Could you characterize the current state of the problem and suggest a potential path forward?

Volkhard Bregulla: Industrial equipment today generates vast amounts of sensor data which all can be of value to optimize operation or create new services – however, currently only a small portion of this data is actually processed and translated into insights or automatic action, e.g. for predictive maintenance or intelligent machine control. There are several reasons for that.

One is mainly technical: Industrial plants often have a great number of different OT systems and different interfaces in their networks, creating high volumes of diverse data, and putting high demands on data acquisition, analytics engines, and networks. This requires specifically designed IT systems which firstly integrate OT and IT functions like data acquisition, analytics, and control based on standard IT technology; and secondly are optimized to run at the edge, i.e. close to the industrial equipment, to deliver the required speed, security and reliability which is required by OT systems. Because transferring the sensor data to remote data centers or clouds costs too much time (latency), is too unsecure and unreliable – and there is simply not enough bandwidth to do that.

Another main reason why many industrial customers don’t capture the value of their industrial data is a lack of combined OT/IT expertise. We recently did a survey among 350 managers in industrial companies where we asked what the biggest obstacles are for being successful with Industrial IoT. And most managers ranked “lack of qualified staff” as their number one obstacle. This is because converged OT/IT solutions require new technology architectures, new processes, new management procedures for which many companies don’t have the skills yet.

Solving those two problems – with regards to technology and expertise – is exactly the rationale of the ABB/HPE partnership. Two of the leading OT and IT companies join forces to create the technology solutions and provide the expertise required to capture the value of industrial data and create intelligent plants to drive efficiency, flexibility, and innovation.

DN: With massive amounts of data coming off the plant floor now that IoT systems and inexpensive sensors are gathering so much data, I would guess HPE would offer expertise both in processing and perhaps determining what data is important. Is that part of the reason HPE is involved?

VB: One of HPE’s contributions in the partnership with ABB is to provide hybrid IT platforms which enable customers to choose the location where they run their ABB Ability solutions – based on requirements like performance, speed, security, compliance, or cross-site collaboration.

For example, an oil and gas company might want to deploy an ABB Ability condition monitoring solution on an IT system which is running in a secure edge datacenter on an oil rig in order to be able to analyze more and richer datasets to increase the accuracy and reliability of predictions. But at the same time, that customer has to transfer selected analysis results to his core data center or the cloud to enable intelligent planning of on-site maintenance schedules across several oil rigs. Hybrid IT platforms enable that choice, but also enable the consistency of applications and data across locations.

Designing, implementing and servicing such solutions is a joint approach of ABB and HPE as it requires domain expertise both on the vertical OT side and the IT side.

DN: Create deep insights and automatic action from industrial data – Is this a matter of keeping the processing down at the edge, on the machine level? Would HPE be offering greater processes power without having to run data back to the server?

VB: HPE offers enterprise-grade systems specifically designed to do data acquisition, analysis and control at the edge, including on the factory floor or on an oil rig. This includes the secure edge data center developed jointly with ABB and Rittal (a self-contained mini-datacenter specifically designed to run in harsh industrial environments); the Express App Platform – Manufacturing (a system optimized to run applications like MES on the factory floor); or HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems (enterprise-grade edge systems).

These systems are designed to run the complete circuit of data acquisition, analysis and control without involving remote datacenters or clouds – avoiding the latency, security and reliability problems involved with data communications to/from remote locations.

However, it’s equally important to communicate selected analysis results (not the raw data) to the core datacenters and clouds – for a range of reasons: e.g. to do correlation analysis between different sites, to do deep learning, or to coordinate processes between sites or across the supply chain.

This means, digital industrial solutions have to be hybrid, i.e. they have to integrate from edge to core to cloud.

DN: Explain what it means to have secure edge data centers? Is edge a matter of processing machine data on the manufacturing line? And by “secure,” does this involve additional layers of security at the machine level?

VB: Firstly, secure means avoiding to send vast amounts of data across the network by doing data processing on site. Because sending data to remote locations always opens attack vectors for cybercriminals.

The other meaning of secure is the protection of the data center against environmental influences like humidity, dust, or fire; and against failure of power or cooling systems. E.g. the secure edge data center features uninterruptible power supply and high redundancy for a fail-safe power supply of the rack; early fire detection including smoke extraction system; and automated extinguishing of fire in the IT rack.

Finally, secure means the IT security which comes with the embedded HPE systems, this can include Firmware protection, proactive network access control including policy management, device discovery and closed-loop, policy-based attack response; and behavioral analytics.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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