Automation services from the cloud
New trends in process control systems feature the application of new ICT technologies and an emerging
architecture for automation systems based on web technologies. The architecture is designated as a Web-
Oriented Automation System (WOAS), following the approach of a web-oriented architecture (WOA) familiar
from IT. Reinhard Langmann explains how the WOAS architecture allows the transfer of principles and
methods from the standardized world of Internet technologies to the world of industrial automation.
In a cloud-based platform for building automation developed by Digi International, sensors and actuators are integrated as
embedded systems (M2M devices). The cloud infrastructure provides remote device management and cloud-based information
exchange with integral SCADA functions.
FROST & SULLIVAN'S 2012 study predicting
cloud computing will go mainstream essentially
envisages five different megatrends
for the factory of the future: cyber security,
mobile and wireless technology, companyspecific
ecosystems, cloud computing and
Emphasis on the product portfolio of
industrial automation is expected to decline
over the next few years. In contrast, the
requirement for globalized service & support
is set to gain importance, together with the
cost factors. The introduction of secure cloud
computing technology enables access to
relevant strategic data via the Internet, which
can be used to make decisions in real time as
well as boost the operational efficiency.
The classic automation hierarchy is increasingly
becoming transformed into a flat
automation cloud where two new technologies/
paradigms are used: service-oriented
architectures (SOA) and agent technology.
Both strategies provide the option of creating
uniform interfaces while allowing collaboration
from the field to enterprise levels. This
means a high and cost-efficient throughput
can continue to be generated despite rising
individuality, complexity and quality.
The trend towards a spatial and functional
distribution of automation functions is by no
means new. Solutions up until now have always
focused on proprietary solutions specialized
in automation technology, which nevertheless
met with little success owing to their
complexity and inadequate industrial support
(e.g. CORBA). It was not until the new and
standardized IT-technologies based primarily on the Web/Internet that the prerequisites for
a spatially unlimited distribution of functions/
services were establishing, these now also of
interest to automation technology.
Comparison chart shows the essential features of a standard web-based SCADA/DCS system in contrast with a system based
on the WOAS architecture.
This trend will have a rapid and significant
effect on process control technology which
by its very nature involves superordinate and
coordinating automation functions, and is
already associated with scheduling and distributional
tasks. Moreover, functions of the
control level tend to have a "soft" real-time
performance that can be realized with modern
web technologies (operating & monitoring,
data analysis etc.)
Services from the cloud
Cloud computing is the provision of jointly
usable and flexibly scalable IT services using
IT resources via networks. Typical features
are provision in real time as a self-service
based on Internet technologies and charges
according to use. Cloud computing enables
users to redistribute from investment to
operational expense, while paving the way
for completely new business models and their
The classic automation hierarchy is increasingly becoming a flat automation cloud incorporating service-oriented architectures (SOA) and agent technology.
Services from the cloud are divided into
Applications as a service (software as a service
- SaaS): Examples here are Google Apps and
Microsoft Online Service. Hardly any applications
are so far available for tasks involving
process control technology.
Technical frameworks as a service (platform
as a Service - PaaS): The Google App Engine
and the Microsoft Azur Service are examples
of this. The first examples are also apparent
in the area of M2M communication mainly for
building automation with (iDigi).
IT-based infrastructure or hardware
components as a service (infrastructure as a
Service - IaaS): Examples of this can be seen in
Amazon EC2 as well as the MS Windows Azure
platform. The first automation technology
applications typically use the MS Windows
Azure platform such as the data evaluation of
a wind farm with Beckhoff controls.
From function to automation service
Service-oriented architectures (SOA) that
implement the automation functions of
devices and systems are required for the
use of cloud services in automation. A
number of effective approaches are already
being researched in Europe. These include
SOCRADES, which examines the use of web
services and SOA below the management
level. The system looks at integration of web
services in automation devices and implementation
with DPWS (Device Profile for Web
Services) and OPC UA.
A second example is IMC-AESOP which is
potentially an SOA-based solution for the next
generation of SCADA/DCS systems targeting
large distributed automation applications.
Plus, there are also major endeavours to find
solutions for the use of service-based cloud
structures for control technology and processoriented
areas in the field of patent law. These
include the following solutions:
Method for the development of a multi-agent
system: SOA in automation technology; devices
provide their services among one another
(2009, Schneider Electric Automation).
Cloud computing for an industrial automation
and manufacturing system: A client is able to
determine whether a process is suitable for
outsourcing to a cloud and whether it can
perform this outsourcing (2009, Honeywell).
Method for the integration of at least one
field unit in an automation technology network:
Integration of any automation devices by
creating a virtual map and utilization of the
cloud computing (2010, Endress+Hauser)
In particular, cloud utilization as PaaS is
currently already being applied in building
automation. Here sensors and actuators
are integrated as embedded systems (M2M
devices) in a cloud infrastructure for remote
device management and cloud-based information
exchange with integral SCADA
However, all previous available solutions and
approaches do not consistently utilize modern
web technologies and enable hardly any
cloud applications as services for automation
solutions (SaaS). Moreover, these systems
have the following further drawbacks.
The devices are not integrated via industry
standard interfaces such as OPC. Additional
and expensive hardware adapters are usually
required as an M2M interface. The cloud
platform is proprietary, being operated exclusively
by the provider and providing only
the services made available by the latter. An
extendibility to and/or integration of third
party service providers is not envisaged.
All process data of users is located at the
provider (often abroad), who is responsible
for its administration. The service charges
are generally flat rate for use of the platform
or according to the number of integrated
customer devices. Automation services cannot
be charged specifically.
Basics of the WOAS architecture.
Component structure of the WOAS kernel.
The WOAS project
Taking the state of the art as a starting
point, ten automation companies were
involved in the proposal to research an application-
oriented, "lean" and open architecture
for an automation system that utilizes cloudbased
web technologies consistently while
providing a well-defined structure as a model
for a flexible implementation. The project
entitled WOAS (Architecture and Interfaces for
a Web-oriented Automation System) is funded
by the BMWi (German ministry of economics)
as an Industrial Joint Research project (IGF)
with term of 2.5 years from September 2011.
The aim of the WOAS project is to research a
new architecture for automation systems based
on web technologies. The WOAS architecture
allows the principles and methods from the
standardized world of Internet technologies
to be transferred into the world of industrial
automation in a systematic and structured
manner. A WOAS consists of a WOAS kernel as
well as a configurable number of web-oriented
automation services (WOAD) that implement
the required automation functions.
As a further objective, new business models
are to be researched, which enable an efficient
use of distributed automation functions based
on the WOAS service structure.
Within the principle structure of a WOAS,
the automation system is created free from
an XML design specification (SK = system
kernel) in the web browser, and the SCADA/
DCS automation functions (AF) are used as
automation services (AS) via a WOAS cloud
for a set price. The real time AF are running
as always in the hardware-based field system
(such as a PLC). The field systems (devices) are
connected via standard industrial interfaces.
All elements of a WOAS including the engineering
system (WOS creator) can be accessed
via the web.
The following further results or properties
of a WOAS are aimed for in the project. This
includes development of a system kernel
that can be dynamically generated as an XML
design specification for an automation system
with well-defined interfaces.
Other goals are the combination of cloud
technology with SOA-based automation
services, development of a clearing system for
charging for fine-grained services according to the SaaS principle and integration of
mash-up technologies (Web 2.0) in a hybrid
service structure (connection of a server-based
structure with a web-oriented structure).
A final group of objectives includes
examining the security of hybrid cloud
solutions (public cloud/private cloud) for
rights matching, authorization and access
protection; integration of standard field
systems via standard protocols (OPC DA, OPC
UA, MODBUS without integrated web service);
and use of automation services of different
providers in a WOAS using open interfaces.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Reinhard Langmann, FH
Düsseldorf, Competence Center Automation
FH Düsseldorf, Competence Center Automation Düsseldorf