Precisely twenty-one years ago, then Amazon Chief of Staff, Andy Jassy, discovered that Amazon wasn’t running as smoothly as the company needed to run. He found that when the executive team expected a project to take three months, what happened was that it took three months to build the software tools and servers needed for the project. Then it took another three months actually to execute the project.
What was the culprit? He discovered that developers were always building IT infrastructure from the ground up for every project. They did this without paying much attention to future scaling or further use. The solution? Amazon implemented a series of interoperable APIs that allowed the developers to work on pre-existing IT infrastructure.
Developers no longer needed to build IT infrastructure from scratch. Amazon already had the hardware and related tools. Developers are just required to deploy code to make things work.
It didn’t take a while for Amazon to realize that other companies also did if they had this problem. This was how AWS, and modern cloud computing, was born. Since then, Cloud computing has taken the world by storm. Fast forward 20 years, and 91% of companies are making use of cloud services in one form or the other.
If you’re interested in fully integrating your manufacturing operation with industry 4.0, harnessing the power of cloud computing is essential. At the end of this article, you’ll have a fair grasp of what cloud computing is and how it can make your goals of being a smart factory a reality.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing essentially means that a company with many servers and pre-built IT infrastructure rents it out to other businesses over the internet.
To use a simple analogy. Most people are personally capable of delivering a parcel to their recipient. But, this means that you have to wrap up the package, fuel your car, and take the package to your intended recipient.
Now, this is quite time-consuming and relatively expensive. Instead of doing this, you pay FedEx, which already has the infrastructure, to deliver your parcel for you.
That is essentially what cloud computing is but for IT infrastructure.
Instead of your company building out its own IT infrastructure, it can rent out IT infrastructure from a cloud computing provider and only pay as you use the provider’s infrastructure. If you have no immediate need for the computing infrastructure, you can suspend payment till you need it.
There are essentially three categories of cloud computing services. They are:
#1 Infrastructure as a Service
Infrastructure as a Service is the foundational cloud computing service. With infrastructure as a service, your factory rents out the bare bones of IT infrastructure. These include physical or virtual servers, storage, and networking facilities.
It is not the complete set of IT tools, as you need to set up the server environment and make some other adjustments. However, it is the desired option if you want to create a custom IT environment for your business.
You can use infrastructure as a Service for testing multiple Operating Systems, hosting custom websites, or processing big data.
The pricing for infrastructure as a service is usually pay-as-you-go. This means that you can add to or reduce the amount of infrastructure you need on the go and as occasion demands.
#2 Platform as a Service
The next layer of cloud computing is Platform as a Service. This is infrastructure as a service, but with additional tools and software that lets developers deploy code to build apps.
Companies use Platform as a Service if they want to build an app and don’t want to have to deal with the upfront costs of buying servers and maintaining the entire IT stack.
For instance, if you want to develop software to help with inventory management in your factory, you can quickly build it using the Platform as a Service layer of a cloud computing provider.
#3 Software as a Service
Software as a Service is the most popular cloud computing service known to most people and businesses. Software as a Service is a user-facing application that lets users do a specific task. It doesn’t let you change the code or develop tools on it.
A typical example of software as a service is Google Drive. Instead of storing your factory’s documents on a hard drive at the factory, you can rent disk space from Google and use it to store your files.
Software as a Service is the model software companies use to monetize their product. Before cloud computing, software companies had to depend on licensing. This means that to use software, you had to install it on your computer. With Software as a Service, you can do this online, and the company charges a fee for renting their infrastructure.
Why Cloud Computing?
So, now that you have a fair idea of what cloud computing entails, why should you use cloud computing? What advantages can your factory get from cloud computing?
Well, the thing is, one way or the other, you’re already making use of cloud computing either as an individual or a company. If you enjoy using email or Google Drive, then you have one reason to use cloud computing.
These are other advantages of using cloud computing:
#1. Avoid upfront capital expenditure
With cloud computing, there is no need for you to buy or maintain your server infrastructure. In essence, you transfer budget items from capital expenses to operating expenses, as you regularly pay for the tools on an as-needed basis. You also don’t have to worry about disposing of old hardware or outdated software.
#2 Leave it to the Experts
Maintaining IT infrastructure is no small feat. Instead of hiring extra IT specialists to deal with tasks like maintaining your servers, you can leave it to the experts at the cloud computing company, who already have experience, to deal with the rough work of maintenance. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
#3 Test Projects Easily
With cloud computing, you can test projects on the go. You don’t have to worry about purchasing hardware to run a project and waste the hardware if the project ends up not scaling. With cloud computing, you rent the hardware and test the project. If it is successful, you can quickly scale it by requesting more computing resources.
#4 Easily Handle Usage Variations
Your factory may have peak and trough periods. With cloud computing, you can rent infrastructure during peak periods to meet up with demand. When the peak period has subsided, you reduce or suspend the cloud computing resources you require. That way, you don’t have wasted hardware lying about during periods of low demand.