At first glance, the manufacturing industry may not appear as well positioned as other sectors to take full advantage of cloud services such as virtual desktops. Manufacturers tend to have highly complex and customized IT infrastructures that — to a greater degree than those in other industries — are tightly connected to physical factory equipment.
That means manufacturers cannot simply lift-and-shift IT resources into the cloud in the way that companies might in industries where IT infrastructure is not so tightly coupled with factories and other physical infrastructure.
Nonetheless, manufacturers stand to benefit from cloud services just as much as companies that operate in other industries. Indeed, many manufacturers have already made the jump to cloud-centric IT strategies, and those that have not will find it challenging to keep scaling and optimizing their IT estates.
Desktop infrastructure challenges for manufacturers
The typical manufacturing company faces several special challenges related to desktop infrastructure.
One is the need for ultra-reliable and responsive applications on the factory floor. When a PC hosting application that detects defective items within an assembly line goes down for even just a few minutes or takes longer than a second or two to scan items, the consequences can be far-reaching. Allowing defective items to move down the chain places the entire manufacturing operation at risk. To avoid issues like these, manufacturers must achieve levels of uptime and performance that exceed the standards of many other industries.
Integrating data from disparate systems to drive collaboration between stakeholders is another key challenge for manufacturing. To optimize operations, product designers and engineers must have continuous visibility into the state of the shop floor. But given the distributed nature of teams and the desktop infrastructure on which they rely, it can be difficult to design systems that avoid silos and make it easy for all stakeholders to collaborate over a shared platform.
A final major challenge is security. Manufacturers must guarantee the physical security of their IT infrastructure, which can be difficult when that infrastructure is spread across multiple manufacturing sites and cannot be neatly tucked inside a data centre, as it would be in most other industries. At the same time, the highly distributed and heterogeneous nature of manufacturing infrastructure makes it hard to apply across-the-board compliance and security rules to all desktop systems.
How manufacturers are leveraging the cloud
Manufacturers are already turning to the cloud to help meet these and other challenges associated with their IT infrastructure. Worldwide, around two-thirds of enterprises in this industry have adopted public or private cloud platforms of some kind, according to IDC.
The number is lower in India, where cloud adoption within manufacturing stands at around 22 percent. Nonetheless, that figure is expected to more than double over the coming decade.
It is easy to see why manufacturers are turning the cloud in increasing numbers. With SLA promises that routinely exceed 99 percent — and in many cases reach 99.999 percent or higher — public cloud services promise rates of availability that are difficult to match when working with on-premises infrastructure.
At the same time, the unlimited scalability of the cloud ensures that workloads always have the resources they need to work at peak performance and process data quickly, even during periods of unexpectedly high demand.
The cloud also provides a central point of collaboration where all stakeholders can store, view, and share data with each other. Instead of devoting a different IT infrastructure to each team and awkwardly linking them together, manufacturers can leverage the cloud as a single platform that accommodates all IT needs for the business.
Security, too, becomes simpler when companies move away from on-prem infrastructure in favour of cloud services that do not require physical security management, and that also deliver a higher degree of uniformity — thereby making it easier to apply standardized security rules across them.
Use case example: Virtual desktop infrastructure for manufacturing
As an example of the cloud at work within manufacturing, consider a client that Anunta helped to transition away from conventional desktops into hosted virtual desktops. The company, which manufactures consumer products and has hundreds of locations spread across India, was struggling with its previous desktop infrastructure, which suffered downtime rates as high as 10 percent, poor security enforcement and frequent data loss, among other issues.
By moving the manufacturer to virtual desktop infrastructure, Anunta was able to achieve a dramatic improvement in availability, which now exceeds 99 percent. The rate of IT incidents has also dropped by nearly a factor of ten, and security and compliance have been standardized across the company’s desktop infrastructure.
The result is faster and more reliable manufacturing operations, with a much lower risk that problems with desktop infrastructure will disrupt the company’s ability to ensure that all stakeholders in the manufacturing process have access to the applications and data they need, when they need it. Read the complete success story here.
Conclusion: Cloud and the future of manufacturing
It may be unrealistic to expect most manufacturers to move all their infrastructure to the cloud. They will always need some IT resources located at manufacturing sites (which is one reason why hybrid cloud architectures, which allow businesses to combine on-premises resources with cloud services, have grown popular in this sector).
Overall, however, the cloud offers enormous promise to help manufacturers overcome the reliability, performance, security, and other challenges they face from their existing IT systems. Going forward, the cloud is poised to play an ever-greater role in enabling agility and scalability for manufacturing, just as it has across other industries.