For industrial or commercial facility managers, legacy control and network infrastructure is a fact of life. They are hesitant to make technology changes mostly due to the costs, perceived risks and downtime associated with a “rip and replace” option. To overcome delays in their sales, business process or project orders; OEMs and System Integrators (SIs) have started to offer network migration as a “less preferred but more cost effective” option in the marketplace. But is the relegation of migration to a lower tier justified? Or does it have a rightful place among future-proofed business strategies on its own right?
To investigate further, let’s look at construction as an everyday example. Most houses and office buildings are older, containing legacy plumbing, piping, HVAC and lighting infrastructure. If the response to a request for modernizing the facility is a total bulldozing and construction of a new structure, it would not make sense. In fact, upgrade of selected older subsystems such as windows, HVAC or lighting, and a path to migrating the building over time to one that is modern and energy efficient is a cornerstone of the business.
Migration is not only a meaningful strategy for network infrastructure, but most times it may be the only one feasible. First, the cost differential between high bandwidth IP enabled network and control equipment can be many multiples of their traditional serial communication counterpart. Further, the cost and risks involved in replacing legacy wiring infrastructure with structured cabling can be difficult and involve significant labor costs. Third, the technical proficiency available in-house for service and support may be ill-equipped, unmatched or inadequate for the new technology in consideration. And finally, there is downtime in a critical-mission infrastructure.
A primary reason why OEMs and SIs do not think of migration as part of a business strategy may be because they do not need take a holistic view of the customer’s problem.
Migration can provide options for the customer to develop the kind of balance between CapEx and OpEx that is most meaningful for their business. Further, it gives them a reasonable transition time for training so that their in-house people can be gradually exposed to increasing network technology complexity over time. Lastly, there is significant flexibility in scheduling the downtime necessary for upgrade projects to be completed.
With the correct strategy, when migration is completed, performance and reliability of the upgraded infrastructure should be virtually indistinguishable from that with rip and replace.
Dr. Venkat Shastri is a world-recognized leader in the fields of intelligent automation, control and robotics. As the Chief Industry Advisor at PCN Technology, he ensures that the company and its customers operate with the most up-to-date industry advances, trends and overall market knowledge as it relates to industrial automation and control technologies and applications. Prior to joining PCN, Dr. Shastri held positions at KLA-Tencor, Stanford Research International (SRI), and as Senior Engineer for the Mars Pathfinder project and Senior Research Scientist at Yale University, among others. Dr. Shastri received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering, and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.