Wednesday, September 3, 2008

SCADA cyber security

Wurldtech is all about SCADA security - I'm pretty sure their labs released the Wonderware and Citect exploits. They have a vulnerability database called Achilles Delphi. Not to mention their very cool looking Satellite test device.

Google Chrome

Google just released a Beta version of their browser - Chrome. Never thought I'd drop Firefox so quickly. First day and it seems killer. 

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wonderware selects Kepware as endorsed partner for expanding device communications offerings

Wonderware selects Kepware as endorsed partner for expanding device communications offerings. They're offering a branded version of KepServer Ex as "Kepware for Wonderware".

This move leads me to wonder if Kepware plans on supporting Archestra or if Wonderware made the intelligent decision of "3rd partnering" OPC connectivity. The latter makes sense since Kepware supports such a wide variety of devices, and, frankly, is so much better at device drivers than Wonderware.

Rockwell did it, why not Wonderware. I'm a fan of collaboration and standardization. Sounds good to me.

Java VM on way for the iPhone

Su-weet! You know what this means!? FactoryPMI on an iPhone or iTouch. What a cool idea! Unfortunately, they're currently only developing the ME (Micro Edition), which may only contain a subset of the necessary JVM.

It's good to see this level of commitment from Sun. Java is moving forward without support from Apple in this arena. It reinforces the applicability that Java is powerful on the cutting edge in the client/UI arena, not just with Servers/web applications!

update - Walt Boyes is talking about an SPC application for the IPhone on his blog.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Political Campaign Video

Couldn't believe that I followed the link on a forum post. This video equitably knocks everyone, and it's damned funny.

Remember to vote in November!

Free AB Linux data logger

WebDock has been running a highly capable Linux version (60k transactions/min) in a plant since 2000. It works with Allen Bradley Ethernet PLC 5s and SLCs. I haven't had a chance to try it, so I'd appreciate, and will update this post with, feedback. Be warned, of course, that you get no promises, support, etc. That said, awesome! Maybe someone will put the project on Slashdot and get it moving!

Product Page
Download link post

Dell Serious About Ubuntu: Launches First Consumer Linux PCs

From Toms Hardware News. Pretty self explanatory.

As an aside, you get real *interesting results doing a Google image search for Ubuntu Linux - crazy Hot European Computer geek chicks ;-). Link on a blog post covering it (may not want to click at work or with children or the wife around).,5932.html

What does it take to get a PC with XP?

Industrial software users always seem to dependent on old operating systems. Browse the PLC forums and you'll quickly realize everyone's asking about XP and complaining about Vista. This article provides good info on the Major PC vendor's stances on shipping machines pre-installed with XP.;1496591483

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Top 20 OPC Questions Asked By Integrators

Sign up for a free, vendor-neutral webinar on the Top 20 OPC questions for integrators and end users presented by representatives from: Kepware, Software Toolbox, and the OPC Training Institute.

From the OPC Training Institute web page:

Join the session to get insight into some of the following issues:

  1. When should I consider using an OPC Tunneling product?
  2. Can OPC UA (Unified Architecture) be used on non-Windows Operating Systems?
  3. What are the security holes when working with OPC?
  4. Why can I not see OPC Servers when ‘browsing’?
  5. How many OPC servers can I install on a single PC?
  6. What is OpcEnum and why do I need it?
  7. My OPC application cannot connect to an OPC server. Why?
  8. In light of the OPC UA (Unified Architecture) specification, should I avoid OPC servers based on the DA (Data Access) specification?
  9. Can I run an OPC Server as a Windows service and what would be the benefits?
  10. Why do I get DCOM error 0x80040202 when my OPC application fails to receive a callback from an OPC server?
  11. What is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous reads?
  12. What ports does DCOM use?
  13. What is the OPC Interoperability session?
  14. What is the OPC Subscription feature and when would I use it?
  15. Why can I not ‘browse’ an OPC Server?
  16. Where does OPC get its timestamp from?
  17. How do I know when my OPC Server has lost its connection with the PLC?
  18. How fast can an OPC Server transfer values?
  19. Will OPC work across a firewall?
  20. What is OPC self certification?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

IT Blogger touches SCADA

It's interesting to see the shift from nobody knowing what SCADA is to the emphasis of security in the space. IT Blogger Matt Hines comments on SCADA vulnerabilities and tips on keep SCADA systems safe. It's pretty obvious that he has no industrial/controls experience, but his tips and points are sound. These systems are no longer proprietary and often touch public networks. It's time we apply the standard security practices used by corporations and the military to defend our assets from cyber-crime. Chances are if you're reading this blog you have a good idea of the disconnect here.

Java and the future of SCADA systems

Web based, web launched, AJAX, Java, OPC UA - these terms are commonly thrown around along with HMI, SCADA, and even DCS these days. What's the big deal? More importantly, what's the point and what does it mean for you? The common thread is ubiquity. Yes, I'll say it again, ubiquity. I don't know why there's not a more common word with the same meaning - to be, or appear to be, everywhere at once. It's the perfect word to describe the Internet. So when somebody says, "Web based", think, "That means I can access it anywhere". That means it's firewall and VPN friendly. Nobody said anything about web browsers, static HTML, http, or the likes! Web applications, particularly Java and Macromedia Flash, run and feel just like local applications. They support multimedia, run constantly, and can initiate and receive updates without "refreshing". They're locally running programs with the huge benefit of not requiring a traditional "installation" process!

So where does SCADA come in? An important aspect of a modern SCADA system is to be able to get detailed realtime and historical process information. For most production managers, this is the most important data for their day to day work. It's like checking stock quotes - a 30 second glance should give you an accurate summary and a warm fuzzy feeling that you know what's going on. If something demands action you want to know. How much sense does it make to go to your stock broker every time you want a quick update? Should you fly out to Wall Street? No, it's valuable for you to be able to easily pull this up from your office desk, or home. What does this have to do with SCADA? Same principal applies. Who wants to go to the control room or plant floor every half hour? Ideally, you should get a portal or summary page that provides a high level summary with reports. The idea is that you have access to the same underlying data, but formatted as useful information to you.

What actually happens in an organization that provides "frictionless" data access to their core process is that everyone comes up with separate requirements. QA wants summaries, management gets reports, maintenance looks at long term statistics, etc. All that it really takes is a system that can be run anywhere and easily expanded - "easily" referring to without additional licensing pain.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Say it like it is, Hoff!

Hoff's one smart dude when it comes to computer and network security - truly top notch. The context of this commentary was his field, but it's scary how spot on he is with respect to Industrial Automation software - particularly the early stages of FactorySQL and FactoryPMI. Sigh...

Ah, the innovator's dilemma...

If you have a product that well and truly does X, Y and Z, where X is a feature that conforms and fits into a defined category but Y and Z -- while truly differentiating and powerful -- do not, you're forced to focus on, develop around and hype X, label your product as being X, and not invest as much in Y and Z.

If you miss the market timing and can't afford to schmooze effectively and don't look forward enough with a business model that allows for flexibility, you may make the world's best X, but when X commoditizes and Y and Z are now the hottest "new" square, chances are you won't matter anymore, even if you've had it for years.

The product managers, marketing directors and salesfolk are forced to fit a product within an analyst's arbitrary product definition or risk not getting traction, miss competitive analysis/comparisons or even get funding; ever try to convince a VC that they should fund you when you're the "only one" in the space and there's no analyst recognition of a "market?"


A vendor's excellent solution can simply wither and die on the vine in a battle of market definition attrition because the vendor is forced to conform and neuter a product in order to make a buck and can't actually differentiate or focus on the things that truly make it a better solution.

Who wins here?

Not the vendors. Not the customers. The analysts do.

The vendor pays them a shitload of kowtowing and money for the privilege to show up in a box so they get recognized -- and not necessarily for the things that truly matter -- until the same analyst changes his/her mind and recognizes that perhaps Y and Z are "real" or creates category W, and the vicious cycle starts anew.

So while you're a vendor struggling to make a great solution or a customer trying to solve real business problems, who watches the watchers?


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Opto 22 leveraging web 2.0

Walt reports on Opto22 utilizing web videos "optovideos" and other web technology user education.

Superconductors in commercial power

Pretty cool article about using superconductors for commercial power. In a nutshell, superconductors are materials that have a zero electrical resistance below a threshold temperature. These particular "warm" cables have to be maintained between 65-75 K, which is still pretty cold. Electrical current can flow indefinately without a power source meaning that you don't "lose" any power during transmission (i squared r loss). From a practical perspective in the energy industry, this technology allows great amounts of power to be transferred over physically small lines. Also beneficial for safety, is the fact that superconducting properties are quickly lost during "fault circuits" - reminds me of built in nuclear reactor safety mechanisms where the system can't function when it goes to a certain range out of spec.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Top Ten Worst Uses for Windows

This Top Ten Worst Uses for Windows article is an interesting read. It shows the general outlook on control software that you're going to get from IT geeks - and a part of me totally agrees. I think that the author, while experienced in computer security, has absolutely no idea what he's talking about with the majority of his ten topics. It's about like waking up one morning and going to Asia, then reporting on how odd it is that everyone uses chopsticks. How dare they when metals exist - diners should simply cast a fork.

There are merits to his examples, but he's totally oblivious to the problems and available tools.

Microsoft to end OEM licensing for Windows 3.11 in 4 months

Is this going to be a problem for anyone? LOL

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Linux for housewives. XP for geeks

ZDNet article on shifting Linux demographics. (substitute "server" with "sub-$300 PC")

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Google Format

Google recently released their proprietary storage format, Protocol Buffers, to the Open Source Community. It's a platform independent format to serialize (programmatically store/encode) data and objects. The big advantage is that it is fast and tight - at least an order of magnitude over XML (Extensible Markup Language), which often seems to be touted as the magic bullet. The truth is that, like everything else, there are strengths and weaknesses to each - it really depends on your application. Need to be human readable - go XML. Don't know who you'll be talking to on the distant end - XML. But if you want to use a small, fast format for large data transfers, Protocol Buffers may be for you!
I'm not sure how I feel about this one. On one hand new formats and technologies are beneficial, particularly open source ones like this. On the other, standardization is king. "Don't reinvent the wheel" seems particularly relevant here. Ultimately, it's unlikely that you'll ever deal with this directly. Hopefully you reap the benefits inside an application that you didn't even realize was using the technology!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Business is booming for Wonderware

Wonderware hired another 200 employees this year for a total of around 500. I'm no expert, but this still seems "small" for a software company and big for "nitch" software. They're developing and marketing toward specific industries and growing worldwide. They're fighting for legitimacy in the "Enterprise", even while companies like their "partner" SAP tries to compete directly, and powering the olympics. They even recently started selling Panelview style hardware to run Intouch 10 on. Great job from the leading SCADA company.

Read more here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

OPC UA Coming to life!

Lots more OPC UA buzz - looks like it'll be really materializing soon - hopefully later this year. I personally can't wait! Remember, Iconics and Kepware already pledged to bring an end to end UA solution soon.

Edit - more contributions pointed out by Eric Murphy of Matrikon OPC portal

Another SCADA security vulnerability

What a great day - another SCADA security vulnerability uncovered! I don't want to see any industrial software fail, but I know the nitch products were written in a vacuum without security in mind. HMI packages are buggy and susceptible to attack - particularly the older ones still in use! We need to get over it, confront the issue, and fix it! Hopefully vendors have the integrity to self-test and release patches on their own, but this won't solve the problem. A developer simply can't find all of his own bugs in a test environment. The more computer security research groups start looking into these "little" but significant applications the better.

This time it was Citect, Wonderware had the last one. SCADA vendors be ready - you're next! That's you: Rockwell, GE, and Inductive Automation!

Friday, June 13, 2008

FireFox Download Day announced

Tuesday, 17JUN is Download Day (FireFox 3 if you havn't been paying attention)! Check out a graphical world pledge map here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rockwell Automation selects Matrikon OPC for FactoryTalk Suite

Press release from Matrikon and Rockwell Automation submitted to

It looks like Rockwell is finally learning not to try to reinvent the wheel with every product (ie homecooked remote DCOM via RSLinx Gateway) in favor of getting professional support from those that know best. Customers will be getting the benefit of OPC Tunneller (very important now for most remote cases, they could have already used but probably didn't know it, should become obsolete with OPC UA). They also get the benefit of various DCS, telemetry, and PLC drivers. I'm not sure what "IT" drivers are but it sounds good. New (and highly promoted) are building automation drivers such as: BACnet, Johnson Controls, and LonWorks, which is a welcome natural fit to HMI and SCADA systems.

I believe Rockwell has been working with Kepware's KepServer EX for RSView. Correct me if I'm wrong - I don't think it would help with programming tools (read RSLogix) or the FactoryTalk versions of their software (read RSView SE series).

It's nice to see more collaboration between industrial software companies.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The significance of updates

Software updates - What a sticky topic! Do you pay? Are they free? How frequently should you install them? Should they be installed automatically? In some cases you find yourself vulnerable to exploits by not upgrading. In this case, you might "brick" your home router. Yes, we're talking about Windows XP Service Pack 3. Changes to the network stack manage to send Billion "BiPAC 5200-series routers to go into a constant crash and reboot cycle".

Here's my take. In general, it's good practice to stay updated. I'd hold off on critical systems, especially in closed environments (not on the Internet). For those cases you might consider a policy of first upgrading a test environment. At the very least, schedule upgrades during times that will minimize downtime impact. And - have a backup!

The power of the people

I find myself frequently trying to convince industrial professionals to be active in their communities! Besides trade shows, I'm referring to forums. Specifically, MrPLC and PLCTalk. If you're not registered, go there! If you're not active - post a few. Try it, it's addictive!

In this case a member got a little voting help for a free home makeover. His place looked pretty bad and he deserved it, but it was the PLCTalk folks that made it happen.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Building Automation and OPC

An interview with Tom Burke of the OPC Foundation and Sean Leonard of Matrikon.

The interesting thing to me is how similar building automation is to industrial automation, yet how "stove piped" their respective products have been. Even the protocols, Leonard mentions "BACnet, Johnson Controls, and LonWorks", are totally different.

The interview rolls the grandiose OPC UA ambition into our sister industries, in addition to the direction you're used to, "up", namely Enterprise Integration. It focuses on OPC campaigning, providing interesting insight on what The Foundation is focusing on.

Good to see things moving forward. Early OPC UA buy in is going to be important.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Do your part!

Mozilla aims to set a one day world Download record with the official release of Firefox 3. The date isn't set, but you can sign up to pledge to download it on day one here. I for one, love Firefox and have been running the beta for some time now.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

SCADA Security unnoticed

Core Security released an advisory on a Denial of Service attack where an unauthenticated user can take down a Wonderware system running Suitelink with a malformed packet. This was first brought to Wonderware's attention at the end of January. They acknowledged the bug by late March and provided a fix by late April. The advisory published in June.

Is it just me? A lot of people talk the talk about how important stability is with industrial control software. But nobody really cares. Trivial bugs (by comparison) get much more press. Could you imagine if a simple program could send a packet to crash a Windows server application? The press would go nuts! By Wonderware's account, they've sold 500 thousand copies that are running in 100,000 plants worldwide in virtually every industry. These plants are not all on closed networks! Good thing terrorists don't have access to Google, like I do.

Besides not wanting to share details with the public and not recognizing the problem in a timely manner, Wonderware did their part. It's a learning process that will hopefully go more smoothly next time. What astounds me is the fact that you don't see or hear about this except in a few very specific sites and blogs. I bet there will be a significant percentage of vulnerable systems several years from now - a combination of the weak promulgation of information and the reluctance of industrial users to upgrade unless forced. The latter caused by vendors releasing patches that haven't been adequately QA'd. This is one point where Inductive Automation is ahead of the power curve. Since FactorySQL and FactoryPMI upgrades nearly always come with free feature additions, IA users have created a culture of frequently upgrading their software.

But I digress. SCADA security is a huge bomb waiting to go off. There's a little talk on the subject, but the industry fails to take it seriously. I hope we can figure things out before the next 9/11 forces government intervention - how would you like your plant to operation like an airport? I'd like to think that level of regulation is unnecessary. We should each do our part in tightening down industrial security.

Inductive Automation Videos

Between traveling to New Zealand and Japan I've been pretty busy. I'll try to keep up with small blog posts. I've had lots of great ideas that haven't come to fruition.

I've been working on training videos for Inductive Automation. I'd love to hear your feedback. Once I finish a few more basic series I'll be taking requests.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Some OPC UA links

Great insight on the transition and future of OPC-UA from John Weber and Nathan Pocock of Software Toolbox. I hope he's wrong about the slow death of DCOM, but I wouldn't put a wager on it!

OPC-UA vendor perspective from Tom Burke of the OPC Foundation. It's a rather high level vision description of the architecture and commitment of the foundation. You're the man, Tom!

There are other good links. They came from here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Linux obsession on the forums

Lately the usual PLC forums have been unusually chatty about Linux. Perhaps it's the recent Windows update that installed the new version of the .NET Frameworks 2.0, the trend toward Open Office and Star Office, or the successful home experimentation with Ubuntu and Fedora. There's also been more complaints than ever about the complicated and equally crappy DCOM basis of OPC, which gets (probably unfairly) pinned on Microsoft. The OPC Foundation gets to be the knight in shining armor with UA. General users are correctly getting the sense that configuration, specifically security, need not be complicated and that getting rid of the old also brings the freedom ditching the entire (Windows) platform.

The consensus seems to be that programming software will remain Windows based for some time. Until users put the pressure on - and they're complaining, but not applying diddly-squat, nothing will change in that area. So it's a 90% solution - control systems can be chosen on a platform independent decision, but integrators will still be running around with Windows laptops to program the PLCs. That doesn't bother me too much. First, they break the things every couple of years - about as often as Windows seems to fail. Second, there's always virtualization, which has been getting easier and cooler over time.

I welcome the simplicity of the newer Linux build frondends and their (always) powerful backend. I remember when the thrill of playing with a new Linux system came to an abrupt halt when you realized that your devices weren't supported and the user interface sucked! It's great to see "normal users" have such a positive experience with installing such a new, foreign, system. If only they knew the complexity of the innards! Thank god they don't - they're users.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Red Team strikes!

Talk about an eye-opening experience! We invited a Red Team to do penetration testing on our network. A group of ubergeeks brought their laptops, tools, and toys and left with astonishing results! It's one thing to hear someone say that your server isn't up to date so "go patch it", but quite another to have someone steal a copy of your most valuable data in a short period of time, in a manner that's difficult to detect after they revealed how they did it!

The takeaway is that, if you expect to protect your data, you had better implement, maintain, and enforce Draconian policies on your network. Engineer the system from the ground up with security in mind. Implement IDS systems, baseline your network, track your user group memberships, and above all, train the heck out of all privileged users, then all users - they should be doing things like never logging in with their admin accounts, only using "run as" when necessary, like the Linux "su" mentality, and logging off of or locking their workstation when leaving for a moment. Keep updated with patches on all systems - servers, clients, printers, appliances, routers, whatever. Minimize where you can actually perform administrative tasks from. Apply your same password policy to everything that uses a password. Then: monitor, monitor, monitor. This is one of those "weakest link" deals. Powerful "server" applications like SQL databases (and many, many others) are great launching points - consider running them on "member servers" instead of domain controllers. Technically savy malicious users don't need much of a launching point. This doesn't even take "social engineering" into account, and users tend to behave stupidly from a security perspective.

After seeing what these guys did, I'd have a hard time imagining a network that wouldn't be vulnerable to that kind of crew - unless it's physically isolated, physically protected, and assured that malicious users can't get physically near it or trick actual users into inadvertently assisting them - an unrealistic network utopia. However, that said, there's a lot that you can do for network security. Don't look for a "magic bullet" - attack the low hanging fruit and take it from there.

VoIP - more than you bargained for?

Thanks for the inspiration Carl - your objective viewpoint often sheds light on absurdities that I might otherwise fail to notice. In this case I'm referring to Cisco flavored VoIP. It's an amazing concept that truly delivers next generation communication capabilities. Who wouldn't want: virtually unlimited directory numbers, multi-line capability, much more wide open conference call ability, a centralized web based interface to administer/log the system, the ability to tie into POTS lines at the gateway or use a truly cheap international carrier, and much more?

I had always thought that the key selling point to VoIP is that it works on your existing infrastructure. You already have Ethernet. You're connected to the Internet on a relatively wide pipe. Why not plug phones into your system?

What if I told you that my Cisco rep pointed out that they made half of their income - yes, literally half one recent year on VoIP related sales? Holy Cow! You know how much Cisco equipment costs! How much could a phone possibly run!?!? This surprised me even after hearing that they wanted nearly $20k for call manager software for one switch that we already owned. How could that be?

Lets jump to my recent VoIP experience. We rapidly deployed about 20 VoIP phones on a network that was also to become busier than usual. Without getting into the specifics too much, the system was very sensitive to being properly configured. If the separate VLAN wasn't set up just so phones would randomly reboot and exhibit strange behavior. Some of the switches with a slightly older version of IOS had to be configured differently than the newer ones. Phones plugged into switches without PoE needed power cubes. Gateways, call managers, and phones needed to be configured and coordinated between sites. Bottom line - I love what VoIP brings to the table and am eager to learn more, but it's not a simple matter of plugging a phone into your network.

OK, back to Cisco sales dollars. In light of what I just presented my earlier statements should make more sense. How would you like to save money by purchasing some new VoIP equipment that will work with your existing infrastructure? Yes, great. Well, you may need to replace all your switches. Update your routers, (maybe?), buy some call managers and gateways while you're at it. Hey - at least you'll have a modern network. Your cabling should still be good.

Given all that, I still can't say that I'm opposed to VoIP. In fact, I'll call it progress. But you sure as heck better figure out what you're getting yourself into prior to making the big plunge! You don't want to make yourself that guy at your organization!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The future is...Linux?

I just finished reading this year old article entitled, "Windows Vista, The best thing that ever happened to Linux?". Like many other pro-Linux (read anti-Microsoft) papers, it offers compelling arguments that I find myself agreeing with. In fact, my specific Vista complaints were very similar to theirs (all the hardware intensive eye candy that OS X does better, dropping important announced features: WinFS (relational database based file system), PowerShell (advanced scripting), SecurID (authentication for network resources), and PC to PC synchronization). They continue to enumerate Microsoft attrocities and go on to how Linux will dominate the future - think OLPC "One Child Per Laptop", the $100 PC.

I can't say what the future holds. I do know that every time I install Linux on one of my laptops (for anything other than when I used to program school projects), it ends up being too pesky to reasonably use. I get wireless networking/printing, DVD playback, a word processor, and everything else that I "need" straight - then never end up using it. But Linux always wins the theoretical argument - what could be better? I also know that well written Linux "appliances" work well. My M0n0wall router served me so well up until I bought a QoS enabled "gaming" router. We've been tossing around the idea of a CD bootable, lightweight Linux image designed to run a FactoryPMI client. Like Knoppix - maybe based on it.

In the end I always find myself going back to Microsoft - it's disgusting! They ultimately steal, buy, or reinvent the better technology, and it works well for them. Remember when SQL Server used to suck? I do - but SQL Server 2005 is a great product, thanks Sybase! They're getting into virtualization. It sucks now, but mark my words, they'll be giving VMWare a run for their money in a couple of years. What about Microsoft Office - do you really ever want to use anything else?

So this gets me to the recent official release of FactoryPMI Linux support. My first reaction was, "Who cares? You can already run FactoryPMI clients on Linux - they're Java based"! After thinking about it - it's the direction and comittment that matter. I align much better with Linux ideology, and the community is rapidly growing. Who else is tired of problems with every new major Microsoft release? Also, the Open Source community has a lot of software developed to bring to the table that's very powerful, but still a little rough around the edges. Microsoft makes good products that I like to use, but would rather not be stuck with. The percentage of HMI/SCADA vendors in bed with them makes me sick. Entrapment, not standardization becomes a predicament for end users.

In the end will it be Linux? Microsoft? Who knows - let the greater community decide. For me, the most useful products win. I'd like to see Microsoft include the power features that they've been advertising since 2004, and Linux to get progressively easier to use for all levels of user. Kudos to the companies that let users decide on what platform they prefer.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Industry news update

Quick summary of industry news, compliments of InTech Editor Greg Hale's Blog. Thanks for the great info!

Wonderware - Predicting growth in Africa. Still working on India, China and Eastern Europe, but Africa's where it's at in the next 30 years or sooner. Full entry here.

Kepware - Partnering with Oracle and adding an OPC Client to their flagship OPC Server KepServer Ex to all pass through support for 3rd party OPC servers including diagnostics. Exciting! Full entry here.

Rockwell/Cisco partnership - release Rockwell branded Cisco Catalyst switches that offer easier configuration, configuration via RSLogix 5000, and pre-canned support for common (Rockwell Centric) Industrial Networking protocols as CIP and Ethernet/IP (Industrial Protocol). It's about DAMNED TIME! I've always said that AB makes good PLCs. They're finally leveraging developed technology for industrial applications instead of reinventing the wheel over and over! That said, I'd fear the price tag! Full entry here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Virtualization and SCADA, mini-SCADAs

Ever feel like a broken record? I get that feeling when "my" last 2 good post ideas came from following the crowd. Looking back, I haven't yet posted on SCADA security in response to the flurry of blog activity on the topic and the alleged "SCADA Internet attacks on the power grid" where the CIA keeps coming up - again and again. I've seen how the media quotes "the government", my 19 year old Seaman recruit sailor was "A Navy Spokesperson". The reporter was attractive - he didn't stand a chance.

Well, this post is supposed to be about Virtualization, an old topic in computing with renewed vigor! Other bloggers are talkin' about it, so why shouldn't I? The basic idea behind virtualization in this context is to work on logical hardware in a bit of a sandbox. Another nice feature is working from images (snapshots) instead of entire hard drives and machines. Imagine building your HMI exactly how you want, then taking a snapshot. With virtualization, you can run multiple instances of this. Your SCADA installation is an image file that can be run on any computer! Maybe you want to consolidate hardware, or maybe you want a similar environment for your QA department, or for development. The concept of "create once, use many" applies here.

Unless you're a software developer or running a computer lab, it's probably your servers that have the most to gain from virtualization. Servers are notorious for being resource underutilized, and are often fickle - how many of you would be comfortable "cutting over" most of the services that any one of your servers provide to another machine? You might not mind installing something new on a server, but I doubt that you nonchalantly move things around on production machines.

Let me paint a picture. You're starting a sizable new plant from scratch. You decide to buy a single $50k server from Dell as the main workhorse. It will be running "8 servers", (domain controller, database, web, email, etc) each with their own: memory, IP address(es), etc. Once the system is up, you decide that you don't want to install anything without testing it first. Fine, you use the same image on a different machine, install and test the software, then copy that image onto 'ol beefy. Suppose your email server needs more memory - you simply assign 4 gigs of the 32 total to that "instance" instead of 2. Now suppose that you're supporting something that's architecturally heavy, like Wonderware or RSView via thin clients on a Terminal Server. All of a sudden you need most of the processing power of your beast. Well, you can "move" instances to other servers. If we take this one step farther, you can actually have a virtualized infrastructure that would allow you to add hardware without changing anything. This type of setup can be cheaper, more flexible, and efficient than its traditional counterpart.

So we've covered how virtualization helps with servers in general. It can be a big help in supporting legacy HMI/SCADA technologies. It's really good for programs that are tough to configure (ah choo-Linux setups-oo). It seems less important for FactorySQL and FactoryPMI - they're already pretty good about being easy to install or move and having a lightweight footprint - especially on the client end with Java Web Start. You could set up a virtualized "production" and "testing" environment, both on the same computer, but this is pretty pointless since each installation would be better separate, and each could support the entire network on a desktop PC. I could see bigger setups greatly benefit from running virtualized instances.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Oh my - FDA 21CFR11

Read the reg!

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at Title 21 of the Food and Drug Administration's Code of Federal Regulation Part 11. It dictates requirements for Electronic Documents and Signatures. It seems to written on technical topics by non-technical people. It's well intended, but deliberately vague on implementation standards - over the top in many cases. The funny thing is that most vendors tout a "Certified 21CFR11 compliant" stamp on their hardware or software. The sad thing is that end users fail to realize that 80% or so of the requirements have to do with their: processes, training, documentation, etc.

I was getting so frustrated by a couple of users asking specifically how to implement a 21CFR11 application in FactoryPMI. They wanted point by point descriptions all the way down the list. I was first approached in 2005, but don't know of any users who have actually attempted a fully compliant project. I've had other users working in a 21CFR11 "compliant" facility that just wanted to use FactorySQL or FactoryPMI beside the application. I had to bite my tongue when one said that a hardware datalogger satisfied that requirement. Did anyone there actually read the regulation? Oh gosh! Maybe a good integrator helped them make their whole process compliant. I know for a fact that you can't throw any single piece of hardware or software and make it happen. Things like 11.300(e):

Initial and periodic testing of devices, such as tokens or cards, that bear or generate identification code or password information to ensure that they function properly and have not been altered in an unauthorized manner.

Carl made me feel better when he pointed out that 21CFR11 isn't a compliance standard for HMI/SCADA design software. Its a compliance standard for HMI/SCADA project implementations, which are two totally separate things. So, I wrote a white paper on creating a compliant 21CFR11 application with Inductive Automation software and didn't feel so bad about all the, "it is the responsibility of the designer..." answers. I might add that the "big vendors" white papers have similar responses.

I'd like to see someone actually do this - but it'd take planning on the front end and someone with experience. It would be absurd for an Integrator or end user to take this on from scratch, without help, as a first project.

Fascinating interview with Sun CEO

I was recently directed to read an interview with Sun Microsystem's CEO/COO, Jonathan Schwartz regarding his Open Source business strategy. This is particularly relevant given their new MySQL acquisition.

Jon stressed the necessity of driving adoption to generate revenue. He claims that seemingly competing products like Red Hat and Solaris complement each other because both are going for the same goal - look out M$! He makes a distinction between his "community" (users) and "market" (paying customers), insisting that one leads to the other. A casual user or developer shouldn't pay for his software, while that same individual might recommend purchasing it with a hefty support plan for a mission critical operation.

Sounds good to me! Establish a solid brand. Sell "systems" and "the experience" instead of hardware or software (think Apple). Provide an abundance of value without squeezing pennies from your customers - this also acts as free advertising. We'll see to what extent a certain industrial software company with killer products can follow suit.