June 2010


Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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OPC UA sets a solid Foundation for systems to reach for the clouds.

How does OPC UA illuminate the path to scalability?

Manny Mandrusiak
Manny Mandrusiak
Vice President OPC Marketing,

OPC Foundation

Contributing Editor

One of the questions that the OPC Foundation gets asked a lot is “Why do I want OPC UA?” This is a favorite question of current OPC Classic users. If I currently have OPC Classic, and it works well, why would l want to bother moving to OPC UA? Let’s take a moment to address this question, and clear up some confusion in the marketplace.

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End-users and vendors want to adopt OPC UA for one simple reason….they want to do more. When I was a young trooper in the Canadian Army I had a Platoon Sergeant whose motto was” I don’t want to see how far I am allowed to go, I want to see how far it is actually possible to go.” He was always pushing his own limits, and sometimes painfully the platoons. I find that engineers in the automation space tend to really embrace that motto. They are constantly looking to push the bandwidth limits of their current system. Receive and send more data, and they don’t want to settle for the limitations set before them. They constantly want to do more. That was one of the fundamental reasons for creating a new Unified Architecture. The OPC Foundation listened to the needs and wants of the End-Users and designed a specification to solve the problems that they were faced with as well as solve the issues that they were having with the current OPC Classic specifications. Just like the Windows 7 commercial says, OPC UA was your idea.

With the creation of any new technology there are always those users who fear change. There have been those people who I have run into who argue that they use OPC Classic, and it does everything that they want, and think that they will ever need. If that is the case and they are satisfied with what OPC Classic provides, then that is a beautiful thing. What happens when someone wants to do more, with that system? When they want to add a new HMI, or move into a wireless network? Is the OPC Classic technology prepared for this? Let me expand on this with an example of a parallel event that recently happened to me to illustrate the pitfalls of using dated technology.

As the OPC Foundation started conducting the 2010 OPC Road Show series, we decided to clarify the message of OPC Classic and OPC UA by creating some videos that would be shown at all of these events. The videos are great, and were met with great response from attendees at every venue that we showed them at. We were running them off one particular laptop which, unknown to me, was running the latest Windows OS from Microsoft.

At one of the shows we changed laptops that we used to show the movies due to a conflict with another show and were met with nothing but problems. I could not get the movies to play on my Windows XP laptop. I tried everything. The PowerPoint worked just fine, but I could not get the movies to play correctly in a .mov format on my system. We were forced to come up with a work around for the one show, and while everything worked out in the end, I was still confused as to why I could not get the videos to play inside the presentation on my laptop. I asked an IT friend of mine what the problem was, and after much thought he told me that the original laptop we used had a Windows 7 operating system with the latest and greatest Windows Media Player, and I was only using a Windows XP OS. The Windows 7 OS was simply built to do more than mine was. I was using dated technology, which was perfectly fine for my day-to-day functions, and could run the presentations I needed, but when I wanted to do more I was faced with a serious limitation. As soon as I wanted to do something outside of my normal routine, I couldn’t. I could not do what I wanted to do because of the limitations of the current technology that I was using. I needed Media Player 12, and that was only available on Windows 7. At this stage I was contemplating my options. A friend and I considered trying to invest some time into creating a custom app that would be a work around and play the videos, but that would require a lot of time invested and a lot of custom code. Then I considered about the next time I wanted to evolve my presentations. Should I just do what I have always done because I choose to accept the limitations of my current system, or do I invest on being dynamic and see just how far it is possible to go? Victory does favor the bold.

I invested in Windows 7, and now my life is truly plug-and-play. The presentations are running better and faster than ever, and I have the scalability to continue to evolve them. It is the same story with OPC. If an end-user is content with using dated technology, and their needs are satisfied then OPC Classic is the path for them. The problem that I have with that line of thinking is that if I do what I have always done, then I will get what I have always gotten. Personally I am just never satisfied with that, and always strive for more.

Maybe I am satisfied with investing a ton of code hours into kicking out a custom work around that solves the issue that I have today, but it will more than likely require more modification to solve the potential problems that I may have tomorrow. This band-aids the problem that I have and will just cause me more grief because I am using dated technology while the world around me continues to evolve. I will never be able to run the latest software, because my current infrastructure simply does not allow for any scalability.

The solution to me is to invest in the solution which empowers me to do more right-out-of-the-box. I don’t want to invest in a technology that tells me how far I can go; I want a technology that lets me decide how far it is possible to go. I may not need all of the features that Windows 7 has today, but when I do I’m covered because it is a future facing platform that is ready to evolve with my needs. The same is true with OPC UA. Why would I want to continue investing in OPC Classis solutions when I know that they only solve my needs today, but have no idea what my needs will be tomorrow. OPC UA has done the forecasting for you, and remains a scalable solution for the future. It is truly the only wise choice in creating new systems architectures that are ready to face the challenges of tomorrow. It is both a complex, yet extremely simple solution which is often misunderstood because of the sheer power it possesses.

In a world where computing and data exchange has its future in the clouds, it is nice to know that an organization like the OPC Foundation has already figured out a way for End-Users to get there when they are ready.

More information on OPC Unified Architecture can be found at www.opcfoundation.org


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