Configuration management or Version control is a crucial task

The foundation of most plant and infrastructure are the automation level consisting of PC, PLC and other automation equipment. The ability to restore any of these components are vital to survival of your company.


Configuration management, version control or backup, what is it,
what is the difference and why is it vital?

There are many names for it but essentially it comes down to the ability to secure the state of your plant or operation. In many cases you have a place on your file servers where you keep files in some structure that you hope up to date and complete. We will in the next sections try to explain the concepts, the difference between the concepts and when you should use one or the other. It is also vital to understand the fundamental difference between office backup and plant backup. Many let IT handle these challenges and that can be very costly due to their limited knowledge into Automation.

Read more about Version control and Versiondog

The goal of procedure

What is the goal of managing your plant configuration? It’s not just to restore it when something breaks down, even if that is many times the primary goal. The basic backup/restore is the base function that everybody needs to be able to perform but many aren’t! The second level comes in being able to track the different versions you have on each device and the reasons why you changed something. This is vital for example when you’re trying to optimize machines or lines. This can also be seen as a matter of ownership of your plant or infrastructure. If you have SIs or consultants that help you it’s easy that they forget to give you copies or place the files in the correct spot in the server. With version control you will have full control over these processes. The last and most advanced step is configuration management where you not just look at each file or configuration file, but at the complete plant system or part of process. By doing this you can secure that the combinations used are the right ones, and just like in the regulated industries prove that this is the case. 

Backup/Restore for disaster recovery

This is the most basic function for any company, if something breaks you should know how to get back to where you started. Most companies have documented plans for disaster recovery on many levels but once you come down to the plant floor there are a lot of things missing. Many have a CMMS or PAM (Maintenance system) where they can see all the hardware parts that exist, how many spares you have and so forth. A few of these systems handle the software even if that is usually the hardest part to recreate if lost. Therefore many have included the software in the usual filesystem by simply putting the files on the file server with backup. This can work, but leaves room for many mistakes. This can’t work if you not have detailed lists of the software that resides in each PLC, PC and other programmable devices.

Version control for ownership 

When you have many people working on your system or you have a lot of different devices, the need for more formal and structured handling of the software is needed. There are many systems that can handle version control and even some free ones that works fine. The important thing is to secure that you have a complete overview of all of the software that affect your plant. It can be as simple as data areas in a PLC that you use for set points which is never part of the backup code since it changes over time but still is vital. So the key thing is to document all your devices, like with the backup case, but remember to add all the none-essential code parts that contain set points and other defining data.

Configuration management for full control

Considering the value that most have invested in the software in their facilities it’s strange that most don’t have full configuration management of their software. When you come to this level it’s about establishing a baseline, a full set of software that you consider your base. To this comes the set of data files or configurations that changes due to changing of the process that can be due to different products or season. This can be done by documenting all the steps and locations for each piece of software, but most would consider that tool ridged and in the end a tool is what takes care of this. The great thing about a tool is also the possibility to handle different users and accessibility options. 

Why IT backup of a PC is not sufficient

The PC have been used in manufacturing and infrastructure since the late 80’s. Many IT people see these PC’s like any other PC. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Automation software are often used much longer than any office application and are therefore in many cases older and never upgraded in the same structured way. You can easily have different versions of the same software of different PCs which makes backup harder. Also the automation software like SCADA/HMI are relatively unknown by IT which does their job harder, without automation knowledge this will fail! We consider the backup of automation software node needs a documented plan per node and if you want to be sure of the restore possibilities you should have a full baseline report on all the nodes. One thing that many forget it that IT many times only support certain operating systems and with automation equipment this is far from sufficient.


Document: Supported Devices/Software

The list of devices shows all currently supported devices and software for Versiondog.

Customer Story - Nestlé

At the Nestlé plant in Mainz, Germany, a clear strategy for the use of Versiondog versioning and data management software was developed before implementation; no more backing up to USB sticks; huge time savings thanks to Versiondog.

Article - Effective Data Management

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Article - Have you made a backup yet today?

Backing up is the term generally used in the computer world for making a copy of your data in case your working data is lost. If this happens, the backup copy can be used as the basis of restoring the data to its pre-loss state.

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