Manufacturing Linux Containers

Virtualised operating systems are gaining ground and solving real-world IT problems. Florian Froschermeier, Technical Sales Manager at INSYS, explains how manufacturers are using Linux containers to transform their applications

Linux containers have become the chief method across manufacturing applications for providing small, self-contained programs that add extra functionality to hardware. And now, with the advent of Internet of Things (IoT) gateways, such applications are set to multiply.

To be clear, Linux containers (LXC) are an operating system (OS) level virtualisation method that allows for multiple isolated Linux systems to run on the single Linux kernel of a control host. This means that these programs are isolated in individual user-spaces and operate directly at the OS level. As the containers are self-contained, lightweight and hold very few components, they can be a powerful tool for adding applications to a system without worrying about any dependency errors.

Developers can use containers to package an application with the libraries, dependencies and other files that it needs to operate, without the host needing to install any extra assets. As the programs are self-contained, they can be ported to different Linux environments regardless of configuration, which allows developers to work any place and any time.

IoT gateways are becoming increasingly vital for manufacturers that are embracing IoT systems. Smart IoT gateways are the converters that marry IT and OT systems without confusing the two. They are multi-platform devices that receive the output from OT devices and seamlessly connect this information to cloud, SCADA and remote access systems.

For example, a business may have a third-party maintenance team for machinery, for which industrial data is being recorded. In this case, a smart IoT gateway can process the data before it is sent, to ensure that only maintenance data is sent to the third-party, regardless of whether their system is hosted on cloud or the data is being accessed by VPN or a SCADA system.

A smart IoT gateway must be able to collect, provide and process data, monitor machines and run control tasks on the edge for both new and legacy machines. For these reasons, IoT gateways are the perfect place to use Linux containers to enhance data management and control systems.

By ensuring smart IoT gateways have systems that can run LXC programs, end-users are able to generate bespoke applications to modify gateways to ensure that the functionality they need is available. By having bespoke applications, organisations can easily keep the edge application permanently up to date with the IoT backend.

They are also proving especially popular with small enterprise applications that are beginning to implement digitalisation, as well as remote installations that require high levels of automation to maintain or reduce costs. It also means that businesses are able to maintain IP rights over the applications they generate.

For example, Swiss STEBATEC AG provides its customers with the latest plant technology for precise flow measurement and optimum sewerage control. However, its system relied on a 2G system that was about to be shut down. By using a smart gateway it was able to install LXC's that allowed the system to send meter data in .csv formats and implement an alarm system that could communicate faults by SMS, email and Modbus.

This allowed the analytics provider to ensure data collection in a widely used format and consolidate systems and reduce costs for both themselves and their customers. Installing smart IoT gateways is the next step for businesses using IoT to gain an edge in the current market.

Using these news tools in tandem with container software such as LXCs is proving to be an incredibly strong and versatile tool for developers and end-users. They have the potential to extend the use of legacy systems and give old pieces of technology new functions. Their use provides a gateway to continuous development. NC