Should you be an early adopter of Microsoft Server 2012 for today’s control systems?
You might get ahead of your control system software suppliers, but you can probably install the most up-to-date operating systems now and get the maximum lifespan.
A call came in the other day from a customer asking about replacing some legacy operator workstations and a primary domain controller server. He wanted to know if it would be possible to use Microsoft Windows 8 Professional or Server 2012 as the operating systems with the new workstations and primary domain controller, so he can get the most out of the longevity of the new software.
After further research, I could find no reason not to leverage Server 2012 on the new primary domain controller. I checked with the primary control vendor supporting this particular customer, and they saw no reason not to use Server 2012 on the primary domain controller. I went a step further and checked with colleagues on their experiences with the differences between Server 2008 R2 and Server 2012. Since there were no issues identified, I recommended the customer move forward with purchasing and installing this new platform as the primary domain controller for their plant control system. The customer ordered the new server hardware and their IT department purchased their first volume license of Server 2012 standard.
The experience of installing Server 2012 was very similar, if not the same as installing Windows 8 Professional. At the end of the installation, I was surprised to see the start button had disappeared as it had with Windows 8 Professional. With Server 2012, all of the applications are the desktop type, all neatly organized on the start screen based on which roles you assigned to the server (see graphic). On previous versions of Microsoft Server these were inadvertently buried in other submenus and took some digging to find.
This seems to be much more intuitive to use then the start screen that Windows 8 Professional has. I would also like to note that promoting the server to a domain controller was much more automated than previous Server versions, and it added the supporting roles necessary for the domain controller to function properly. Any additional help that I needed was easily found at Microsoft’s support site, or by simply doing an internet search. The other new feature that I found was the new Server Manager’s Dashboard. This makes it very easy to monitor any status and / or issues with any of the roles the server, or servers within a group are providing (see graphic).
During the deployment, the new domain controller computers throughout the plant were joined to the domain with no problems. The plant control system computers contained the following operating systems: Windows XP Professional, Windows 7 Professional, and Server 2008 R2.
This experience should highlight the fact that even though many of our prominent control vendors do not support the latest operating systems that Microsoft releases, this does not mean that supporting systems cannot use the latest Windows operating system available in supporting roles. This not only provides added value for the customer, but also allows us to become proficient on the latest software available. You too can be classified as an early adopter, even if you are working with legacy control software.
This post was written by John Boyd. John is a technology leader at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support, and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.