Question: Should I add remote access to my blending operations for my automation provider? They keep telling me it will save me money in the long run but I’m not convinced it’s safe.
Answer from Jason Baron, Automation Engineer: Remote access does provide a lot of advantages from a cost standpoint, your provider is correct about that, especially if you don’t have your own in-house maintenance or IT staff. But even if you do, the company who performed the integration and controls is the best resource for addressing problems. Remote access allows them to do so, without incurring the costs of travel or shipping. It also means your problem will be addressed much faster – a matter of minutes or hours rather than days. In the long run you will save a lot of money, especially because it’s relatively inexpensive to install.
The thing that turns people off about remote access is usually security concerns. The concern is that it makes the network vulnerable to access by unauthorized users from the outside. While it’s true that it allows someone to access that control system from outside the network, this access is limited only to the party to which you have given access. Remote access can also be isolated from the rest of the network. In other words, you can put in stringent security measures that only allow access to that particular control system. In fact, usually you can completely disable the remote access – unplug it from the wall even – until a problem needs to be addressed.
Ideally, IT and the integrator should work together to make sure the remote access doesn’t create any security concerns. In most cases, the time and money invested up-front in installing a secure remote access system is much less than time spent in the future trying to troubleshoot from a distance. You can see costs rise quickly if someone has to take a plane trip and stay overnight to address your problem. We’ve also seen where clients have tried to ship the problem to us, and it took weeks to arrive or couldn’t get through customs. Response time is so much quicker if we can connect remotely.
For additional reading on remote access, check out these articles:
Cisco Guide To Secure Remote Access
Rockwell Automation: Remote Access
Spectrum Controls: WebPort