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Cloud Manufacturing Software: Understanding SaaS Solution Availability

July 18, 2019

Cloud-based software is all around us. From the social networks you use to connect with family, to the app that you use to pay your friend back for lunch, the cloud enables the technology that we rely upon to process incredible amounts of data.

For manufacturers, considering cloud-based manufacturing software can come with their own set of questions and requirements. In a manufacturing environment, systems aren’t just convenient – they’re necessary to be able to do business. And the risk is large: If your system of record is unavailable, your line doesn’t run.

That’s why, when choosing any new system in the cloud, manufacturers should fully understand what availability is, why it’s important, where their internally supported IT processes and controls stand today, and how you should evaluate your options as a manufacturing leader.

What is availability in the cloud?

High availability in a SaaS solution translates most simply to system uptime. When Facebook or email service is interrupted unexpectedly, you might hear a lot of complaining, but when a manufacturing ERP system goes down, operations come to a halt. Cloud ERP system providers should be aware that any disruption in service directly impacts your bottom line, so their focus should be on supporting your operation’s uptime, allowing you to focus solely on your core business.

Why does availability matter?

If your plant runs seven days a week, your system of record should as well, with any maintenance interruptions planned transparently and well in advance. Closely examine the maintenance times the provider proposes. Your vendor should have short maintenance windows, and they should take place during minimally disruptive times.

Availability by the numbers – Make sense of legal agreements

When evaluating cloud ERP systems, ask about availability metrics. A provider should be willing to commit to a service level agreement (SLA) of over three nines (99.9 percent) availability for ERP. This translates to no more than 43 minutes of unplanned downtime in a month. Be wary of vendors that promise 100 percent uptime. Some of the world’s largest cloud vendors, including Google, will only agree to 99.9 percent availability. A cloud provider should show a proven history of outperforming their contractual SLA, so ask to see their historical performance and that they have the processes and controls in place to meet their customers’ demands.

Hold vendors accountable

An unfortunate truth is that no cloud provider is impervious to risk. When evaluating a SaaS provider, look for transparency in the issues they have encountered and how they handled and communicated these problems. Even the world’s largest providers have dealt with unexpected issues, such as Azure’s global DNS resolution issue this spring, which resulted in loss of service to customers for approximately two hours, or Google Cloud’s network congestion issue last month, which resulted in customer impact for approximately three hours.

It’s also important to keep in mind the unplannable when looking at cloud SLAs, as disaster preparedness is a key component of high availability. Ask your vendor for their business continuity plans, including what they will do if an entire data center is compromised because of a widespread power outage or natural disaster.

And don’t be afraid to ask about testing: Disaster recovery tests should happen more than once a year; the best providers should test each month so that updating and executing these procedures become second nature to their team.

Understand your options  

Lastly, look inward. In your journey to evaluate possible ERP SaaS providers, ask your own IT organization what internal SLA they can promise for a hosted solution. Can they prove that they have the processes and controls in place to meet that commitment, and do they have the reporting and transparency you would expect from a SaaS provider? Are they willing and able to perform an unplanned disaster recovery test to verify their level of preparedness?

For more information on the factors essential to a manufacturing cloud system, download our Definitive Guide.

About the Author

Todd Weeks Group VP of Cloud Computing, Plex Systems

Todd Weeks is responsible for managing cloud operations at Plex Systems. He oversees Plex’s data center facilities and infrastructure to ensure customers are receiving best-in-class availability and reliability from the Plex Manufacturing Cloud. Todd brings a diverse set of operations experience from running large online retail services at Sears Holdings, broad international operations and distributed datacenters at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and high scale online and cloud solutions at Microsoft.