Cloud in Mining
Data in the mining industry has become so important that it could qualify as a strategic asset soon.
Over recent years, there has been an inclination to move software programs and data to the cloud. In many industries, this has led to several advantages in reduced costs, flexibility, and operational efficiency. However, due to barriers such as geographical isolation, the cost of deploying networks remotely, the robustness of solutions in a rugged mining environment, and the need for data security, the mining industry has mostly hesitated to pursue the same path.
Despite a few companies leading the way, many mine sites still operate on a local laptop on a day-to-day basis. The spreadsheet is still king of software applications at many mining operations, and even transcription from paper and pen is standard in many locations.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud storage involves nothing more than storing your data over the internet on a remote server you access. It sounds basic, but the advent of cloud computing has entirely transformed the way the world functions. If you have ever shared a Google Drive spreadsheet, posted a photo on Instagram, or binged on Netflix through House of Cards, you’re already familiar with the effects of the cloud.
Technically, cloud computing is simply the process of storing data and applications on servers that are accessed over the internet. While the concept is simple, the widespread adoption of cloud applications in many industries has radically changed the way we work. Many commentators have described the advent of cloud computing and its associated technologies as the fourth industrial revolution, giving rise to similar productivity and efficiency increases.
Cloud Computing in Mining
Cloud computing, as in other sectors, can offer major advantages to extractive industries. If you’re a senior executive at a global mining company, you’ve probably got to keep tabs on a large portfolio of sites. Use cloud-based technology to link all of your mines to the same integrated systems as your office. Mines can enter their data directly into the online system and generate reports. There’s no need for top brass to hunt down data; it’s all waiting in the cloud for them.
Then, to control their global supply chain, they will set guidelines and protocols. A sensor in Indonesia will automatically update a cloud system that spurs an order for Yokohama brake pads, all automatically.
Sure, some of these features operate using on-site, built dedicated servers. The guaranteed uptime, diesel-power backups, uninterruptible power sources, or military-grade protection that top-tier cloud systems provide does not necessarily come with a self-managed server.
When a mine begins to scale, benefits pile up. It’s just a license upgrade if you need extra storage, databases, or computing resources. You’d need more servers, more physical space, fuel, personnel, protection, and much more cash upfront to add those resources locally.
Plus, cloud providers take away the burden of handling, maintaining, and updating servers. They give IT teams a leg up so they can concentrate on making the mine run smoothly with all the other hardware, applications, and networks.
What about security?
Of course, mines have a real concern when it comes to the security of their data. They invest fortunes gathering useful geological data and statistics on business results. It can spell disaster for share prices if the information leaks. Cloud services are eminently aware of data protection issues. Vendors such as Hitachi Data Systems publish volumes, highlighting features such as digital shredding and NSA-approved encryption methods regarding privacy and security protocols. Trust is important to the operation of cloud computing, so providers retain leading-edge technologies to safeguard their customers’ data.
Besides, for those with different protection requirements, cloud computing comes in varying forms:
Public Clouds — Data exists on pooled networks in public clouds. Data remains different, even though many customers can use the same server. These mimic an in-house data center, but they are hosted remotely.
Private Clouds — Their dedicated infrastructure is open to all clients. Private clouds are suitable when additional protection or enforcement is required.
Hybrid Clouds — Such clouds use private virtual machines to link to public resources when necessary, a combination of both. All sensitive data should remain on a separate server, while the shared resources should benefit from less-sensitive data.
How are cloud applications run?
There are several ways in which cloud infrastructure can be provided – via a private cloud within the company’s network or via a public or hosted cloud solution. Besides, the services that are offered vary according to the service from the cloud provider. The most common cloud solutions are delivered as Infrastructure (IaaS), Platform (PaaS), or Software (SaaS) as a service.
Why would one want to run cloud applications?
It allows mining companies to concentrate on their core competencies instead of maintaining IT infrastructure
In terms of infrastructure requirements and the personnel needed to maintain them, operating IT centers can be costly. Hardware and software must be periodically updated and replaced, and these processes take away from the core mining business when appropriate.
It provides cost savings over the provision of in-house technology
Since cloud computing providers provide many large organizations with similar services, they have huge economies of scale that can be passed on to clients. To enable all of their customers to benefit from these services, their storage networks, backup systems, network redundancy, failover capabilities, and contingency services are scalable.
Resources can be scaled as needed
Since most cloud applications operate on virtualized infrastructure, via software configuration, the provision of more CPU resources, more substantial quantities of storage, more network bandwidth, and so on can be done instantly. Machines may be added or removed, as opposed to an in-house data center, as they are required to have both the capacity to fulfill demands at peak times and save money when resources are no longer required.
It is safer and less vulnerable to outages and risk than local data storage
Almost all major data centers are located in locations that are physically secure and safe from serious threats. Typically, they have redundant power supplies, air conditioning systems, multiple network connections, failover locations, and backup systems that can be costly for privacy conservation. Since the data is not physically stored at the mine site, on-site computers are better shielded from many hazards.
Faster and better recovery from failure, resulting in greater uptime
Data can be backed up to low-cost disks or offsite tape storage by most major cloud storage providers. In data loss, the option of backing up to disk implies that a restore is fast and easy.
It can provide a single environment for the integration of services
The programming interfaces between web applications are also standardized, and it can be straightforward to provide interfaces between different applications because web applications are universally accessible.
Similar user experience and working methods across applications reduces the learning curve and barriers to adoption
The standardization of web interfaces and similarity in conventions across web applications can reduce the barriers to adopting new technology and reduce the learning curve and training time required for new users.
Ease of provisioning for new users
The management of the resources needed for a cloud system to add new features or new users is very versatile. Generally, the services used for tasks such as password management are standard across applications, meaning that there is just one management point where hardware, software resources, and security changes need to be made.
Big Data and the Internet of Things
Instrumentation, whether it’s fleet logs, processing plant equipment, or remote monitoring stations to provide a continuous stream of data, generally known as the Internet of Things, is another recent advancement. Cloud computing provides the computing power to apply machine learning and use big data analytics, delivering useful business knowledge to facilitate timely decision-making, security, or performance improvement. A continuous stream of data is produced by most mining machinery that can be monitored to help predictive maintenance of vehicles and plant machinery, minimize costly failures, and increase productivity.
Democratization of Data
Everybody in the company needs to access a single version of the most reliable data to take full advantage of the data available. When it is sitting on a user’s PC, this is unlikely. Universal data access ensures that all decisions are taken on the most up-to-date data, from where to dump the new transport load to how to build the pit shell.
The single data point of cloud computing helps mines to go from discontinuous to ongoing process control and quality management. This will result in process efficiency and resource management changes to increase energy efficiency and promote environmental sustainability gains. Studies indicate that some deposits that are currently considered economically marginal may become viable through continuous monitoring processes.
Remote management of mining processes with limited on-site staff is increasingly taken into account. For various safety and health purposes and changes to the mine’s effective operation, this is beneficial. It is possible to operate functions such as remote vehicle dispatch and self-driving vehicles efficiently from city center locations, thousands of kilometers away from the mine site where trained resources are ready for entry.
Cloud Computing Issues and Benefits
Now that we have seen the reasons for adopting the cloud and its advantages, we will address the common concerns that many mining organizations have mentioned as reasons for not using the cloud to transform their business. Some of these issues are also real, considering that many of our clients are located in remote areas. Still, the pace of the implementation of technology will eventually affect all industries. In our personal lives, we have already seen how Netflix has disrupted television viewing and how Spotify has altered how we listen to music. Mining, too, is not going to be resistant to such interruptions.
So, why do we still run desktop applications?
The information is not secure since a cloud storage provider stores data; many believe that they no longer protect their information. Besides, data hacking and other security issues are also present. However, in terms of physical protection, most cloud service providers store their information in much safer places than most mining companies might ever expect. Also, they have the facilities to provide sufficient protection against natural disasters, heat waves, power outages, and so on, to cover a much broader range of hazards than would ever be handled in a local data center. They also have backup infrastructure and offsite data protection capabilities that make recovering data much more possible in the event of a catastrophe.
The risks inherent in preserving data at a mine site locally are far more relevant and differ by region. Nonetheless, the risk of weather, hardware failure, and a crash is always greater than in a cloud data center. IP loss due to data loss from a security breach is also a problem for many mining companies. Again, in places where a USB drive can be plugged into a laptop or a field computer can be dropped or lost, these hazards are much greater. In addition to the danger of rarely getting access to the most recent data or not being confident that the laptop’s data is the most recent edition, there is an additional security danger associated with having sensitive data spread through several laptops of many users. Cloud computing companies, on the other hand, rely on confidence in their infrastructure, and many have cybersecurity measures of military-grade to ensure that their networks are not vulnerable.
Many of us have suffered at mining sites with cell phone connectivity or poor low bandwidth connectivity, and it may seem laughable to think of storing all our data on a computer thousands of kilometers or miles away. But for many reasons, good business communications have become a requirement, and the business advantages of building it always outweigh the expense of having good communications infrastructure. Robust communication networks are becoming a necessity for doing business effectively, whatever the place, just like electricity and water.
Alternatives to wired internet networks such as high bandwidth satellite, 3G, 4G, and LTE cellular networks and other wireless networking modes will reach speeds in many areas of the world that make cloud applications feasible. Alternatively, there would be potential for mining companies to collaborate to make the service accessible with other local organizations or telecom providers. Often, this can be seen as a group asset, increasing the social image of the organization.
A significant factor is also the amount of time taken to process data. For instance, suppose multiple optimizations need to be performed to determine the optimal pit shell. In that case, divesting this operation to one or more servers with more computing power, memory, and disc space could make sense, leaving the local PC free to perform other tasks. If more data is migrated to the cloud, many processes can be done more easily, despite the user being in a remote location with minimal bandwidth.
Since cloud computing is relatively modern technology, many applications are not available on the cloud that we use for our daily work. In determining which functions can be transferred to the cloud infrastructure, this is an important factor. Most mining preparation solutions are currently desktop-only. Although software companies like us are working on migrating these functions to the cloud, it may be necessary to provide a desktop or hybrid approach. The user works locally with the data but synchronizes it to the cloud to make it accessible to other users.
This provides an efficient data backup and facilitates valuable review and approval processes to ensure that accurate and timely decisions are taken at all stages of the mining process. This also offers flexibility to handle downstream processes efficiently, and it is possible to reduce on-site bottlenecks.
Cloud computing isn’t a magic bullet for every issue. In the shed, it’s yet another method to help an operation eke out more effectiveness. It can provide a cost-effective way for the right mine to access technology that smoothes the whole company without the new infrastructure’s upfront costs. Others may find that they make the most sense of traditional on-site architecture. There’s no need to give cloud computing the side-eye either way. It has become a standard for today’s companies, including Windows and Excel every day, with thousands of other data-sensitive businesses jumping in, including hospitals, banks, and government.
We at GroundHog can work with you to identify key areas where you can apply cloud to improve your mining processes.
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