Mines need more things to manage like a farmer needs a drought.
Farmer

Mine managers have to keep track of hundreds of workers. Million-dollar equipment. Fluctuating commodity markets. Productivity. Consumables. Maintenance. Safety. The list goes on.

That’s why there’s so much technology to make things easier. By now, most mines use an array of sensors, software, and telecommunications to ease some of the load. Regular practices like automated dispatching and drill hole placement thrive thanks to these systems.

But, there’s a key issue holding mines back from taking the next step in productivity gains. They’re afraid of clouds.

What’s cloud computing?

At its simplest, cloud computing means little more than storing your data on a remote server you access over the internet.

It sounds basic, but the rise of cloud computing has completely changed the way the world works. If you’ve ever shared a spreadsheet on Google Drive, posted a photo to Instagram, or binged through House of Cards on Netflix, you’re already familiar with the effects of the cloud.

cloud computing

It’s obvious why these solutions are so popular. Cloud-hosted files prevent duplication errors and other data processing slip-ups. They let teams collaborate with greater ease. They use economies of scale to give people better access to better resources than ever before.

Cloud computing has even spawned a whole new distribution model. Rather than forcing people to maintain their own versions of media or software, many companies now treat their products more like services.

Just like you don’t need a CD to listen to Chicago’s Greatest Hits anymore, you don’t need to support a massive server farm if you can simply access one whenever you want. It’s the world of XaaS — anything-as-a-service.

So, what does it mean for mining?

As in other industries, cloud computing can bring big advantages to the extractive industries.

If you’re a senior executive at a multinational mining firm, you’ve probably got a thick portfolio of sites to keep tabs on. Using cloud-based technology lets all your mines – whether in Alberta or Angola – connect to the same integrated systems as your office. Mines can input their data and generate reports directly in the online system. Top brass don’t need to chase down information — it’s all waiting for them in the cloud.

Then, they can set rules and protocols to manage their global supply chain. A sensor in Indonesia can update a cloud system that spurs an order for brake pads in Yokohama, all automatically.
brake pad

Sure, some of these functions work using dedicated servers installed on-site. But, a self-managed server doesn’t necessarily come with the guaranteed uptime, diesel-powered backups, uninterruptible power sources, or military-grade security that top-tier cloud systems offer.

Benefits really pile up when a mine starts to scale. If you need additional storage, databases, or computing power, it’s only a license upgrade. To add those resources locally, you’d need more servers, more physical space, more power, more staff, more security, and much more cash up front.

Plus, cloud services take away all the hassle of server management, maintenance, and upgrades. They give IT teams a leg up so they can focus on making all the other hardware, software, and networks in your mine run smoothly.

What about security?

Of course, mines have a real concern when it comes to the security of their data. They spend fortunes to gather valuable geological data and business performance figures. If that information leaks, it can spell disaster for share prices.

Not to worry. Cloud systems are eminently aware of concerns about data security. Vendors like Hitachi Data Systems  publish volumes about their privacy and security protocols, highlighting features like digital shredding and NSA-approved encryption methods. Trust is essential to cloud computing’s function, so providers maintain leading-edge technology to protect their customers’ data. Who can say the same about their on-site servers?

Besides, cloud computing comes in different forms for those with variable security needs:

  • Public Clouds — With public clouds, data resides on shared infrastructure. Data stays separate, even though multiple customers may use the same server.
  • Private Clouds — These resemble an in-house data centre, but they’re hosted remotely. All customers get their own dedicated infrastructure. Private clouds are ideal when extra security or compliance is required.
  • Hybrid Clouds — A mixture of both, these clouds use private virtual machines to connect to public resources when necessary. Any sensitive data can stay on a dedicated server, while less-sensitive data can take advantage of the shared resources.

So, what’s the downside?

Cloud computing does have a couple of drawbacks (just like any technology, really).

To work properly, cloud systems require good, reliable internet access. If you’re in a city, it’s no problem to stay connected over LTE or WiFi. On a mine site, though, steady access to a cloud server may prove difficult. Most mine networks are getting better all the time, but connectivity may pose a challenge to mines with older technology looking for cloud-based solutions.

Costs may cause some trouble too. For smaller mining operations, it may make financial sense to pass off many IT needs to the cloud. Likewise, very large mining conglomerates may find the advantages worth any price.

Mines in the middle, though, may not see the value. Operations large enough to maintain an IT department, but not in need of the scalability, flexibility, or additional systems available through the cloud, may find the whole concept of cloud computing a wash.

A silver lining?

That’s OK. Cloud computing isn’t a silver bullet for every problem. It’s just another tool in the shed to help an operation eke out more efficiency.

For the right mine, it can provide a cost-effective way to access technology that smoothes the entire business (without the upfront costs of new infrastructure). Others may find the traditional on-site architecture makes the most sense for them.

Either way, there’s no reason to give cloud computing the side-eye. With thousands of other data-sensitive companies diving in (including healthcare, banks, and the government), it’s become a norm for today’s industries — as everyday as Windows and Excel.

To find out about cloud options for Wenco systems, e-mail info@wencomine.com or call 604.270.8277.