Cloud computing is catching on quickly, but adoption of the new technology in the car industry still faces many hurdles.
Most companies see the opportunities for cost savings and improved efficiency resulting from the use of Â an external service for their applications and infrastructure.
In interviews with automotiveIT, several automaker CIOs have in recent months expressed their commitment to more cloud-based services. For example, Klaus Hardy Muehleck, VW group CIO, told automotiveIT: " Our goal is to establish cloud computing processes in the entire company."
Cloud adoption has been accelerating. Carsten Bange, managing director of Germany’s Business Applications Research Center (BARC), said: "In the broadest sense, many companies have already had experience with cloud computing ”“ in the form of hosting or outsourcing and virtualization."
The supplier market has advanced a great deal since the early days of concepts such as Application Service Providing (ASP), which has remained comparatively unsuccessful in Germany.
"Today the discussion is taking place on a much higher level," Bange said. "There is greater trust in the suppliers. To some extent, they offer much higher security standards than smaller companies are used to."
Trust is the key question in all cloud projects: "You need to have the assurance Â that data and applications are organized completely separately," Bange said, adding that companies want sensitive, individual-related data stored locally within their country.
It’s obvious that cloud computing can boost efficiency in the auto industry. "Cloud systems, especially for the auto industry with its wide-ranging processes that span supply chains, can make a contribution to improved processes," Bange said.
But there are clear differences in the way the auto industry is implementing cloud computing and how other industries approach it. The industry tends to build private or community sites rather than the public clouds that companies such as Amazon use.
"The systems take the form of a group cloud that accesses a common platform," Bange said.
One example: dealer information systems. Despite strict guidelines from automakers, dealers and brand outlets operate in a fragmented landscape.
That approach goes counter to the notion that numerous players can be brought under one umbrella without spending a lot of money. When each participating company has to buy, install, maintain, and service the system, it is difficult to set or maintain any standards.
If all the applications are sourced from the cloud, the entry threshold is lowered considerably. That would bring huge potential for simplification of dealer management and other processes.
Michael Pauly, cloud specialist at T-Systems, sees three key fields of application for cloud computing in the auto industry.
- Integration of IT into the vehicle
- Community clouds for supply-chain setup and coordination
- SAP operations
In the case of SAP applications, the supplier operates a basic system for a number of customers. Individualized components can be run externally or within the company.
"There are more and more companies that are organizing their processes to the standard," Pauly said.
About a million dedicated SAP users operate using the cloud at T-Systems. Security is taken seriously:There are multi-step access checks, and customer areas are consistently separated from one another on the hardware.Other safeguards are encryption and a high degree of automation that requires little human intervention.
Two-thirds ofT-Systems’ customers use a private cloud, Pauly estimates.
Software service and solution providers are working hard to improve efficiency, usability and security of cloud systems.
T-Systems will likely offer a new product, infrastructure as a service, by year-end.
And Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research is promoting five projects at the Ruhr University Bochum in western Germany. The goal is to substantially improve the security of current and future IT systems.
A Â project knownas" Secure Ad hoc On-demand Virtual Private Storage" Â has as its goal to secure Â mobile data on next-generation mobile devices such as smart phones and tablet PCs. The researchers are examining the possibility of storing data securely in the cloud. Partners on the project are a professorship at the Technical University Dortmundand the embedded security professorship in Bochum.
A US initiative
A US initiative may also be adopted by the global auto industry. The Automotive Industry Action Group Â is pressing ahead with a cloud-based supply chain information project that would process the flow of information along the supply chain, including delivery paperwork, invoices and customs documents, in the cloud.
The Material Offshore Sourcing (MOSS) project is designed to replace a widely varied system of faxes, e-mails and Excel files, which are redundant and prone to error.
AIAG projects are normally designed to analyze situations, work out standards and publish recommendations, but this time the organization is going a step further, said Wael Aggan, CEO of the Canadian trading and logistics company TradeMerit, an AIAG member.
A pilot program was launched and then companies were invited to participate.Not just automakers and suppliers, but logistics firms and customs agents as well.
The project’s implementation is based on a TradeMerit platform whose security has been certified.
A study by the consulting firm Marsh Risk Management calculated savings of about 1.7 billion dlrs over five years. About 20 companies participated in the project.
"MOSS is now running in North America, and a connection to platforms in Europe and Asia is planned, too," Aggan said.
There is already integration with ERP systems from companies such as SAP and Oracle. "The greatest challenges are at the start, in the costs of operating an overarching supply chain solution and the security concerns."
But, for cost reasons, it quickly became clear that SaaS is the only model to be considered.
MOSS decision-makers deployed several bulletproof vests as security, one layered over another. The platform functions with encryption and digital signatures.
In addition, programs and databases are kept strictly separate from one another. Exchanges only take place via a secure tunnel connection.
"Keeping control over their data is an important concern for many users," Aggan said. "That's why we configured the system so that the user can determine whether his data is stored centrally or at his own company.
"We share the computing capacity but not the data," he said. The challenge has been to ensure good performance despite these requirements. His company has applied for a patent on its technology in this area.
One of the three largest cloud computing firms worldwide is providing the hosting. The system,designed with backup strategies, is redundant. It operates at computing centers on three continents.
"Even if all of North America were to break down, the system will continue to operate. Every entry is simultaneously processed at the three computing centers, " Aggam said.
A third party is also involved. It uses intrusion detection and monitoring to watch for irregularities.
"With conventional computing centers, this solution would be absurdly expensive," he said, citing one of the cloud’s most important advantages.
By Daniela Hoffmann