Consistent cooperation, especially in complex projects with in-house and external experts from various disciplines, was a challenge long before the home-office-characterized times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with small changes, data exchange has been and is a hindrance that complicates and delays workflows. It is still common to outsource engineering tasks to external engineering offices. However, the plant operator then does not possess the original data. He receives some of the results only on paper, often as a PDF.
Editing central data decentrally
The coronavirus crisis has now dramatically illustrated it: decentralized work on a central database is more important than ever. AUCOTEC's cooperative platform Engineering Base (EB), with its object-oriented, data-driven work method, is an essential part of the solution that also restores plant operators' sovereignty over their data, but optimal effectiveness also requires appropriate infrastructure.
If operators, suppliers and globally distributed engineering disciplines – as required by workflow and maintenance efficiency – want to have always up-to-date data that can be edited in parallel, terminal server access is necessary. It also allows external remote access to a database with the appropriate rights.
Here's how it works
"In practice, this is how it looks," explained Olaf Timm, Team Leader at AUCOTEC with responsibility for the infrastructure area. "You need a computer, web access, you need to know EB and have the appropriate usage rights. In addition, the person who has the data sovereignty, ideally the operator, should assign you access rights to the terminal server via the IT department. 2-factor authentication is increasingly becoming the standard here. In addition, the user's web connection should be somewhat efficient."
However, there are some marginal conditions. "That's why we don't have a panacea, but we can analyse the circumstances and provide guidance," said Timm. In any case, the bandwidth and latency of the connection play an important role. In addition, the role of the user is important according to the IT expert. A distinction is made between 'designers', 'power users' or 'knowledge workers'. Other applications that run in the background also influence resource consumption. "Finally, it should not be forgotten that 'homeschooling and streaming films' can have a decisive influence on the home office," added Timm with a knowing smile.
Signed and sealed performance
What is certain, however, is that Citrix is a good solution on the terminal server side. In December 2019, Engineering Base was tested by Citrix and its compatibility was certified as reliable. The IT expert, who has already carried out countless infrastructure analyses and installation projects for customers: "In our experience, Citrix provides the most efficient connection. Furthermore, we use this solution ourselves, e.g. for training and test environments of our Professional Services team, but also to directly support customer projects in some cases. In addition, the solution is relatively easy to extend and configure." The Citrix protocol also adapts to Internet conditions. In the event of quality fluctuations in the network, for example, the graphics are reduced in order to maintain optimal working conditions.
Smoothly to Brazil
According to Timm, remote desktop access is also a feasible option, but it depends on the purpose. In a remote session, the user is shown an "external" desktop with a complete interface, and Citrix provides the option of starting EB directly by double-clicking on an icon, without any third-party desktop environment. This is called a published application.
The cooperation of the engineering experts of an AUCOTEC customer from southern Germany with their colleagues in Brazil proceeded very smoothly via Citrix from the outset and was easy to set up. "For the previous test environment for a different solution, some things had to be tweaked, which would have meant a lot more effort and thus man-hours," reported Olaf Timm. His conclusion: "Citrix offers a very efficient, easily scalable basis. This allows our users to carry out engineering as usual at any time from anywhere with up-to-date data – even from the home office in suitable circumstances."