Use of Cloud Computing in Manufacturing (5 Ways to Run ERP Remotely)

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There are a lot of questions recently about ERP cloud migration, running ERP remotely, and the use of cloud computing in manufacturing. The move to work from home is really challenging for this area of technology, and customers want to understand their options, especially as the use of cloud computing in manufacturing is becoming essential. Here at Sabre IT Solutions, we’re pretty good with ERP. Our sister company Sabre Limited are ERP experts with Microsoft Dynamics Business Central. This little primer can explain the options you have and the pros and cons.

There are a lot of SMB industrial businesses that have legacy ERP systems. We saw many companies where the ERP system became a serious bottleneck to moving forward with remote work.

Here are some specific ways we see people dealing with this.

  1. Trying to run over the VPN: This is pretty tough to get working in a lot of cases. The VPN is really not intended as a high-speed connection to the office, and generally, legacy ERP systems need that.  If you have tried this approach, you may have found that the system is unusably slow.
  2. Using Remote Desktop on PCs: Setting up Remote Desktop Services on some computers at the office, and then having each user log into their office PC is a technique that we see often. There are definitely some security risks with this approach. Remote Desktop Services is a notorious hole in security that hackers use to get administrative user accounts. Running behind a VPN is definitely a good idea and relatively safe. This approach ends up with each employee owning 2 computers and can double the desktop maintenance and the costs.
  3. Using a Remote Desktop Services Server: This also used to be called a Terminal Server. If you have a lot of users who need access to the legacy ERP, this is the best way (short of choices 4 and 5). A Remote Desktop Server is a server that works like the individual users’ desktops, but it is a single server. The software is about the same price as Windows 10 x how many users (about $200 each).  The server can be a super powerful desktop or a legitimate server. They take a day to set up but work very much like 2) only without all the excess hardware.
  4. Hybrid ERP Cloud Migration: This is a case where you are moving your local infrastructure into the cloud. The ERP is still a legacy ERP, but it is running in the cloud as are your users. You can either use a Remote Desktop Server like the one I talk about above or a new technology called Windows Virtual Desktop, which is way cooler and much more powerful.
  5. Migrate to a Cloud ERP: Replacing your ERP system is an enormous undertaking, and although today’s cloud ERP systems make that a little easier, it is really hard. This is going to be by far the best long-term solution.

Let’s dig into these a bit more.

Five Solutions to Run ERP Remotely

Using your VPN

As I mentioned above, this is not usually practical unless you have fantastic speed at both ends of your connection, and great latency (sometimes called ping). If you don’t have both of those things, running your ERP via the VPN will be a nightmare. You can definitely try it.

  • Take a laptop or other device home that can connect to your ERP while at the office
  • Connect to work with VPN
  • Run the ERP normally

Some of the Cons:

  • Often DNS isn’t properly routing across your VPN – the “Server” address can’t be found (can be fixed)
  • If the VPN is too slow – the ERP could be unusable (hard to fix)

Cambridge, ON Company runs ERP over VPN : Many years ago we had a customer with a location in Dundas and another in Cambridge. They had a Legacy ERP (which was replaced about 3 years ago with Microsoft Dynamics 365). It took almost 10 minutes to open an order over the connection. 15 minutes to print a PO. We installed a Terminal Server (now called Remote Desktop Server) for them and the ERP ran essentially as fast as being at the office.

use of cloud computing in manufacturing

Using Remote Desktops at each desk

If you have some extra computers, cloud computing in manufacturing might be a viable choice. This is allowing you to run your system without a real ERP cloud migration. If you do not have extra computers, then it might be a really expensive idea. This one is also fairly easy to do on your own.

  • On each computer, you want to access from home or remotely, set up the Remote Desktop to work.
  • Connect to work with VPN
  • Use Remote Desktop Connection to connect to your work computer by its name or IP address

Some of the Cons:

  • You need a VPN connection to use the internal IP addresses of the computers. If you don’t have a VPN this won’t work.
  • If there is an issue at the office with the computer it won’t work. A lot of computers auto-shut off after some duration. It can be hard to configure them to “wake” when you connect.
  • You left your computer at the office. You need to buy another computer which is not cheap.

Connecting to the office with Remote Desktop in Waterloo, ON: One of our customers opted for this choice as the users really wanted THEIR desktops. They had to get 20 laptops to enable this, and it took almost a month to get them. There is a terrible shortage of laptop and desktop computers recently.

cloud computing in manufacturing

Using a Remote Desktop Server

If you have a server with a lot of RAM (or even a really powerful engineering computer that’s less used) then you can buy the Windows Remote Desktop Server software. You can think of this as a license for Windows 10 that gets added to a regular Windows Server. For each license, users can get a separate desktop that looks a lot like a regular PC. It works very much like the Remote Desktop at each desk I described above, but it is a lot closer to an ERP cloud migration. You are making your ERP available remotely, from anywhere. This is how cloud computing in manufacturing is done.

  • Set up a Server that can run your ERP and add Remote Desktop licensing to it.
  • Connect to work with VPN
  • Use Remote Desktop Connection to connect to the server with your regular network username and password.

Some of the Cons:

  • This can’t be done in 30 minutes like the previous approach. It might take a few days or even weeks depending on if you have hardware or need to buy new.
  • Some legacy ERP systems don’t like this setup, they want to be on a real Windows 10 computer, not a Terminal Server.
  • It’s not really a Windows desktop. It looks a lot like one, but users don’t always like the arrangement.

Terminal Server in Waterloo, ON: Ironically, the customer who has remote desktops at every desk also has a terminal server for their Vancouver location to use. This has been there for a while, and could have been used for users at home also.

Moving to the Cloud

The use of cloud computing in manufacturing is becoming more popular today as companies move their entire networks to the cloud. We call this a hybrid ERP cloud migration. It’s hybrid because the ERP is hosted in the cloud, but it is not a cloud ERP. In this case, your ERP server(s) are created as public cloud servers (we would use Microsoft Azure cloud hosting).

You can then run a Terminal Server / Remote Desktop Server as described above, or you can use a newer technology called Windows Virtual Desktop. WVD is pretty awesome as you can run really complex software like SolidWorks, Inventor, or Pro Engineer in the cloud with this technology, WVD is definitely more expensive, but it has huge advantages also.

  • Migrating to cloud computing in manufacturing would require at a minimum a few weeks and possibly a month.
  • Once in the cloud, users connect from anywhere.
  • Maintenance of the servers is much easier as you don’t need to physically access them to reboot or configure them.

Some of the Cons:

  • If you just bought all new hardware, this is adding unnecessary costs.
  • You don’t need servers at the office. Not sure if that is actually a con.

Implement a real Cloud ERP system

Cloud-based ERP and the use of cloud computing in manufacturing have been around for a while now. Until recently it was considered fringe technology.  That has changed in the past few years, especially with Microsoft entering the SMB market with Dynamics 365 Business Central. Advances in browser technology (especially HTML5) have made it really practical to use an ERP in your browser. The Millennial generation is used to running software on devices like phones and tablets, and is looking at this as a “must-have.” It can be pretty expensive and very time-consuming to implement ERP, although it is getting cheaper.

  • Migrating to cloud computing in manufacturing takes probably about 3-6 months to complete (at a minimum).
  • Once in the cloud, users connect from anywhere, even tablets and phones.
  • There aren’t any servers that need maintenance. The system runs in the cloud, meaning the ERP vendor takes care of everything.
  • This will be the most modern and future-proofed solution.

Some of the Cons:

  • Your business might need some fairly significant change management.
  • The cost of training and implementation can be high (although modern ERP implementation practices are less expensive than traditional ones).

Need some help with the use of Cloud Computing in Manufacturing?

Let us know if you need any help with any of these ERP remote access techniques.  We help a lot of customers with these kinds of configurations, and can definitely help you run ERP remotely in your business. Give us a call at 226-336-6259 or contact us at today to learn more.

FAQ: Running ERP Remotely

Q: What is ERP?

A: ERP is short for Enterprise Resource Planning. It is an integrated, all-in-one software tool that is used to combine finance and accounting; supply chain and logistics; manufacturing and planning; human resources; customer relationship management, and many other functions under one umbrella system with a single centralized database.

Q: What is a Legacy ERP?

A: A Legacy ERP is built on older technology platforms that are generally unavailable or have become less frequently used. The AS400 style ERP system is generally a Legacy ERP in today’s market. The most common “current” ERP technology is Cloud ERP. The Client-Server model of ERP is still common but declining in popularity as it is replaced with Cloud-based software.

Q: What is ERP Cloud Migration?

A: This can be either migrating your Legacy ERP platform so that it runs in a private cloud environment (which could be servers at your office) or the public cloud (such as a Windows Virtual Desktop in Azure).  It can also be replacing your legacy ERP with a cloud ERP. ERP Cloud Migration and the use of cloud computing in manufacturing are becoming much more popular in the 2020s as the COVID-19 crisis has forced businesses to re-evaluate their IT strategy. Often the ERP system is what is holding them back from a more diversified, cloud-centric business model.

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