HMI Virtualization Discussion Notes

Virtualization of HMI Applications: Looking for solutions being implemented.

I was at a presentation from Rockwell describing VMWare and a review of the products and how they fit in, in development and production environments. I got the impression that the “bare metal” version where the VMWare software replaces the host operating system is recommended for production systems. However this seems like a higher end type solution that requires “approved hardware”.   I’m particularly interested in any applications that use the VMWare Workstation type product for customer use in a production environment. In particular, is this solution reasonably stable.

I plan to publish results on my blog if I get some good input on this.


Answers from various LinkedIn Discussion Groups

Automation & Control Engineering


Bob Hines • I assume you mean VMWare ESXi when you mean “bare metal” in contrast to VM Workstation.   My understanding is that ESXi will only run on “server class” hardware (see ).   ESXi essentially is a VM management optimized host operating system. By contrast, VM Workstation utilizes standard “commercial” host operating systems like Windows and Linux. The advantages of ESXi is its efficiency, its advanced hardware management capabilities, and the VM isolation and stability it provides when running multiple VMs simultaneously.   While I’ve not implemented it for a production system, I use VM Workstation on Windows 7 Ultimate running a guest Windows XP SP3 OS with the latest version of RSLogix 500, RSLogix 5000, FactoryTalk View, RSLinx, etc. on my laptop daily. For the most part, it’s very stable. Most instability I encounter has to do with USB and PC card Ethernet adapters that I dynamically plug in to get access to different subnets. Sometimes my VM will lockup when I plug in a new Ethernet adapter and I’ll have to reboot the VM. I don’t think you would see that type of “event” happening much on a production machine.   Of more concern to me is the relatively heavy load that VM Workstation can sometimes place on the CPU. I have a relatively modest laptop with a duel-core processor running at 2.4Ghz and 4Gb of RAM. My Rockwell VM is configured to use 2Gb of RAM and can be sluggish at times but is usable for the most part. I often have 3 or 4 instances of RSLogix running along with an instance of FactoryTalk View development. By far, the heaviest load I see is when I’m compiling a View application (typically 100%). If my laptop had more memory and I could allocate more to the VM, I doubt I would see the same degree of loading.   I am in the process of planning our first VM ESXi installation and intend to use it primarily for HMI client workstations. In doing so, the following are my goals:   1) reduce the number of physical machines that we have to purchase and maintain 2) standardize client configuration so that the effort it takes to instantiate and validate a new HMI client is minimized  3) provide a more flexible environment where we can test and validate new configurations  4) simplify client backups by only having to back up one VM instance 5) eliminate or minimize the work it takes to restore a crashed client (i.e., just re-instantiate it)  6) extending the life of a VM configuration by eliminating or reducing dependence on specific hardware  7) keep the physical hardware in relatively clean conditioned environments with only industrial thin client hardware in the field



James Volk • Harold,

I have the same question as you do. I have seen a lot of vendors talking about using the virtualization but I have not found too many people who are using it in the field. I have successfully used VMWare on the development side to help manage software versions, multiple softwares, etc but have not deployed anything on a customer site. To this end I am waiting for RFP responses where I did ask for integrators to propose a virtual environment as an option to reduce the hardware required to implement a SCADA system. I will let you know what I find out in the next couple of months.

19 days ago • Unlike •

Nathan Redmann, P.E. • I agree that the bare metal versions of VMWare / Hyper-V / Xenserver are desired for production. In my experience, most standard commercial server hardware is supported. You also eliminate the need for a host OS to support VMWare workstation or Hyper-V. I have deployed production systems using both scenarios and will always recommend bare metal to my customers in the future.

19 days ago • Like •

Usman Ahmed • I worked on VMWARE and we developed a solution for production environment, where client require 0 down time for hardware and data redundancy. We used VMware FT solution and it was successful experience, it is costly but Virtual concept is the need of time now

Automation Engineers


James Garber • Harold,

I’m a VMWare addict, I’d be fascinated to see this Rockwell presentation you mentioned. Particularly because I can’t imagine the point of using it for HMI applications. Off the top of my head I might say it would be useful for getting around Rockwell’s license manager if you wanted to pirate some software, but I can’t imagine them endorsing that idea.  I’m a big fan of Rockwell’s FactoryTalk Site Edition for pc-based HMI, and I heartily endorse using FT VantagePoint for remote HMI solutions. I’ll admit Pro-Face, Red Lion, C-More, and others arguably accomplish the same thing for less money, but FactoryTalk is a lot more flexible if you need to work “on the fly”. I’ve used “Advanced HMI” which is a Visual Basic based pc HMI programming suite (and is free) on VMWare, it works great if you understand it. WonderWare has it’s limitations, but I’ve used VMWare to emulate an HMI with it before actually putting it into service.  I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical of this “cloud computing” movement. I love NetFlix, but I certainly wouldn’t want my critical machines offering the same performance. I don’t get too upset if episode 7 of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” takes 20 seconds to load, but I need a drives torque feedback in real time.  So what is the point of the VMWare/Rockwell interface? I’d love to know…

20 days ago • Like

theo baarslag • We currently have a situation with virtualized FLink SCADA systems, and are moving to a similar situation but with virtual Rockwell FTView stations.  For us it works great, you have all the advantages of a virtual server (easy to “copy” if you have similar setups on more then one line, easy to make mirrors so you can easily go back if you find out that for instance windows updates break something, transferring a machine to a different blade to work on the blade it was on before or if the load there gets high, etc etc).  We also have HMIs, and they are not virtualized, they are right there at the line where the operator needs to work to tune a setting, fix a problem, etc. Those devices are also a lot smaller in capacity and not used all the time, and they have proprietary operating systems based on CE which gets them off the hook for antivirus and os patches (provided they are protected by a network firewall or the PLC works as a gateway between that HMI and the manufacturing network). But as said, we have a number of virtual machines for our SCADA systems and they work well for us.   KR,


19 days ago • Unlike

theo baarslag • For Arun: We are looking into a wireless version of the HMIs, eg. tablet, but using smartphones is out of the question for now. We need dedicated screens at the line that we can maintain properly, not anyones mobile phone with all the security risks that would bring into a manufacturing environment.  We need a high standard regarding cyber security in our manufacturing environment, and mobile phones and regular tablets most often do not fit that bill. And if we provide a regular tablet at the line, there is the risk of theft as there are always temps and contractors around on the floor and if you want a tablet because it is a mobile device then there is the risk that someone walks out the door with it.  What we are looking into are wireless HMI terminals, more proprietary devices that cannot be used for another purpose and are adequately protected from attacks. But it is a low priority task, so we do not have any solution in mind yet.

18 days ago • Like

Arun Sinha • Theo,

Thanks for the information. The groov uses SSL (Secure Socket Layers), and has 4 levels of access for users (the lowest being “Kiosk” mode).

We have a client that is going to use iPads, and is going to mount them in a bracket permanently. Hoffman also now offers an enclosure for iPad…that is a permanent mount.

James,  Theo sums it up well.  For me the attractivenes of virtualizing the HMI is portability to hardware that is totally different a couple of years down the road.  On the deveopment side I can just load up that “old” image if I need to do some maintenance on an older system that may not be compatible with my current host operating system.

My philosophy in using PC’s is to keep them as operator interfaces and for data collection and connection to other computer systems for recipes and such.  I don’t trust PC’s to do real time control except maybe for a lab project.

As for doing drive torque control in an HMI… you’re pulling my leg, right?

PLC / SCADA / MES – World Wide Community


nabil kontar • virtualbox ? Xen ?

Bill Schmidt • Howard,

I work day in and day out with many customers whom have VMware running “on the bare metal” for many RA products for mission critical applications. Installing VMware as the host OS is preferred because it is the most efficient and stable means to implement virtual operating systems.   Personally I use VMware workstation on my PC to support multiple OS platforms and version of software to ensure I have the appropriate install to support my wide variety of customer installed applications. Workstation does not run on the bare metal but runs on top of my Windows 7 OS. Workstation is a magnitude slower and less stable that running ESXi (bare metal implementation) as an example. But has the tradeoff of being able to run on my notebook computer and less demanding hardware requirements.   So in summary… ESXi or similar bare metal installations for the end customer for the most robust mission critical applications. Workstation or VMware player for suppliers / integrators for the most flexible and versatile installation to support the wide variety of customer applications.

19 days ago • Like

Harold Ennulat, PE CSE • So what if it isn’t mission critical in the sense that it is OK to reboot every so often. The main reason for wanting to virtualize is make the application hardware independent. This allows us to build an application that we can port to whatever computer might be the flavor of the day.Regarding speed. Is Workstation significantly slower than running on a host like XP or W7 directly? From working with VMWare Player the performance seems pretty good for HMI type applications or even desktop type applications.

4 minutes ago

Industrial Automation and Controls Network


Todd Edmunds • This virtualized approach does not make much financial sense if you are only thinking about one or two HMI applications/servers. Aside from the recommendation of using server class computers, there is no need to have any special hardware. But the advantages really start to stack up when virtualizing several servers in a managed system.   VMware’s ESXi is a very small OS (or hypervisor) that runs on the ‘bare metal’ server and hosts the virtual images without having to have an underlying windows or other operating system. You immediately realize the benefits of having centrally located servers for maintenance and support purposes.   But where the real power of an architecture like this comes into play is when you have a group of these servers in a rack (two or three or more) and add-ons to the hypervisor automatically load balance the virtual servers across the bare metal servers based on available hardware resources and performance as well as provide automatic failover if any of the virtual or real servers go down! So now you essentially have redundant pcs for all of your industrial applications.

20 days ago • Unlike

Domenico Fiori • Dear friends, in my opinion everything is simpler than imagined.  Even Workstation is running smoothly client and server images. Tested and working daily. Regards.

20 days ago • Unlike

Harold Ennulat, PE CSE • Domenico, I’m looking for experiences like yours. I only want to virtualize one or two HMI’s typically so I can port the applications and make the applications hardware independent. I also want to avoid reinstalling the HMI software for each new project. Loading up an old VM for the next project seems like a productivity enhancer. Using the bare metal approach is way over the top for what I think we want virtualization for.

1 second ago



Martin Grosse • Hello Harold. There are 2 ways on running a virtualized machine on a computer. Its either with a Type 1 or a Type 2 (this is for vmware) sollution. Type 1 is where ,as you mentioned, you replace the OS with a vmwares ESXI platform which is in itself a Linux based distribution. This software creates a platform where you can run virtualized computers on. Type 2 is where you have a OS running such as windows 7 or windows 2008 server. Ontop of this you install workstation. In workstation you can run your virtualized computers. The major difference between type 1 and type 2 is that type 1 is built for being a server sollution when it comes to running machines on it. For type 2 i’d say its more where you need several machines to have different tools installed on each of em to not bloat your actuall windows 7 installation. I run several windows installations, 1 for siemens, 1 for rockwell, etc etc.

When it comes to licensing for esxi and for workstation the pricing varys alot. There is even a free license for esxi. However it doesnt include the cool parts of esxi such as load balancing and many other nifty tools.

As for running a workstation in a production environment. I’d say it all depends on how dependant the production is on having the machine up and running 24/7. If the production still keeps going if the machine goes down then running workstation could suit your needs fine. Yeah you get the picture. However in general workstation is a solid piece of software and i’ve never had problems of the OS just crashing. Actually i haven’t had much of any trouble when it comes to workstation.   I would still try to push for a server based sollution running ESXI just because the stuff you can get such as redundancy is just outstanding.

I can say a short example on a implementation i’ve done for a company.

2 hosts running esxi with loadbalancing and other nifty tools such as redundancy. 1 SAN where we keep all the virtual machines nice and tidy.  On these 2 hosts we run 8 servers which hosts a Wonderware MES + inTouch system.  We also run 9 OP-stations with vmware view using Wyse thin clients. These OP-stations run inTouch, batch and historian.  The main reason for using thin clients and using virtual machines as OP stations is simply because we already have an environment (the above hosts) that got redundacy and load balancing so we use this to our advantage for keeping the OP stations up and running 24/7. If a thin client would die this can be replaced and reconfigured within minutes. As for running a whole computer as a OP-station and it fails.. if you are unlucky it can take days to get a new OP station up and running.   Anyhow my 2 Cents.


20 days ago • Unlike

Philipp Dreiss • Take a look at Here a demonstrator has been implemented to go beyond the VMWare level for production services; enabling service orchestration and multi-tennancy as well as security.

20 days ago • Like

Javi Gargallo • I use VMWare all the time in my company. We are a SCADA and PLC integrator company.  All time we are integrating new plant parts, we are dependent on the client software versions. Five years before, this fact means we had to uninstall and install all required software in our laptops, loosing valuable time with it. Nowdays with the virtualization this problem is solved. We had several virtual machines stored in a networked HD with most of the SCADA versions that we need.   I used ones VMware 8.xx (something, I can’t remember) in an electrical power plant. We installed two host PC. Both are high profile machines with 8GB RAM, high speed HD, 64 bits Linux OS, etc… One of the PC was used as a SCADA server, with redundant capabilities with its partner and worked much more fast and better than the normal PC. Another PC was used as an engineering PC with two virtual machines running simultaneously. One of the virtual machines, with Siemens and GE iFix 4.0 software. The other one with the oscilloperturbograph applications.   The are working fine for one year, without any problem.   In this industrial environment, we were not able to run Type 1 machines on several servers with redundancy, because of the hardware keys needed for the SCADA application and the Ethernet routing trough the Ethernet switches to keep the server-client communications.

19 days ago • Unlike

Eric Brown • AT NASA we used VMWare on top of Ubuntu and ran a Win64 File server (amongf other things) on top of that. Ran great and I could rebuild a crashed VM in less than 20 minutes.


My Thanks to all those who commented on my question.

|  Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013  6:20 pm CST


  1. […] HMI Virtualization Discussion Notes […]

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