Thales Hypervisor increases the power and sophistication of supervision systems without the complexity associated with conventional methods of integration. And it provides businesses with an unprecedented ability to visualise and control operations.
It’s a solution that brings together two powerful components. The first of these is service-oriented architecture (SOA), a technology that makes it possible for operators to integrate any application, from any supplier, to build supervision systems that offer an unparalleled level of cross-functional integration.
The second component is an innovative web-based human-machine interface (HMI), the first of its kind. It couples seamless operator interaction with high-level system automation – and an unprecedented ability to visualise operations. Thales Hypervisor represents the fusion of both SOA and HMI technologies, and it’s unique in the market place.
“Our commitment to security is at the heart of Thales Hypervisor”
The solution meets the need for increased openness and easier integration. And it’s built on Thales’ philosophy of investing in research that anticipates market needs. “Thales has a tradition of innovation” says Bruno Nouzille, Vice President Technology for Security Solutions & Services, Thales. “Thales Hypervisor is probably the most important of the critical enabling technologies we have identified and we have taken the decision to invest massively to build a product that is at the cutting edge.”
Thales Hypervisor is among the winners of this year’s prestigious Design Observer awards for outstanding achievement and innovation in industrial design. Presented by APCI, the French design promotion agency, the accolade is awarded to the best collaborations between companies and designers.
Supervision: the context
Supervision technology plays a critical role in today’s hyper-mobile world. Transport networks, energy supplies, public utilities and urban security all depend on increasingly complex supervision systems. Every system is different.
But whether it’s for a metro system or a museum, a pipeline, an airport or even an entire city, supervision systems all serve a common purpose: to provide customers with the ability to monitor and to control operations within a defined perimeter.
Supervision: the challenge
Over the last decade, the numbers of supervised devices, such as cameras, sensors and remote equipment, have increased enormously. But the supervision architectures needed to make sense of it all have struggled to keep pace. That means the true potential of supervision systems is seldom realised.
Computer applications that control devices are often incompatible with each other, so the benefits of coupling complementary functions are lost. Existing frameworks make it difficult to add new applications or to remove old ones.
Applications often have completely different sets of controls. Operators are confronted by a confusing array of incompatible interfaces, each demanding a high level of user familiarity.
And certain functions – such as CCTV – generate overwhelming amounts of data, making it impossible to get an accurate picture of what’s really going on.
Thales Hypervisor: the solution
Thales Hypervisor addresses all these challenges. The combination of service-oriented architecture and a web-based HMI makes it possible for customers to forge powerful new links between diverse and previously hard-to-integrate applications.
The ability to link different functions delivers huge added value for customers. But until now, creating those links has been a risky and expensive business. “Conventional integration has a number of drawbacks” says Olivier Flous, Solution Leader for Thales Hypervisor. “The software is complex and inflexible, with millions of lines of code that make it difficult and costly to update.”
Thales Hypervisor changes all that. “Because it’s based on SOA, it allows us to integrate legacy or existing applications far more effectively” says Mr. Flous.
Functional integration between different applications is achieved within the SOA framework itself, so operators can re-use the functionality of existing applications without the need to rebuild them from scratch.
“Thales Hypervisor makes it possible to orchestrate services based on specific procedures and business logic. But, critically, the underlying applications are unaffected” stresses Mr. Flous. “It’s also possible for customers to configure and modify their business processes easily with a user-friendly tool that we provide – this is an important differentiator.”
High concept HMI
Thales Hypervisor sprang from the need for increased openness and the demand for ever-higher levels of integration. But it was clear that customers also wanted a better way to visualise and to interact with equipment, one that would provide complete situation awareness and seamless control.
In partnership with design consultants and experts drawn from all parts of Thales, including the group’s aerospace division, work commenced on the creation of an entirely new human-machine interface. “Our aerospace people develop aircraft cockpits” says Mr. Flous. “They understand ergonomics and worked with us to ensure we were taking the right decisions.”
Development of Thales Hypervisor’s integral HMI builds on expertise shared across Thales Group, with input from France, Canada, Italy, Hong Kong, Portugal and the UK. Crucially, the finished product also reflects extensive consultation with the people who will be using the solution – the infrastructure operators and supervisors themselves.
“The integrated HMI provides the customer with the highest level of situation awareness” says Thales’ Bruno Nouzille. “This is crucial, because when you have a very complex system to manage, it’s absolutely essential to be able to have a thorough understanding of the situation in real time.”
Transforming operations in:
- Ground transportation - metro systems, urban rail and main lines; urban mobility and roads
- Energy and utilities - oil and gas pipelines, electricity distribution, nuclear power generation and the water industry
- Sensitive sites - refinery protection, military installations, prisons and public buildings including museums
- Urban security - city-wide command and control
The key to developing such a system is knowing which information is going to be useful, and which isn’t. That’s why it’s so important to understand the business of the customer, emphasises Thales’ Olivier Flous.
“For example, a SCADA application for transport may manage many thousands of different devices capable of producing tens of thousands of items of information. In fact, only a small proportion of these are of interest. The key to getting the system design right is to know what’s needed on the business side. Thales has the domain expertise to do this.”
Point and click
Thales Hypervisor’s smart HMI is based on web browser technology and it provides a set of standardised, user-friendly controls and displays for all applications. “It integrates data from all the different applications, so the user doesn’t know there are multiple applications underneath – what he sees is a fully-integrated system” says Mr. Flous.
This reflects a primary need in the marketplace. “It makes it much easier for operators to move from one functional position to another” says Mr. Flous. “At the moment, it’s difficult because staff have to learn a different interface for each individual application. With Thales Hypervisor, the interface is standardised for all applications.”
Distribution of control functions is also easier with Thales Hypervisor, so it’s simple to create a back-up control centre or to provide high-level authorities with an overview of the system. ‘Light client’ technology means that there’s no need to install specific software on each supervisory workstation, no matter how many terminals there are, or where they are – the only thing that needs to run on the operator’s computer is the browser.
Thales Hypervisor offers advanced decision support tools that provide vital assistance in a crisis. Instead of searching for cumbersome procedure manuals in an emergency, it automatically calls up an on-screen checklist that provides step-by-step guidance to ensure operators make the right decisions.
“These kind of checklists are directly derived from the ones used on an aircraft flight deck” explains Mr. Flous. “And our software makes it easy for operators to upgrade and modify their procedures whenever they need to.”
On a metro system, for example, staff can use macro commands to stop trains, move cameras and initiate a full-scale station evacuation procedure, all at the click of a mouse. That means faster reaction times. And with a system latency of around 200 milliseconds, it offers real-time control over applications with no waiting.
Thales Hypervisor’s SOA framework is highly flexible and it means the solution can be tailored to accommodate a huge range of different customer needs.
In the realm of urban security, the emphasis might be on providing situation awareness. This is achieved by synthesising massive amounts of data from complex sub-systems, such as video surveillance, sensor networks and GPS resource tracking. Thales Hypervisor then refines this data to present a clear picture of what’s happening on the ground.
The ability to zoom-in on any part of a city is vital in a crisis management situation and it provides decision makers with all the data they need to assess the situation and to co-ordinate the deployment of first responders and other forces.
On a metro system or an oil pipeline, situation awareness is equally important. But there’s also a greater need to interact directly with remote equipment. Thales Hypervisor provides a clear picture of total system status, and allows a single supervisor to interact directly with multiple devices without the need to call up different applications.
Open source advantage
Modern IT elements, such as service-oriented architecture and web services, are among the building blocks of Thales Hypervisor. The SOA framework itself is built around an ESB – enterprise service bus. The decision to adopt an open source ESB is a key differentiator.
“When you use an open source, you have the source code of the product and that has three major benefits. Firstly, you are able to modify it if you want to. Secondly, you are able to stay at the same release of the software if you need to – that’s very important for us. And thirdly, as far as security is concerned, it’s much easier to secure because you know exactly what is inside.”
Thales has a proven track record in technological deployments of this sort. The company’s first implementation of this type – a distributed architecture solution for NATO – was rolled out 15 years ago. “SOA is more than just a buzzword for Thales” emphasises Mr. Nouzille. “We have a real background in terms of approaching the issue of distributed architecture.”
Thales Hypervisor guarantees safety and security, with total data protection and controlled access for large numbers of operators. Interaction with the system and access to data are controlled by a rigorous rights policy, with full user authentication and role-based attribution. Thales’ expertise in security and data encryption means the system can be fine-tuned to the specific security needs of customers.
“Our commitment to security is at the heart of Thales Hypervisor and the solution is underpinned by our Secured by Thales concept” says Mr. Nouzille. That’s of critical importance in the management of transportation systems where safety and security are mandatory.
The solution exploits the power and flexibility of web-based technologies. But that doesn’t mean that an operator’s supervision system is available ‘online’ in the conventional sense: typically, operators continue to use their own dedicated Local Area Networks – no connection to the internet is required.
A tool for compliance
Thales Hypervisor can be configured to log the actions of operators. In a post-crisis situation, this can be of particular value. It provides proof that the correct procedures have been followed, and it means incidents can be studied in detail after the event, so lessons can be learnt and operating procedures refined.
“It is possible to record all supervisor actions” emphasises Thales’ Olivier Flous. “You could also choose to record all messages that travel through the framework. Both these functionalities are available according to the customer’s needs.”
A smarter solution
Thales Hypervisor has the capacity to create new links between all parts of an organisation, not just operational ones, so it’s an enterprise level solution. Significant efficiency gains can be made by integrating back office applications, such as maintenance and human resource management.
Flows of critical information within the business can be channelled through the SOA framework, adding huge value and opening up new possibilities. The solution also supports the needs of a mobile workforce, allowing operators to share value-added information with ground staff via PDA.
The Thales difference
Thales Hypervisor began with a very simple idea. “We looked at what the market wanted first” says Bruno Nouzille. “The solution comes from a deep analysis of our customers’ requirements. The human machine interface that we have developed highlights this understanding – I think our competitors would struggle to achieve that.”
Because Thales Hypervisor is an open source solution, it’s easier to maintain than the proprietary, black box integration packages of the past and there’s no supplier lock-in. And it offers unprecedented flexibility.
“The main benefit of the SOA approach is that business processes and underlying applications are completely independent. This enables customers to put their own business processes onto Thales Hypervisor, something which is not so easy with systems offered by competitors” concludes Mr. Nouzille. “With our solution, customers have the opportunity to maintain their own ways of working, using a very modern system and a very modern man-machine interface.”
- Seamless integration - Thales Hypervisor is device agnostic with the ability to integrate any application from any vendor, including legacy applications, with no supplier lock-in.
- Situation awareness - unique human-machine interface (HMI) provides instant visualisation of all supervised equipment - and the ability to react fast in the event of an incident.
- Safety and security - Thales Hypervisor guarantees the protection of data and incorporates robust authentication protocols and access controls.
- Flexibility - business processes can be set-up and modified easily with Thales’ user-friendly tools.
- Open architecture - with a browser-based HMI and a future-proof SOA framework that is fully scaleable, simple to maintain and easy to configure.
- Business domain agnostic - designed to meet the needs of all large-scale infrastructure operators.
- Low-risk - integration of complementary applications takes place within the SOA layer, so the modularity of underlying applications is not affected.
CCTV plays an increasingly important role in the quest to maintain safety and security. But with the largest video surveillance systems now handling inputs from 10,000 cameras or more, making sense of it all has become a major challenge.
Thales’ video analysis solutions dramatically improve the usefulness of CCTV systems, with intelligent image analysis software that scans through enormous volumes of video data, in real time, with alarms triggered automatically.
Video analysis applications incorporate advanced algorithms that can be used to detect everything from abandoned objects to suspicious behaviour, with crowd density and flow measurement to detect potentially dangerous congestion in public spaces.