S4 2018 Technology Directions

Last year was both very successful for S4 and at the same time very frustrating. Sales volumes were up considerably, we added multiple new partners, and had a continuous flow of students attending S4 Boot Camps to learn how to be successful with the S4 products.

Going into 2017 we had grand plans to add several new integrations, add the ability to publish to cloud-based services, and introduce our Cobalt hardware that offers enhanced performance and numerous features to monitor and manage serial field buses not found on commercially available hardware. When our hardware supplier announced end of life for the UNO 2059GL, all of our plans and priorities quickly changed. The focus became “how do we keep delivering systems to S4 partners?”

There are hardware, operating system, firmware, product delivery, and support implications. Needless to say this has stretched our resources. We’ve taken both some short term actions and have worked out a more strategic long term plan to address all of these issues. Without going into all the details along the way here is the roadmap for 2018.

UNO 2059GL Release 1.30: We hosted our systems on this platform for many years but it has been discontinued and no more are available from Advantech. The OS environment for this platform is Windows CE 5.0. As a stopgap measure we pulled back demo / training systems from our partners and refurbished them to continue supporting customers. If you have any of these systems available because they have completed their mission please let us know.

New hardware platforms: The prototypes of our S4 manufactured Cobalt system are running Linux in our test lab. B&B SmartWorx / Advantech has worked with us to identify their UNO 2362G as a replacement hardware platform. We also identified the Axiomtek ICO 300 as a commercial hardware platform to host our systems. Bottom line, our partners will have several viable choices and we will have enough supplier diversity that a product being discontinued will never again disrupt us, and our partners, as it did last year.

Advantech UNO 2362G Release 1.40 Directions: This is the replacement for the UNO 2059GL platform. The standard OS offering on this platform is Windows 7 Embedded Standard. In the short term we ported much of our firmware to this environment and, in the process, made sure that it was both hardware and OS independent. We were able to port everything except the Upstream N2 support for this release. This is the release that we are currently delivering and are committed to fully supporting 1.40 for the foreseeable future.

Advantech UNO 2362G Release 1.31 Directions: Because of the strict security model of Windows 7 we found major roadblocks to porting the upstream N2 interface for release 1.40. We made the strategic decision that those resources can be put to better use. Instead, we are generating a build of the Windows CE 5.0 OS for the UNO 2362G. That will allow all of our release 1.30 firmware to run on the UNO 2362G platform. Release 1.31 restores full functionality of the S4 firmware. This is currently under development and will soon be ready for testing.

Release 2.0 Directions: Our first half 2018 goal is to move our firmware to Linux to complete our goal of achieving hardware independence for our firmware. As we get a bit farther along in the testing of our Cobalt platform and its advanced capabilities, we will issue an article focused on it. We have not been able to find a commercially available platform that offers these capabilities. The Axiomtek ICO 300 platform is successfully running Linux in the test lab and we are awaiting a Linux installation for the UNO 2362G from Advantech.

Post 2.0 Directions: Release 2.0 provides us with hardware independence to protect both S4 and our partners from the events that we navigated through last year. In addition, it sets the stage for many new features that we simply had to defer during the hardware availability transition. You’ll be seeing multiple new integrations from S4, the ability to publish to the cloud, the movement of our management console to HTML5 hosted on board the systems, and the introduction of cloud-based service to streamline the support of S4 installations.

Most importantly, we are making investments in being able to support our partners better. We are making technology investments to improve the coordination between S4 and our development partner in Germany, Obermeier Software. We are also investing in advanced Help Desk software to better track customer reported problems and keep our partners better informed of progress towards a resolution. There have been a few cases where problems went unresolved for an extended period of time. But a few are too many and we are committed to improving how we handle these cases.

Despite the stumbling blocks we encountered in the last year, we find ourselves revitalized and recommitted to our customers, our vision, and our future. We look forward to sharing many exciting new products and developments with you in 2018.