A Cloud Based Alternative to Traditional SCADA

What is SCADA? 

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems have been in existence three decades and have long been considered the de facto method for interfacing with PLCs and providing alarming, logging, trending, and operator interface functionality.  Today most SCADA packages include web and mobile interfaces and tout these features as their Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or  Industry 4.0 solution.  However, one of the benefits of leveraging the IIoT may actually be the elimination of the traditional SCADA layer.

Supporting and Maintaining SCADA

Why would you want to eliminate SCADA? 

Let’s start with support and maintenance.  Data logs from SCADA systems are typically pushed into a SQL database that grows continuously and requires maintenance.  SCADA software requires upgrades and patches to keep up with the latest Windows OS patches and virus updates.  Chances are the entire Windows Operating System that you are currently using will be obsolete within 5 years, so you will soon need to purchase a SCADA upgrade and reinstall and configure it all over again.

Manufacturing companies with a staff of experienced SCADA programmers will find that maintaining the SCADA system upgrades is tedious and time consuming.  Less experienced end users can really struggle with these issues and often end up contracting an integrator to come out and perform the upgrades.

For OEM’s maintaining a PC and SCADA package on a remote system can be their number one support headache.  In some cases the end user’s IT staff has a strong say in what software, OS version, virus package, browser, etc. needs to go on the SCADA PC that is entering their facility.  These specifications often create extra work for the OEM because each SCADA PC system is unique.  If the end user has is insufficient internal IT support, the OEM may find themselves hiring or contracting an IT support role for the end user as soon as they sell them a PC based system.

A Cloud Hosted Alternative

What if your plant could have all the benefits of SCADA without the IT support headaches?

Remote Monitoring systems use a local  edge node device to communicate with the local control system and push data securely to the cloud hosted server.  The  server stores the data and provides custom web dashboards, email and text notifications, historical trends, custom reports, branded smart phone apps, and connectivity to other enterprise software systems.  The  system is easy to set up and runs many similar tasks that a locally installed SCADA system would perform.

Of course there is still a need for local control. Most users would be reluctant to rely purely on a remote server in order to operate machines and equipment. However, pairing a remote monitoring system and hosted cloud server with local systems can have significant benefits. With most of the other SCADA tasks being covered by the cloud server, the local operator interface requirements can be addressed with dedicated touchscreen operator interface panels.  Operator interface panels are more reliable and easier to maintain than PCs. They also typically use an embedded operating system that boots in seconds and they are not susceptible to Windows viruses. If you move the data collection, storage, analysis, reporting, and mobile access functionality to a cloud solution, then you can run your plant with a local touchscreen OI.

Please examine and explore the advantages of using the  Cloud based monitoring system with a local OI instead of traditional SCADA.

 Traditional SCADA Remote Monitoring with 3rd Party Operator Interface Touchscreen
Maintenance
  • Anti- virus programs need to be kept up to date
  • Upgrades to SCADA software on individual PCs for Windows patches
  • Obsolesce of OS requires software purchase, install, file transfer and file conversion
  • SCADA provided software support , diagnosis and resolution can be time consuming and costly
  • The  data collection device, the hosted server, and database are fully managed  as part of the annual hosting fee
  • The  edge node typically uses an embedded OS.  Upgrades to the device, if needed, are performed remotely
  • OS changes are not as common and general only implemented upon customer request
  • Technical support for the system is included in the annual hosting fee
Data logging
  • Relational databases, like Microscoft SQL, require routine maintenance.  Performance will suffer dramatically if routine maintenance functions are not performed
  • SCADA provided Historian packages may require less maintenance, but add significant costs
  • Data is collected and timestamped by the Edgenode and sent to the  Cloud Server for storage
  • Data base maintenance is performed on a regular basis as part to the annual hosting fee
  • Data is typically updated on change to provide immediate updates of alarm conditions while minimizing the data bandwidth
Data Security
  • Data backups are typically the responsibility of the end user
  • Failure to perform routine data backups and updates to access permissions could compromise all stored data
  • Data is typically stored in a Tier Level 3 data center with back-up power generation, redundancy, and building access control
  • Access and login information is user specific
  • Access audit trails can be implemented
Cyber Security
  • The "Trust No One" or TNO approach to security and SCADA is rarely followed.
  • SCADA licenses that require internet connectivity for upgrades can compromise data security
  • The  edge node is preprogrammed to connect only to the  hosted server.
  • All data transmissions are encrypted and the connection is verified using TLS certificates.   There are no VPN firewall holes required
  • End user security policies are honored
  • No additional set-up required from  end user IT staff
Historical Trending
  • Historical Trending is limited by the storage space on the local PC
  • Data storage is typically one year, but can be extended for a small additional fee.  Data trends can be kept online for years if desired
Reporting/Analytics
  • Data reports and analytics are typically set up as a separate add-on package and may require a great deal of expertise to setup and maintain
  •  Data Reports and analytics are an integral part of the system.
Web Interface
  • Web users are added based on a per user or concurrent user fees.
  • Web users typically have the same capabilities as local SCADA users.
  • Cloud hosted systems typically do not require any per user fees.  Web users have access to dashboards showing all of their assets with drill downs into specific asset status pages, trends, and reports
  • Access to the actual HMI user screens can be made available upon request
  • Web portals can be fully branded with the customer's logo, fonts, and colors.
Mobile Interface
  • Depending on the vendor, this may simply be an HTML page with graphics formatted for a PC
  • SCADA Vendors who offer mobile apps typically have a one-size-fits-all design approach with limited flexibility
  • Mobile apps can be configured with pages tailored to your specific equipment
Email and Text Notifications
  • A SCADA server needs access to a local or possibly a web based email server in order to send notifications our via text or email
  • Recipients of alarm and email notifications are usually set- up as part of the development system configuration  Email recipients who no longer want messages or want less of them are at the mercy of the SCADA developer
  • Users can subscribe or unsubscribe to notifications
  • Recipients can customize alarm notification persistency and duration based on importance and severity Cloud servers include their own built-in email server so no additional setup is required to send out the messages
  • Messages can be sent as texts, emails, or smartphone app push notifications with links to dashboards for quick diagnosis

 

Tom CravenThe article was written by Tom Craven, the Vice President of Product Strategy at RRAMAC Connected Systems, a "Software as a Service" (SaaS) company that provides remote monitoring, analytics, and mobile apps for industrial equipment.

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