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Today, industrial plants can have all the benefits of SCADA without the typical information technology support challenges faced in conventional architecture. Innovative solutions provide secure connectivity to any SCADA system over the cloud. This makes it possible to do remote system engineering, plant data monitoring and troubleshooting from anywhere in the world – without physical presence near the system. Article contributed by Honeywell.

MODERN Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) solutions are an integral part of any process control system aimed at maximising efficiency by gathering operational data and presenting the information in a visual format. Throughout the industrial sector, SCADA systems are widely used to monitor and analyse real-time data, control local and remote process operations, interact with field devices, and log data and events for auditing and other purposes. These systems can monitor multiple sites even when spread over significant distances, so they’re often used for oilfields, pipelines, railway/metro and other major industrial sites.

A typical SCADA system consists of a software package installed on a Windows server or workstation that gathers information from Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and other instrumentation. The system uses a Human Machine Interface (HMI) to provide all the data collected from various sensors. The HMI enables access to multiple control units, which can be PLCs or Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), and includes a graphical presentation of the system. Another important feature of the HMI is the historical trends linked to process parameters and an alarm system activated per predefined values.

Evolution of SCADA Technology

For years, SCADA systems have relied upon proprietary hardware and plant networks. This approach made them immune to the typical cyber-attacks faced by modern information technology (IT) systems. However, there was a limitation in remote viewing of critical process data from different locations outside the plant network. The hardware requirement and time taken to configure the system were also dependent upon plant size.

Over time, SCADA systems started adopting most of the standards of typical IT systems connecting them to corporate IT networks. This advancement has, unfortunately, made SCADA and control system networks susceptible to the same cyber security threats as their IT counterparts.

Challenges in Implementation

Traditionally, SCADA systems were distributed, networked, and dependent upon open Internet protocols, making them vulnerable to remote cyber-attacks and unauthorised access. One of the biggest issues was that they required a significant investment before they could even be used, and it was necessary to build and maintain a complicated infrastructure to allow the systems to operate.

Conventional SCADA networks are built with hardware-based platforms optimised for specific functions. These platforms include routers, Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi controllers, and servers. Network hardware typically runs complex, distributed control software – all with unique provisioning and management systems, which vary by the type of networking and the network location. Provisioning and modifying hardware-based networks is a time-consuming manual process and one that requires trained network professionals.

New Approach to Connectivity

With the advent of a connected SCADA on Cloud approach, nearly all the physical infrastructure of traditional SCADA systems can be avoided. All components can be seamlessly connected over a Virtual Private Network (VPN) while utilising the built-in security features of the cloud.

Users can set up a SCADA on Cloud much faster than traditional SCADA, and the system can often be operating in a matter of hours (instead of months needed for a traditional solution). In addition, SCADA on Cloud costs a lot less than the conventional setup. The cloud approach saves time and money over both the short- and long-term, allowing for much more flexibility if any configuration or data needs to be updated or changed. And, by migrating to the cloud, the costs associated with replacing outdated hardware disappear because the application runs in a virtual environment.

Advantages for End Users

Cloud-connected control solution by Honeywell optimises project execution for improved agility and efficiency, as well as easier implementation and lifecycle maintenance. In addition, it helps industrial operations effectively manage complex remote automation applications, while converting data from control systems into relevant, actionable information.

The specific advantages of the SCADA on Cloud approach include:

  • Ability to view process data remotely from any location around the world.
  • Flexible architecture to easily scale up/down the application.
  • Low cost, and minimal setup time and effort.
  • Enhanced data security between controller and remote host via a VPN gateway.
  • Use of cloud computation and data analytics to help users understand data better and make informed business decisions and implement predictive maintenance.

Conclusion

The cloud is creating a revolution in SCADA system architecture because it provides very high redundancy, virtually unlimited data storage, and worldwide data access. Moreover, SCADA on cloud solutions can reduce implementation costs up to 90 percent over a traditional SCADA system, thanks, in part, to reduced investments for IT and SCADA integration, development, hardware and software.

By implementing the latest SCADA on Cloud technology, industrial organisations can do secure remote system engineering, plant data monitoring and troubleshooting from anywhere in the world. This is made possible by seamlessly connecting all SCADA system assets over a VPN while taking advantage of the inherent security features of the cloud.

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