In a recent Linkedin discussion among the SCADA Professionals group, Manny Romero, Manager of Madison Technologies Industrial IT&C Division in Sydney, Australia suggested that the cloud could provide “SCADA to the masses.” This idea sounds interesting, so I thought we might take a closer look.
The premise is that the relationship between traditional SCADA and cloud-enhanced services like M2M and others are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Perhaps it is a false dichotomy. Suppose you don’t have to choose? Maybe you can enjoy the benefits of both.
Romero suggests that we can compare the controversy of SCADA vs. the Cloud to the early 80s when the PC begain gaining popularity for business applications. While PC advocates were eagerly announcing the death of the mainframe, many in the traditional computing world sneered at the lightweight upstarts, saying that nothing as rinky-dink as a PC could possibly replace the mainframe.
As it turns out, the mainframe didn’t get replaced. Instead, PCs put tools like spreadsheets and relational databases within reach of individual managers and office staff. And they opened up new application spaces in areas like education, personal publishing, gaming, and home finances. Then, with the advent of the Internet, personal computing expanded into email, web surfing, online videos, and more. In this way, the PC opened the door to “computing for the masses”.
This is what cloud computing may do for SCADA, according to Romero. He believes that the SCADA systems currently in use will probably continue in their current form for many years to come, but at the same time, cloud-enabled systems may become more common. How so?
The first thing that comes to mind is industrial and commercial applications that can use some SCADA functionality, but do not need or cannot afford a full-blown SCADA implementation. Some may be getting by with a web portal and email/SMS messaging, and yet many would benefit from a more sophisticated system, as long as staffing and equipment costs were minimal. Cloud-enabled SCADA could be a way to meet that need.
What about beyond the world of industrial applications? Just as the PC revolution brought computing to the masses, could cloud computing bring SCADA to the masses of non-industrial users? What is SCADA, after all? Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. There is nothing in that definition that limits SCADA to factories, pipelines, and wind turbines.
The rapidly-growing Internet of Things is all about data access, and often includes forms of supervisory control. As the number of connected devices continues to mushroom, there will be more demand for connectivity options from both the public and private sectors. Home appliances and HVAC systems, cars and trucks, vending machines, security cameras, and many other types of consumer goods will be increasingly sending data and receiving supervisory control from ordinary citizens. This could eventually be seen as “SCADA for the masses”.
Will these trends continue? We won’t have to wait too long to find out. Five or ten years from now people may take these ideas for granted. Perhaps in another ten years after that someone will need to research to find out where exactly the term “SCADA for the masses” was first used. As far as I’m concerned, it was from Manny Romero on Linkedin, in August 2012.