SCADA Professionals Weigh In

For the past few weeks there has been a lively discussion on the SCADA Professionals group of LinkedinSalman Ijazi, an oil and gas professional in the Dallas/Fort Worth area posed the question: “When you think of a cloud based SCADA/monitoring system, what issues come to your mind?”

This topic elicited a wealth of comments from a wide spectrum of engineers, system integrators, managers, and other leaders of thought.  Brian Chapman, SCADA Software Engineer at Schneider Electric was the first and most frequent responder.  His comments ranged from comparisons of the human brain and SCADA systems to detailed analysis of the layered design in a water chlorination system.  Overall, he doesn’t see many possibilities for SCADA on the cloud.

Several respondents agreed with Brian, and some were quite adamant.  Zane Spencer, Automation & Controls Project Manager at MPE Engineering said, “The thought of a cloud-based SCADA system makes me shudder,”  while Earl Vella, Senior Systems Developer at Water Services Corp. in Malta said simply, “SCADA and cloud must never meet.”

Jake Brodsky, Control Systems Engineer at WSSC emphasized the importance of not putting an entire SCADA system on the cloud, pointing to the primary concerns of security, potential latencies in data throughput, and reliability.  He questions the notion of taking “the same old software you’ve been using,” putting it on a cloud platform, and then expecting that you will magically get better service.

In response, others point out that although we should not consider building a SCADA system on a cloud server, cloud computing may still offer significant value to traditional and future SCADA systems.

Jake Hawkes, a platform manager in Calgary suggested that the current practice of outsourcing SCADA systems might lead to SCADA in the cloud as a next logical step.  Ruslan Fatkhullin, CEO of Tesla in Russia, mentioned the advantages of OPC UA for connecting sensors and field systems to cloud servers.  J-D Bamford, CRM/SCADA Security Engineer at Cimation in Denver, pointed out that the cloud can be useful for rapid development of systems serving distributed facilities, while at the same time, traditional HMI developers are already offering web-based solutions for mobile phone and desktop dashboards.

An important distinction was touched on by John Kontolefa, Professional Engineer at NYPA, and seconded by others: not to confuse SCADA systems with DCS (Distributed Control Systems).  There seems to be a consensus among most group members that DCS functionality like automatic, real-time, closed-loop control of critical processes does not belong on the cloud, whereas open-loop SCADA functionality such as simple monitoring and inputs of non-real-time data like adding recipes or fine tuning a process might do fine on a cloud-based system.

Summing up, Salman Iljazi, who posed the initial question, pointed out the value in the oil and gas industries of performing some SCADA functions in the cloud.  The geographical and other constraints that they operate under bring out certain advantages of using the cloud: ease of deployment, maintenance, and expansion, coupled with low infrastructure requirements.  He mentioned applications such as pipeline monitoring, alarm management, hydrocarbon reporting, and well pad monitoring, and proposed that even high security environments such as banking, e-commerce and health systems management may benefit from SCADA functionality in the cloud.

For me, personally, the most intriguing possibility was mentioned subsequently by Manny Romero, Manager of Madison Technologies Industrial IT&C Division in Sydney.  He suggested that the cloud could provide SCADA to the masses.”  What does that mean?  We’ll talk about it next week.