How's Your SCADA reliability?

* SCADA has been around for years in various industries, but the concept is primed for much wider application

If you're not familiar with the term SCADA, then you definitely should check out "Ensuring SCADA Network Continuity with Route Analytics". SCADA, which stands for "Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition," is not a new concept. In fact, it has been around for years in various industries such as electricity utilities. But the concept is primed for much wider application.

Traditionally, SCADA has been delivered through more traditional network technology. But as we transition to an all-IP network infrastructure, there are a number of potential failure points that did not exist previously. For instance, there are logical network misconfigurations, compromised redundancy, possible security breaches, loss of application data, and degraded services – just to mention a few of the possible problem areas.

As noted in the above-referenced paper, “Achieving 'five nines' isn't just about keeping a utility grid operational 99.999% of the time - it's also about making sure the IP networks that pass along critical information about the state of that grid can meet a comparable level of reliability. According to one electric utility network engineer, ‘In the northeast blackout, a misconfiguration led to a management systems outage that coincided with an electrical grid issue that couldn't be addressed because of lack of visibility into the system. Ultimately that cost our economy billions.’

“SCADA is the life blood of any utility, providing control of generation and distribution of power or other resources, plus insight into any parameters configured into the utility grid itself. Large SCADA systems can gather tens of thousands of measurements per second from asynchronous data control devices known as RTUs (remote terminal units) dispersed throughout a utility’s territory. Those measurements – e.g., the voltage level on a given line, the current at a specific location – are passed over communications links such as microwave links, leased phone lines and other channels to an RTU 'master' residing on internal SCADA IP networks. The RTU master is a combined computing platform and database that performs a variety of calculations and presents the data in graphical form to grid operators who can do monitoring, analysis and planning."

From our perspective, there are two major messages here. First, all networks are becoming mission-critical, so SCADA-like capabilities are needed for all types of enterprises. But, the second message is that even though SCADA is reliability is a challenge over an IP network, there are tools. Such as route analytic tools, that are excellent for making sure that the most common mistakes are avoided.

By the way, if you would like to learn more about the history of SCADA in a broader context click here.

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