It’s time to take another look at SCADA

Cristina De Luca -

April 25, 2022

Most SCADA solutions have decades of service behind them. They probably took years to install and have undergone several enhancements and upgrades over time. Today, however, more organisations are realising that their traditional SCADA systems are becoming cumbersome, problematic and difficult to maintain and support. Not least because they were designed and built for a very different world. 

Many existing SCADA systems are difficult to configure, maintain and support and have inherent limitations such as the inability to:

  • dealing with intentional and unintentional security breaches; 
  • effectively handle outbound communication from the OT world to the IT world; 
  • support the innovations that cloud technology offers in terms of data storage and applications running in the cloud; 
  • be easily scalable to new cloud-based architectures, which means the inability to be configured to support highly distributed systems or add additional devices in real time; 
  • and support open standards such as OPC UA for connectivity to automation devices. 

So the time has come to re-evaluate these systems. And to take a good look at more modern SCADA systems.

But first, here are some relevant considerations:

  • The pandemic of COVID-19 has negatively impacted the global industrial operations and manufacturing activities, further impacting the SCADA market. Limited consumption of luxury goods, electronics, automotive, and fluctuation in oil and gas prices during the pandemic and nationwide blockades reduced sales in the respective sectors, further limiting the demand for automation and SCADA solutions.

  • These factors strongly impacted end-user investment in industrial control solutions in 2020. The global SCADA market rebounded in 2021 and is expected to remain hot in 2022, as companies are in need of efficient control and monitoring solutions that work better than human labour.

  • The innovation of cloud-based SCADA systems, offering enhanced collaboration and control over different processes and operations, will drive the demand for SCADA systems in the coming years.

Modern SCADA systems support industry standards and specifically data structuring and information modelling, including multi-vendor interoperability and device independence. Most importantly, it is possible to exchange devices from different vendors when they all support the same device standards. 

New systems have increased service life because they have hardware and software devices with greater ability to collect real-time information to assess performance and maintenance information. In addition, as new SCADA systems capture more data intelligence, there is a significant improvement in system maintenance. 

They also provide important IoT fundamentals, including:

  • Compatibility – These systems have connectivity with existing controls and provide support for standards such as OPC UA and new technologies such as cloud, virtualization, mobile devices and advanced analytics.

  • Security – Have security built into the architecture and provide role and user-based security, multi-factor authentication (MFA), operating system security, cyber security and patch management.

  • Basic technologies – They feature software updates and patch support, regular version release frequency, compatibility with current and future operating systems and reasonable support for previous operating systems. Today, any serious SCADA offers a 64-bit implementation.

  • Advanced levels of functionality – Provide enhanced user functionality, administration functionality, audit trails, vertical market functionality and integration with business, engineering, supply chain, CPM/MES, plant equipment and automation systems.

  • Value proposition for integrators and end users – These systems are scalable, extensible, flexible and cost-effective. When integrators can install a system and support it cost-effectively, and their efforts on one application can be reused on the next application and/or they can train operators to handle day-to-day administration and maintenance, they have found a reliable, quality solution that works for them and end users.

Another important trend is to be seen is that the increasing overlap of functionality between MES and SCADA is likely to continue with tighter integration in pursuit of a single pane of glass. SCADA is being enhanced with advanced functionality such as integrated intelligence, relational databases and limited track and trace capabilities, and MES systems are changing with real-time production monitoring and direct communications with increasingly sophisticated sensor networks.

“This is all about greater efficiency, reducing costs and making staff more effective. To do that, it takes a single pane of glass, especially with more technically experienced operators,” says Ranbir Saini, Vice President Of Product Management at Dodge Construction Network.

With the concept of a single pane of glass shop floor operators, supervisors and other manufacturing professionals can gain access to all the data they need on individual equipment assets, line performance and top-line shop floor metrics in consolidated dashboards and visualisations, rather than the siloed data points and countless HMI screens of the past. “In the end, MES or SCADA simply describe a set of capabilities that support interoperability and data exchange in a contextualised way so everyone can see all the data and use it to make informed decisions,” explains Saini.

In today’s environment, there is no doubt that SCADA is essential. However, before adopting or upgrading SCADA, there are some features that should be considered to ensure that a new system is powerful and flexible enough to excel in the modern era.

With the continued adoption of digital transformation and Industry 4.0 technology, manufacturers are using more data and analytics in their daily processes than ever before. As a result, SCADA systems based on the technology of the 1990s are not enough. It is impossible to lead an organization into tomorrow if it is stuck in yesterday.

Therefore, when choosing a new SCADA system for your organisation, you should make sure it is powerful and flexible enough to adapt to all these emerging changes. 

Integrating SCADA with IT/OT monitoring

Regardless of how long your SCADA solution has been around, it plays such a central role in OT. Therefore, it is imperative that it is always operational. That means you need to monitor its status constantly. But bringing SCADA into your monitoring concept also brings other benefits, mainly due to the convergence of IT and OT.

The integration of SCADA in your monitoring:

1 – SCADA server monitoring – As with any other system, a SCADA system is only as good as the hardware it is running on and therefore this needs to be constantly assessed for errors or potential errors. This includes metrics such as CPU load, memory usage, storage space, performance and more. By receiving alerts when threshold values you set are exceeded, you can know immediately if there is a problem.

2 – Possibility of additional alarms – SCADA systems already provide alarms when things go wrong, but monitoring software can add even more alarms to ensure nothing is missed, such as warnings about the servers the SCADA system runs on. If the monitoring tool provides alerting functionality, you can set thresholds to be alerted when conditions deviate from what is considered “normal.

The convergence of IT and OT means you need to have an overview of all aspects of your industrial infrastructure. That means getting OT, IT and IIoT in one place. In addition to the OT metrics collected by SCADA systems, there are many other data points that are important for understanding an industrial environment. For example: the health of switches (including metrics like port status and packet loss), the status of your UPS, the memory, CPU and RAM usage of industrial PCs, the health of industrial gateways, the status of common IT devices like printers, servers and more.