Cloud-Based Scada Offers Alternatives to Traditional Systems

Cloud-based SCADA is an alternative for the water and wastewater industry. It can help utilities limit the need for hardware and software purchases, installation and maintenance. A cloud-based service shifts the task of housing, maintaining and displaying data from the municipality to the service provider.

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Many small and rural water and wastewater facilities face budget constraints and cuts that make it difficult to afford the initial investment in a SCADA system that will help them run their operations more efficiently. Smaller facilities also can't afford to have a dedicated technical staff to manage their SCADA systems.

This makes cloud-based SCADA a very attractive alternative for the water and wastewater industry. It can help utilities limit the need for hardware and software purchases, installation and maintenance. A cloud-based service shifts the task of housing, maintaining and displaying data from the municipality to the service provider.

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Smaller water treatment facilities often struggle with financing automation system upgrades.

Cloud-based SCADA also can provide agility when it comes to new applications and upgrades, plus enhance reliability through its multiple redundant Internet connections in a much more cost efficient manner, as opposed to relying on a single Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Cloud-based Scada is where a service provider purchases and maintains a shared pool of configurable computing resources, such as networks, servers, storage, applications and services. Users access these resources via the Internet.

Users can choose between public and private cloud-based applications. In a public cloud environment, the service provider owns the infrastructure and sells resources such as applications and storage to the public via the Internet. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others offer this type of service.

In a private cloud environment, the infrastructure is operated solely for a single organization. It may be managed by the customer or by a third party, either onsite or offsite. Hybrid clouds are a combination of private and public clouds. They stay separate entities but are linked together by standard or proprietary technologies that provide data and application portability.

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There are basically three types of cloud computing services offered in today's market: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). Most integrators and OEMs providing cloud-based SCADA services to the water and wastewater industry use the IaaS model.

In the IaaS model, integrators and OEMs deploy and run off-the-shelf software just as they would on their own IT infrastructure. End users only pay for the capacity used and can add capacity online as necessary. The integrators and OEMs don't manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure—but they maintain control over operating systems, storage, and deployed applications—in addition to selecting networking components, such as host firewalls.

Advantages

Cloud-based SCADA has been shown to dramatically lower the costs associated with a traditional SCADA system. By migrating to the cloud, the costs associated with replacing outdated hardware, such as PCs running Windows 95, disappear because the application runs in a virtual environment. The cloud provider updates hardware, and the process is invisible to the user.

The associated hardware costs can also be paid monthly instead of one large upfront cost. Users pay for increasing data storage when they need it. For example, they no longer need to purchase a large server with a $30,000 SQL server license in order to accommodate data storage use for the next 10 years. They can instead expand data storage incrementally, without having to purchase additional hardware and software.

A typical new in-house SCADA system for a small water treatment facility can have an upfront capital cost of about $11,500 for software, computer, telemetry, programming and setup. Compared to the initial approximate $1,600 cost of getting started with a cloud-based SCADA system, users can achieve about 90 percent reduction in costs.

The use of a pre-existing cloud infrastructure typically enables deployment and upgrades in days rather than the months. Computing resources can be quickly added as additional SCADA projects come online, or just as easily dropped if the solution doesn't fit or work. The prohibitive cost of hardware and changing hardware platforms is eliminated, no longer locking users into a particular solution.

Many water and wastewater SCADA applications rely on remote monitoring of critical equipment and processes through web browsers, smart phones, and other mobile devices. Using a self-hosted solution with access provided by a single ISP can prove problematic if the service provider experiences an outage. Cloud computing provides multiple redundant Internet connections, providing greater reliability and doing so in a cost-efficient manner.

Cloud-based SCADA also can improve the system's reliability. Using a cloud computing platform enables water and wastewater utilities to employ redundancy and disaster recovery capabilities far beyond that found in the typical water and wastewater IT departments.

Cloud providers use the most advanced data centers and take great measures to ensure system uptime. They also typically have data centers at diverse geographical locations to provide continuous service in the event of a power outage or natural disaster at one site. This also eliminates the need for utilities to maintain redundant servers and software for backup.

Since water and wastewater projects often rely on remote access and monitoring by maintenance personnel, great lengths must be taken by the utilities to ensure their security systems are robust. Many emerging IT security concerns are new territory for control engineers typically tasked with developing SCADA Projects.

Cloud providers typically have dedicated personnel that specialize in security, staying abreast of emerging threats and constantly auditing and patching security measures. These patches are instantly updated to users without any user action required to make sure utilities have the latest security provisions.

Considerations

As with any information-based technology, new or mature, there are security concerns. Moving sensitive data into the cloud involves questions about securing data that must be addressed. Cloud-based SCADA providers must assure security mechanisms are used for logical separation among different applications and customers. Users must find out how data will be controlled and secured, and be comfortable with the cloud provider's methodology.

A software or configuration mistake could allow other subscribers to gain access to organizational data and resources. By manipulating vulnerabilities from within the cloud environment, attackers could impersonate subscribers to obtain unauthorized access to data. There have been a few instances of botnets launching a denial of service attack against the infrastructure of a cloud provider.

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System information can be accessed using smart phones and other field devices.

While security concerns exist as they do with any IT structure, these issues can be dealt with by selecting a good cloud-based SCADA provider that has proper security measures in place. In some cases, moving to a cloud-based SCADA system can actually enhance security because providers have dedicated IT security personnel, with patches implemented automatically and immediately.

Users must evaluate the long-term stability of the cloud provider, and must trust the cloud provider to be fair in terms of pricing and other contractual matters. Because the cloud provider controls the data to some extent in many implementations, particularly SaaS, they can exert leverage over their customers if they choose to do so.

Choosing the correct service model (IaaS, PaaS or SaaS) for the utility's needs along with the right provider can result in savings that more than compensate for the challenges. A cloud-based SCADA application, especially in a greenfield site, can cut up to 90 percent of the costs associated with traditional SCADA systems. These savings are due to the minimal investment required for development, integration, hardware and software—particularly as compared to more traditional deployment methods.

As with any new technology, cloud-based SCADA providers need to educate the market on the technical specifics, the processes employed and the benefits. However, the improvements in efficiency, reliability and scalability combined with potential cost savings position this technology to be a revolutionary step in SCADA computing.

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