I recently read an article comparing traditional SCADA and the IoT (Internet of Things). This article pointed out how they are completely different animals, and are based on completely different technologies. I have also read articles that say that SCADA was the original IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), and there is nothing new under the sun. So, which is it? Is IoT, or IIoT, really that different from traditional SCADA or is the IIoT really just a reinvention of traditional SCADA?
It’s neither and it’s both!
Let’s look at the electric car for a second. Taking the world by storm it seems, electric cars are influencing a whole new line up of cars. They are fresh, they are flashy, they are fast, and they still get you from point A to point B, albeit using a different form of energy. In spite of these new features however, we still call them cars.
Using this example is analogous to what is occurring in the IoT/SCADA space. The new equipment, including gateways, next generation RTUs and IoT Hubs, still carry out the duties of a SCADA System, they just do it in a different way. SCADA is Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition – and it’s everywhere! SCADA is responsible for you being able to flush your toilet this morning, take a shower, stay hydrated, and do it all again tomorrow. Have we seen a shift in the technology that powers SCADA in Water and Wastewater? Yes.
In some cases, we see that the hardware is completely different, and with this, an evolution of connectivity and communication methodologies. In others, IoT boxes are inserted into existing systems to enable analytics and cloud processing – since it is an expensive ordeal to rip and replace thousands of units in order to get a more advanced understanding of an existing system. More recently, we’ve seen the convergence of this new IIoT Technology into the next generation SCADA hardware.
Where there is no existing system, it is easy to leap-frog to these new technologies – however an unfortunate thing that is occurring in some cases is that the hardware chosen is not ready for this kind of application. Hardware found in traditional SCADA systems is designed to be in harsh, unconditioned environments. This hardware isn’t sitting in a panel that can control the temperature, humidity or atmosphere of the surrounding air. This has many taking the stance of “wait and see”, since any move can be a costly one.
But there is another trend in the SCADA market that is occurring. We are seeing next-generation SCADA hardware like data radios, and Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) that are including IIoT-based technology and connectivity. This SCADA hardware is time-tested and proven in the field – operating critical infrastructure sites for decades at a time. As time progresses, I believe the lines will blur even further between traditional SCADA hardware and hardware that is being used today in the IIoT space.
This brings us back to our original analogy: cars. Whether electric or otherwise, cars are designed to get us from point A to point B. SCADA is designed to supervise, control, and acquire high quality data from the field, to be used in our machine learning algorithms and then be used to optimize the performance of our field assets, which was historically done by an operator. Yes, we might use some new fancy technology to connect, and transmit that data – but we are still doing SCADA.