It seems that industrial SCADA systems used to monitor and control processes in real time may someday evolve towards the cloud. Despite the doubts of skeptics and a little FUD being passed around, opportunities are beginning to arise even now. Although no one really expects to see full-blown SCADA systems in the cloud just yet, we can think of several ways to enhance a SCADA system by extending it to the cloud. Here are few ideas:
1. Web-based HMI. Already a number of SCADA vendors are offering web-based HMI (human machine interface) connections to their systems. These provide a way for operators, engineers, and managers to view live process data in a standard web browser. Following the core requirements for real-time cloud systems and extending this kind of application to the cloud would provide people with broader access to the data at significantly less cost than traditional SCADA expansion options.
2. Management dashboards. Using a hybrid cloud system, a plant could make a partial, read-only data set available to management levels within a company. The data would be sent to the cloud through closed firewalls and displayed in a web HMI to show real-time performance and historical trends.
3. Data aggregation. A real-time cloud system could be used to connect to remote locations, aggregate the data in a single, unified data set, and then stream the data to any number of client or server systems. This type of application would benefit greatly from a data-centric infrastructure.
4. Connections to off-site facilities. With low-latency data transmission it becomes increasingly practical to connect to remote sensors in off-site locations, and relay field data directly to in-plant servers. A real-time cloud system could thus effectively support machine-to-machine data exchange over the Internet in a secure and reliable way.
5. Collaboration with suppliers and customers. Through LAN-to-LAN bridging and synchronization of a real-time cloud system, companies could more easily collaborate with suppliers and customers. Exchanging real-time production data would better streamline manufacturing processes, allowing managers to plan production based on immediate sales demand and availability of raw materials.
6. Home and building monitoring. Appliances, thermostats, machinery, or any embedded device in a home or office building with Internet connectivity could stream data to the cloud. Home owners or building managers could then access this information through web HMI or other data streams.
7. Remote system monitoring and diagnostics. Key engineers and service technicians would be able to receive the information they need to effectively resolve issues and investigate problems, using a complete up-to-date picture of the remote operation.
Cloud-enhanced SCADA can probably be used in other ways, in addition to these examples. As the cloud becomes more widely used for real-time applications, no doubt this list will be expanded. The take-home point is that although SCADA may be in the early stages of evolving towards the cloud, even now there are some real possibilities for enhancing current SCADA systems through cloud-based solutions.