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Is a Low-Cost SCADA System Right For Me?

By Morgana Siggins

December 4, 2019


When it comes to managing your network, you can't afford to not have visibility. No matter which industry you're in - manufacturing, telecom, utilities, water treatment, etc. - it's important to carefully monitor and control your network to safeguard your operations. So, your first line of defense is a good SCADA system.

SCADA systems provide companies monitoring and control applications by collecting and analyzing real-time data.

At DPS, we offer SCADA at normal prices because we believe that a competent SCADA system pays for itself along the way. However, we know that sometimes paying more for SCADA may not be the best option for your scenario, due to various reasons.

Nonetheless, it's important to know the differences between low-cost and full/normal price options. But the main goal is that, independently of your choice, you need a SCADA system that can help you save money and improve your team's productivity.

Let's dive into the pros and cons of low-cost SCADA, so you can decide if this the best option for you.

What is a Low-Cost SCADA System?

Low-cost SCADA means that you'll be getting your SCADA system "on a budget." This doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be purchasing a low-quality system, but the chances of that happening are greater. The vendor needs to cut costs in order to be able to make profit, after all.

It's understandable to think about buying the cheapest SCADA devices available, sometimes it's hard to get a budget for this kind of project. In some scenarios - such as not having customization requirements, or simply having very few monitoring needs - having a low-cost SCADA system might work.

Pros of a Low-Cost SCADA System

Some of the advantages of a low-cost SCADA system are:

1. Low cost

Low cost will always be a bonus point, provided that along with the budget price, your SCADA system will actually work to fit what you need.

2. Faster lead time

Since most of the low-cost SCADA solutions are totally off-the-shelf, then there certainly are options that can ship out to you within one day or so, depending on the stock availability.

3. You most likely won't be making a big investment with one vendor

What makes SCADA more expensive is the concept of "vertical integration" that full-service manufacturers offer. This is the practice of handling the entire process of manufacturing in-house from start to finish.

This can work well as long as you choose the right company and everything is running smoothly. However, if they have operational issues while working on your order, you're in trouble.

Many factors can lead to your chosen vendor to trouble: financial problems, natural disasters, legal trouble, or even a simple mistake. So, not putting your SCADA system on the hands of only one vendor can be less risky.

The Cons of a Low-Cost SCADA System

On the other hand, it's critical to keep in mind the most common drawbacks of the cheapest SCADA options:

1. Lack of reliability

How confident are you in the durability of your low-cost SCADA system? Sometimes low-cost SCADA vendors cut corners in order to provide you a cheap purchase price. This might reflect on your equipment reliability.

Especially if your devices were manufactured overseas, it's hard to tell if they were properly tested to withstand real-world scenarios.

How can you tell the extent of the testing? How do you really know that they test what they claim they test? Also, how do you know that the SCADA system you purchased actually passed the testing? You should always ask your vendor these types of questions.

2. Recurring Licensing Fees

Most often than not, low-cost SCADA vendors will sneak in some recurring licensing fees after your initial purchase to make up for the initial low price of the purchase.

There are two types of licensing fees that can be an issue for your budget:

  • Charges annually per each instance of a device

    As your network grows, these costs don't grow just once, but every year. You'll be paying for each device you want to monitor, each and every year forever. The vendor might also raise licensing fees in the future, leaving you in quite a tricky situation.

  • Paying annually for each device type you want to monitor

    The counts aren't usually so bad on these, but the prices associated with each device type can be really expensive.

Make sure to ask your potential vendor which type of licensing they offer before buying your SCADA system, so you don't get trapped into these money pits.

3. Extra Costs

  • Paying for training - or simply no training offered at all

    Many low-cost SCADA providers only focus on the sale. This means that many post-sale services, such as training, are not offered at all. And if they do offer training, it comes at a cost.

    The training classes should be a real hands-on environment, where the participants have a chance to work with equipment themselves and learn monitoring tips and best practices from other industry professionals.

    If you have no experience deploying a SCADA system and want to make sure your equipment is properly provisioned to enable your mission-critical monitoring, you'll end up complying with whatever costs your vendor might charge you for training.

  • Paying for tech support

    Many low-cost SCADA vendors don't offer tech support, but of the companies that actually offer this kind of service, many do so by making you pay for it. This can add up pretty quickly, especially if you have to pay by the minute.

    Another disadvantage of paying for tech support is that often times you'll wade through a voice mail system before you get to talk to an actual human being.

    This is not to mention the language barrier problem (especially when dealing with many technical terms) if your tech support happens to be outsourced from another country - which is another way that SCADA vendors use to cut costs in order to be able to offer you initial lower prices.

  • Paying for firmware updates

    When it comes to the visibility of your remote sites, you need to operate your SCADA system using the most advanced firmware. Many low-cost vendors know that, so they make it a way to get more profit by charging for each new upgrade.

4. Proprietary Protocols

A protocol is simply a format for encoding info, which in other words means that the protocol is the "language" your devices will use to talk to each other.

Some vendors will offer products at a lower cost but with support for only their own proprietary protocol. This might not seem like such a big deal, but if you need expand your network you'll soon find out how frustrating it can be.

If you're lucky, you'll be overcharged for equipment that has only one seller. If you're unlucky, this provider will have gone out of business. Then you're really in a jam because there is no way to get new or replacement parts to expand and repair your SCADA system.

5. No Tune-Up Visits

Tune-up visits are the routine maintenance for your SCADA system. Just like your car, every year you want to make sure that everything is running smoothly like it's supposed to. This service can bring you many benefits in the long run, such as the increase of your gear's lifespan.

Low-cost SCADA vendors normally don't offer this kind of service though, simply because it can get too expensive for them to send a team to visit your facilities.

6. Purchasing Devices with Less or More Features Than You Need

Since low-cost SCADA vendors normally only offer off-the-shelf devices with no customization, you might end up with equipment with more capacity than what you'll ever need - or worse, with less capacity than you actually need.

It's really hard to find an off-the-shelf equipment that can meet your exact requirements. Buying too small means that you won't have the point capacity and functionality you need to monitor your network successfully. But buying too big means that you'll be wasting your budget.

Be sure to add extra discrete alarm inputs to allow for future growth, commonly about 15% of your calculated immediate need.

Full-Price SCADA

A full-price SCADA system is normally offered by full-service manufacturers. Full-service manufacturers are the ones that practice the strategy of concentrating control of manufacturing within their own company - it's called vertical integration.

Vertically integrated companies have a high level of flexibility as to how they allocate resources in order to accommodate your needs. Since they can control every step of their manufacturing process, from design to assembly, they usually provide guaranteed quality - that's the reason for the full-price aspect.

Pros of a Full-Price SCADA System

The greater efficiency of a full-service company brings direct benefits to you, some of them are:

1. Customization

A full-service manufacturer offer a large variety of hardware and software features, so you'll be able to select what fits your specific needs.

Some even go as far as offering customization of hardware, software, and firmware. Vertical integration is typically the only way to offer customization for reasonable quantities and with a reasonable delivery time.

A full-price SCADA vendor will help you if you have unique requirements that an off-the-shelf product can't accommodate. Some of them are able to design custom-built devices that will be the perfect fit for your network. For example, if you a device with a specific alarm point capacity - that is not offered by off-the-shelf products - your full-service manufacturer can modify their devices to achieve your required capacity.

A big product catalog and the option for hardware/software customization allow you to choose your "perfect-fit" solution rather than having to settle for an off-the-shelf SCADA system.

2. Reliability

Full-price SCADA manufacturers often have their ultra-stable software platforms running on rugged industrial-grade hardware.

Also, these providers test their equipment above and beyond what's necessary, to make sure your SCADA system will withstand even the most extreme conditions.

Tests are extremely good indicators of equipment quality, but they can't 100% match the conditions and stress your equipment might face. So, full-price SCADA providers will also offer you proven designs, which is the ultimate test and the greatest proof of quality. Their devices are time-tested and proven to last.

3. Free training and tech support included

Most full-price SCADA manufacturers recognize that when you choose them, you're making a substantial investment. Because of this, they normally provide free services, such as training and tech support.

Most full service SCADA vendors will provide high-quality training after your purchase. These classes give your techs more hands-on experience, but make sure they are following the best practice of being taught by engineers.

Another free post-sale service that you can expect from full-price SCADA vendors is tech support with no hourly or per-incident charges.

Not only they'll offer you this service free of cost, it will commonly be provided by the same engineers who designed the unit you bought. Also, their tech support will come from the company headquarters, not some overseas call-center.

4. Multi-protocol integration

Full-price SCADA vendors will provide with a system that works with open protocols (not trapping you into a proprietary protocol). Open protocols permit devices from different vendors to communicate with one another. This means that full-price vendors what to achieve a superior compatibility when they design their equipment's functionalities and capabilities.

Also, full-price SCADA systems support many different protocols through a single master. This allows for the integration of SCADA capabilities into a telecom system, such as a network alarm monitoring system.

Integrating alarms from devices of varying protocols allows you to easily view all of your alarms on a single screen.

5. One-time, non-recurring licensing and maintenance fees

Full-price SCADA companies generally offer you one-time technology licensing.

This means, for example, that when you purchase a software module for your master station to enable a protocol - such as ASCII, SNMP, or Modbus - there are no additional charges for monitoring furhter devices of that type.

You can add as many devices as you want. Once you paid of a module license, it's yours.

Cons of a Full-Price SCADA System

Buying an expensive SCADA system doesn't always mean that you'll be making the best choice. You don't want to make such a big investment to later find out that you'd be better off with a more affordable option.

The following points are the main disadvantages of a full-price SCADA system:

1. Higher price

When you decide to go with a full-price SCADA vendor, you'll need a bigger upfront budget. Full-service companies usually include tech support and training with your purchase, and won't hit you with "surprise" fees later.

That's a good advantage, but there's obviously no such thing as a free lunch. You have to be paying for these "free" services somewhere, vendors that offer full-price SCADA tend to bundle some amount for their services into your initial purchase price.

2. You might lose full-service benefits if you need a deep-discount price

Even though paying for higher quality service or product is often worthwhile - especially when we're talking about monitoring mission-critical networks - you may have a tight budget that prevents you from being able to pay for a larger initial investment.

Sometimes, you might just be forced to pay more tomorrow to avoid paying extra today.

3. Longer lead time

One true advantage of low-cost SCADA vendors is that they tend to stock plenty of inventory in a warehouse. Manufacturing is already done before you even contact them, so products can normally ship within a day or two.

On the other side, full-price SCADA vendors build your equipment to order. Since these vendors are full service companies, they are responsible for everything - from choosing the right build options (or making something totally custom), building the circuit board, building the aluminum chassis, and assembling the final product.

These manufacturers handle your project from start to finish, doing everything from design to packaging. This means that the total lead time for their products will be longer. It might take around 2 to 4 weeks from order to shipment.

If you need a quick fix, getting an off-the-shelf device might actually be your best choice.

Find a Quality SCADA System for Your Network

There's certainly no right choice in terms of which type of SCADA you should choose - it all depends on your unique network and scenario.

If you don't have unique monitoring needs and need a faster lead time, then a low-cost SCADA system might be a good option for you. However, you need customized devices, with more reliability, multi-protocol integration, and more post-sale services included, then a full price SCADA system is a better option for you.


As a trusted SCADA systems provider, we don't offer extremely low cost options, but it's because our solutions have the highest quality possible. So, if that's a priority for your company, we might be a great fit for you.

Also, we want you to know that, no matter what kind of SCADA you choose, when you make an informed decision taking into consideration your situation, you'll get a more reliable network and a more productive team.

That's why I recommend taking a few minutes to download and read the SCADA Tutorial White Paper.

In this free tutorial, you will learn:

  • What SCADA is what you can do to take the most out of it.

  • About real-world applications.

  • How to monitor, manage, and control your facilities (on time, on budget, and with a greater profitability).

If you want to know more about how you can take control of your network with a SCADA system that can deliver results, your first step is understanding the fundamentals and basics of a successful SCADA system. So, download your free copy of the SCADA Tutorial White Paper.

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins is a marketing writer, content creator, and documentation specialist at DPS Telecom. She has created over 200 blog articles and videos sharing her years of experience in the remote monitoring industry.