7 Things to Look For in a SCADA Operating System

Morgana Siggins
Morgana Siggins
Monitoring Specialist

A SCADA operating system is the main set of software on a device that handles all the system's processes. The operating system talks with the device's hardware and provides services that applications can use. This means that SCADA operating systems manage input and output devices. Without an operating system, your SCADA system would be useless.

As a provider of custom remote monitoring and control solutions for the last 30 years, we at DPS know that the right SCADA operating system has the potential to save you a lot of money and boost your profitability. Evaluating these systems can be tricky though, and you need to be careful or you may end up with a system that isn't helpful at all.

Because of that we want to make sure that you're able to make an informed decision. So, let's dive into how you can choose the best SCADA operating system in order to maximize this investment.

Make sure that you have an efficient SCADA operating system, so you can properly safeguard your mission-critical equipment.

Major Dangers of Choosing a Poor SCADA Operating System

As much as SCADA can help you improve your operations, it's important to remember that this benefit depends directly on the quality of the operating system you choose.

Here are some of the pitfalls to a hurried, impulsive SCADA operating system purchase:

7 Features Your SCADA Operating System Needs

Reliable service is the crucial driver of customer satisfaction. It doesn't matter how low your prices are, if don't provide reliable service then you'll lose customers. This means that an increased network reliability helps you gain competitive a edge.

An efficient SCADA operating system will enable you to accomplish both goals: enhanced network visibility and a competitive edge.

So, when evaluating your options, you should make sure that your operating system provides you with the following necessary tools to be effective:

1. Flexible, Programmable Response to Sensor Inputs

It's important to look for a SCADA operating system that provides easy tools for programming derived alarms (reports of complex events that track combinations of sensor inputs and data/time statements) and soft controls (programmed control responses to sensor inputs).

Derived alarms are "virtual" alarms created through user-defined formulas that coordinate inputs from several alarm points and apply logical operators to them. An example of a derived alarm is the combination of a low battery and a broken generator. Either condition isn't only a major alarm by itself, but in combination, they are a critical alarm.

The value of derived alarms is that they provide a way for you to watch for alarm combination scenarios. You don't have to scan your monitoring screens to figure out what's going on with your network. If you've configured your derived alarms, you've told the SCADA operating system what to watch for, and it will keep track of your alarms for you.

Also, with a derived alarm formula keeping track of critical events, you don't have to worry that your staff will miss the significance of a cascade of alarms - your system will alert the staff to the true situation, and even give them detailed instructions on who to inform and what to do next.

Derived alarms are flexible enough to monitor and control nearly any aspect of your network. Here's some of the ways you can use derived alarms to get better visibility of your networks.

2. 24x7, Detailed Notifications

Receiving detailed notifications from your SCADA operating system is your first line of defense - you can't prevent a critical network outage without the right information.

Your operating system isn't complete without the capability to send detailed and actionable notifications. Vague and unintelligible alerts won't help you prevent network problems - meaningful alerts will. You'll send the right person with the right tools to the right location.

An efficient SCADA operating system will send you meaningful alerts with details like: alarm severity, description, location, date, and time. This degree of detail allows you to quickly respond to network emergencies.

In order to get the most out of your notifications, ask yourself these three questions:

3. Graphical Display

A SCADA operating system's interface featuring a graphical display allows operators to view alarms visually on layered geographic maps. This multiple layer support allows operators to drill down from regions, to cities, to sites, to photographs of their equipment racks. This provides visualization of alarms right down to the network devices themselves, rapidly accelerating repair operations.

Look for an operating system that has a graphical display featuring more capabilities than simply providing graphical alarm status updates. It's useful, for example, to have a display that can be used to view statistics on individual devices, tracking the frequency of polls or device alarms occurring in a given period.

Having a graphical display can bring you many benefits, including:

4. Nuisance Alarm Filtering

What happens when your SCADA system is constantly sending multiple status events and non-alarms that require no action other than an acknowledgment?

Your staff starts to believe that all alarm reports are nonessential alarms. Your personnel may stop responding to any alarm - even critical ones - defeating the function of the SCADA operating system.

These nonproductive alarms are what we call nuisance alarms, and they can have devastating effects.

An advanced SCADA operating system will be able to filter out nuisance alarms, so your staff can stay focused on preventing serious threats to your network.

Your nuisance alarm filtering feature should include capabilities, such as:

5. Expansion Capability

Your SCADA operating system is a long-term investment that will last for as long as 10 to 15 years. So you need to make sure it will support your future growth for up to 15 years.

As your business expands and your number of sites increases, it's important to have an operating system that can also grow. Rather than swapping out your system every time you outgrow it, look for an operating system that is scalable.

Keep in mind that it's easier and most cost-effective to add alarm capacity in a controlled way in the immediate future than to rush a new deployment through when you've exceeded your alarm capacity.

When you're planning your SCADA system, take the future into consideration. You don't want to commit to an operating system that's inadequate for your future needs, at the same time avoid spending too much for alarm capacity you won't immediately use, either.

6. Redundant, Geo-diverse Backup

Take a step back and look at your entire network. Do you have redundant communication paths? Power systems? Transport systems? HVAC?

Your SCADA operating system is just as critical to maintaining proactive service, because losing it will leave you blinded to your network status. So, you should make sure that it supports redundant master stations.

By using redundancy throughout your network, you'll be able to achieve greater levels of reliability - which means reduced downtime and much happier customers.

Unfortunately, many companies only have one single SCADA master, which can cost them a lot in the long-run. Usually, there are three times when a company chooses to deploy redundant operating systems:

By having a SCADA operating system that supports redundant masters, you're protecting yourself from an expected problem impairing your network visibility. No matter how reliable your master is, it can potentially fail for reasons outside of your control (natural disaster, electrical damage, vandalism, etc.).

When investing on a redundant master station, make sure:

2005's hurricane Rita destroyed many of Cameron Communication's sites. Their advanced monitoring equipment enabled them to maintain network visibility.

Because events like natural disasters can have such devastating effects, a common best practice is to have a geographical separation between masters. This means that the primary and secondary masters are kept in two different locations - providing your SCADA operational system with the ultimate protection against things, such as natural disasters and vandalism.

7. Support for Multiple Protocols and Equipment Types

Early SCADA systems were built on closed, proprietary protocols.

However, these single-vendor solutions aren't a good idea because sometimes vendors drop support for their products or even just go out of business. Even large, well-known organizations might eliminate their telemetry equipment divisions.

Also, these protocols work well with the equipment they were designed for, but you might end up having to integrate equipment with incompatible protocols. A protocol mediation solution is the most efficient way of integrating two networks.

Especially if you have legacy devices, protocol mediation can extend their useful life without limiting the future development of your SCADA system.

Having a SCADA operating system that supports multiple protocols is a best practice that safeguards your network against unplanned obsolescence - integrating networks while preserving investments in legacy equipment.


Hassle-Free SCADA Implementation

An efficient SCADA operating system can boost your team's productivity and save you money. You'll waste less cash on expensive truck rolls - saving money for other, more important projects. However, deploying an operating system can be a sinkhole of costs, delays, and equipment with limited capabilities.

Your SCADA system shouldn't hold you back, it should help you. If you're not careful, your remote monitoring and control project can take a turn for the worse.

To avoid the headaches and frustrations associated with a poorly executed SCADA project, it's important to arm yourself with the right information to avoid making costly mistakes.

At DPS, we've provided support for hundreds of clients undergoing SCADA implementations, so we know how much a hassle-free process is important. That's where our SCADA Tutorial white paper comes in.

This tutorial will give you a solid introduction to SCADA system. You'll learn what to look for, what to avoid, must-have features, and some case studies of real-world applications. So, to have a complete knowledge about SCADA simply download your free copy of the SCADA Tutorial.

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