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Nine months ago, Dominion had a problem. The Virginia-based energy giant operates an extensive internal communications network, and it was monitored by several different systems.
Dominion recognized that this was a serious business issue. Their internal network, which transports voice communications and SCADA telemetry data, plays an important role in guaranteeing reliable electricity service for Dominion's customers.
Remote monitoring equipment was installed in 150 sites in a seven-state coverage area. "We had several different types of legacy remotes: Badger, Larse, NEC," said Dan Jackson, a Dominion lead telecommunications technician.
Today, Dominion has a solution. DPS Telecom designed a new monitoring system for Dominion that incorporated their existing remotes. Dominion now has a full-featured modern system that can grow with their future needs, and they achieved this without having to do a forklift replacement of their legacy remotes.
"The thing I liked was that DPS was going to make it fit our needs. There weren't going to try to make our stuff fit their stuff. They were going to make their stuff fit ours. I like that. I like that a lot," said Jackson.
The systems were incompatible with each other, and when Dominion technical personnel first started looking for a way to fix their legacy support problem, no vendor seemed able to produce viable, cost-effective results.
Jackson and Mullen had clearly defined goals for how they wanted to solve the legacy problem. "We wanted to replace all the masters with one master. We also wanted to add native IP remotes and migrate as many sites as possible to IP network monitoring," Jackson said.
But finding a vendor who could help them was a long and sometimes disappointing search. "We started looking last November," Jackson said. "We came up with the criteria we wanted, wrote up an RFP [request for proposal] and sent it out to 11 different manufacturers. Six actually responded. We evaluated each first from a technical standpoint and then from a dollar standpoint. Several of the vendors had what we like to call vaporware. What it came down to was that the company that had the hardware and the software that could do what we wanted was DPS Telecom."
According to Jackson, while other companies wanted to change substantial NRE fees for attempting to develop a solution - DPS Telecom, with its no-risk custom engineering guarantee, was ready, willing, and able to create a solution for Dominion.
"DPS was the only one that said it could do it all, either through hardware or software. Everyone else had an exception," said Jackson. "Support for the Larse 1200 was a big piece," said Mullen. "Nobody else had much on that."
Jackson and Mullen also liked the can-do spirit of DPS Telecom's engineers. "I like the attitude of the engineers. They want to see it work as much as we do and I think that's really good. They seem to have a green light to be as creative as they need to be, either with the hardware or the software," Jackson said.
In a few short months, DPS Telecom rapidly created a new, custom-engineered solution designed specifically for Dominion's needs, a solution that let Dominion make the best use of their existing gear while smoothly transitioning to new remotes.
DPS Telecom supplied Dominion with an IAM-5 network alarm monitoring system running T/MonXM software. The IAM-5 replaces all of the older masters with a single unit. The IAM-5 is equipped with additional software modules for polling NEC, Larse, and Badger remotes. A DPS Telecom hardware unit, the FSK Converter, mediates data traffic between the IAM-5 and the frequency shift keyed (FSK) communication channel used by the Larse and Badger remotes.
To make the transition to the new system trouble-free, DPS Telecom transferred the alarm databases from the older masters to the IAM-5 using database conversion software. Jackson estimates that this step saved six to eight weeks of implementation time.
With the IAM-5, Jackson and Mullen are no longer worried. But the real virtue of the solution is that it provides a smooth migration path for replacing their legacy remotes. Dominion plans to gradually replace their existing remotes with new NetGuardian units from DPS Telecom.
"If we didn't have this solution, we'd have to look at a wholesale change-out of the Larse 1200s," said Mullen. "We would have to start a process to get all those remotes replaced with something that could be supported in the future. And then you're looking at the price of the remote plus you've got to send a man out there to spend a day to install it for each site."
"You'd have to do them all within a very short period of time," said Jackson. "Now we can spread it out over 18 to 24 months to do it. And because we don't have all these other masters now, we're looking at just one cutover, instead of doing it three different times for all the different remotes."
Dominion's new system has already added substantially to their network visibility. "Now that we have IP-based remotes [the NetGuardians], we're going to start picking up a lot of the offices we have in Texas and Utah, New Orleans, and Oklahoma and that area. We don't own the telecommunications facilities that go there, while in all the other states we have our own communications network with microwave or fiber."
Jackson is also looking at adding new network monitoring capabilities. "We may add derived alarms in a lot of places that have generators, multiple chargers, stuff like that. For example, we run a generator test every Tuesday, and with derived alarms we make sure it happens. We can create an if alarm if the test doesn't occur within a certain time window on Tuesday," said Jackson.
"And where we have multiple chargers at a site, we can set it up so that if only one charger is down it's a minor alarm, but if you lose two it gets major, you lose three, then it's critical, and if you lose the fourth one it's beyond critical," Jackson added. "Another thing, we can use the serial ports on the NetGuardians to look at other pieces of equipment. We haven't figured out how we're going to use that advantage, but it's nice that it's there. We may come up with some unique applications for that."