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Top 8 Problems With Free SCADA Software

Because many people still think of SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems as just as a cost center, they might decide to go with a SCADA freeware. This can be a big mistake, though, rarely open-source SCADA software will be able to help you avoid wasting lots of money through maintenance and downtime expenses.

Here are the 8 most common pitfalls of free SCADA solutions - making them a bad choice for serious business use:

1. Incomplete Descriptions

When you decide to go with SCADA systems, it doesn't mean this decision won't have associated costs. Free SCADA suites usually don't track and report the location, level, timestamps, and details of individual alarms. In order to make up for this, you sometimes have to manually maintain a list of alarm details.

For example, those SCADA systems might only tell you that "Alarm 3485" is set. You'll be forced to go through your list of alarms to find out what this means. If you skimp on your SCADA system, it will take you longer to react to real problems.

2. No Correlations of "Clear" to "Alarms"

With SCADA, you collect data but you also need to be able to filter out unimportant information. One way to do this is to correlate alarms and clears. If your system gets a "generator failure" alarm, then a "generator clear" message 5 seconds later, you don't need the be alerted when you check the system in a few minutes.

3. No "Standing Alarm" List

In the absence of clear-to-alarm correlation as mentioned above, the only way to empty out your alarm list is to allow users to acknowledge ("ack") alarms. This action causes the alarm to vanish. The real trouble here, stemming from an inability to match alarms and clears, is that there's no way to know what alarms are standing.

4. Inability to Sort Lists

Similar to filtering, sorting your alarm lists is vital if you want to extract information from a ton of alarm data. If you choose a SCADA solution purely on price, don't expect to have much in the way of sorting.

5. No GUI

While the occasional piece of free SCADA software may in fact include one or a few of the other features I've mentioned here, I challenge you to find one that includes a web-based, multi-platform visual display of alerts and process control in real-time. If you've never managed SCADA on a graphical display, let me assure you that there's a big difference. Imagine how much easier it will be to understand SCADA alarms when you can see their geographic location on maps.

6. No Logs

As you know, software used by multiple users that weren't designed to handle that causes problems very quickly. What if an alarm is acknowledged and later the problem is still unresolved. If you chose the right SCADA system, you can simply review the logs to find out who "dropped the ball".

7. No User-Level Permissions

While finding the person responsible after a large mistake is much better than nothing, stopping them before they can make a mistake is even better. Find a full-featured SCADA HMI (human-machine interface) with user-level permissions. You can prevent novice users from acknowledging alarms.

8. No Industrial Durability

Free SCADA software you download from the web, by definition, must be run on your own hardware. In all likelihood, it will run on Windows PC - which is fine for simple home automation. However, if it's reliable industrial automation what you need, then look for a SCADA HMI running on an ultra-stable platform that will resist viruses and unauthorized hacker attacks on vulnerable operating systems.

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