Legacy supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are typically built to be platform-dependent, meaning they can only run on a proprietary operating system — most often Microsoft. Devices that run different operating systems may not be compatible with the SCADA system.
The restrictions of these legacy systems limit who can have access to the system and where, and also make utilities vulnerable to Microsoft upgrades, security issues, and patches. This also can cause issues when Microsoft terminates support for an operating system.
“That can be a big hurdle because many utilities will already have a large infrastructure in place with different devices. So, having to worry about whether a system will be able to work with a certain device can be a problem,” said Allen Rogers, principal at SKM, Inc.
A SCADA system built on open, IT-standard technologies, however, can run on any operating system, including Windows, Mac, and Linux. Inductive Automation’s Ignition, for example, is a server-centric SCADA platform, meaning it is easily web-deployable and can be downloaded and installed in minutes, no driver required.
“You can run it on almost any device, and with the new version, which will use HTML5, we’ll be able to use it on any device that has a web browser,” Rogers said.
The system can also be easily accessed, updates can be pushed out to clients almost immediately, and users can connect from practically anywhere — not just the plant floor. This is a major advantage for integrators who are working on projects with utilities that have an existing framework in place.
Cross-platform compatibility also gives utilities the freedom to try new configurations. After Jason Hamlin, former head of operations and technology at the wastewater plant in Lynchburg, Virginia, was able to use the system on his Linux machine and in his IT shop on a Windows computer, he decided to set up a backup server.
Hamlin set up a primary server on Windows and a backup server on Linux for the redundancy. “If something took out Windows, the Linux box is still working and vice versa,” Hamlin said. “For years we ran the system with Linux and Windows and that was awesome just to be able to do that as easily as we could.”
This cross-platform compatibility means users don’t have to worry about operating-system or virus upgrades breaking their SCADA, a common issue that many utilities face with legacy systems.
“When we had our legacy software, the transition from device path 2 to service path 3 would break the SCADA software. When Microsoft would change how something worked, it would break my SCADA software,” said Henry Palechek, instrumentation and control systems supervisor at a large water district in California. “I’ve been able to make version upgrades on Ignition without any problem.”