Scalable, Current, Real-Time SCADA in the Cloud

July 6, 2017
Cloud services were much in the limelight at the Honeywell Users Group symposium this year, including Honeywell’s new Experion Elevate cloud-based SCADA.

Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS) is calling the latest release of its Experion supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system Experion Elevate. It elevates SCADA functionality up into the cloud, but it also elevates control capabilities for operations that need to get up and running quickly, with few people and little upfront capital expenditure.

Taking Experion to the cloud, Honeywell dramatically eliminates capital expenditures associated with launching a SCADA system, said Jason Urso, chief technology officer for HPS, introducing the new platform at the Honeywell Users Group (HUG) symposium recently in San Antonio, Texas.

Cloud services figured prominently in HUG introductions and conversations this year. Experion Elevate is part of a suite of cloud-enabled offerings for process industries, including its move to the cloud for cybersecurity, with its Advanced Threat Intelligence Exchange.

Moving more and more functionalities to the cloud—much of which was largely considered unthinkable not so many years ago—comes in a bid to reduce capex wherever possible, reducing costs and concerns related to the purchase, installation, hosting and maintenance of hardware and software on premise. It also means that small to mid-size companies can get operations started despite limited capital.

“Cloud-based offerings are relatively new in the industrial world,” said Vimal Kapur, HPS president, during his HUG keynote. “With cloud-based SCADA, you don’t have to set up a control center or backup center. You can leverage the cloud infrastructure from your service provider. Eight to 10 months for a SCADA project can be reduced to a few weeks. You move from a capital model to an opex model. You don’t have to buy servers. You start with fewer assets. If you want to add more assets, you add them; you want to delete, you delete. Software versions are always kept current.”

Putting Experion in the cloud provides predictable costs for customers, along with continual support on a SCADA system that’s always up to date, noted Paul Vellacott, product marketing manager for Experion SCADA at HPS. “It’s changing the previous scenario of capex upfront,” he said. “And very quickly, you can have a functioning SCADA system, literally within hours.”

Cloud-based SCADA eliminates “a huge amount of complexity,” said Peter Davis, software technology director for HPS, during the onstage product introduction at HUG. “It eliminated all the hardware; all the capital equipment.”

And it’s not just an idea; it’s real, Davis emphasized. “Customers are using this today,” he said, pointing specifically to an oil and gas company that came to Honeywell late last year, urgently needing to bring 300-400 wells online within six weeks. “With the capabilities I just showed you, they got it up and running in about four weeks of time.”

The Calgary-based crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company had bought some third-party assets, but that third party was keeping its SCADA system. So the E&P needed to get a new SCADA system up and running quickly, Vellacott explained. “They came to us in late November, and by the second week in December had the first well running,” he said. “They had a few hundred wells operating within a month of initiating the order.”

Also important is that the oil and gas company is able to operate its SCADA system with a minimum of staff. “You don’t need SCADA teams anymore to run the SCADA system,” Vellacott said, describing the one-man show that is now their SCADA operations.

The one man running SCADA there also wears a cybersecurity hat. “And he’s not a cybersecurity expert at all,” Vellacott marveled. That’s not important because Experion Elevate is by its nature secure, he added. “He’s saying, ‘I trust Honeywell and its cloud provider to provide secure services.’”

That cloud provider, Microsoft, has spent something like $1 billion on cloud security, making it much more secure than most on-premise systems. “No customer will spend that kind of money on security,” Vellacott said.

Though many in industry seemed so averse to any industrial functions operating in the cloud—skeptical about security and reliability, in particular—most customers are beginning to understand that the capabilities are in many ways better than what they could do themselves on premise. “You start having that discussion with them,” Vellacott said. “The pin drops, the light comes on.”

Where cloud-based SCADA makes the most sense at this point is for organizations that are already doing remote SCADA with distributed assets, such as oil and gas, solar, wind, electricity and water/wastewater. For one, they’d be more likely to understand any security concerns. “They’re already communicating out to a site with remote systems, using a lot of cell connections and putting a lot of effort into securing those systems,” Vellacott explained. “So it’s not a big step for them to go to a service from a reputable cloud data center.” It’s the same story with reliability, he added.

It’s more of a stretch in a constrained plant environment, making Elevate less compelling in, say, a food and beverage plant or an aluminum smelter, Vellacott said.

Important to the discussion is that Experion Elevate is still Experion SCADA. “It’s a proven solution,” Vellacott said. “It’s not new; it’s just delivered in a different way.”

Another important aspect is that it’s an Experion SCADA that is always up to date. In the demonstration room at HUG, users could see features that aren’t even on the newest Experion R500. “When we have new features, we can roll them out right away on Experion Elevate,” Vellacott said. “It’s the concept of this is your last upgrade. This is your last migration.”

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