Sendera Consulting can assist your organization in the planning, acquisition, implementation, maintenance, and auditing of SCADA systems.

SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems are used in industrial and engineering applications to monitor and control distributed systems from a master location. SCADA is a very broad umbrella that describes solutions across a large variety of industries, including but not limited to the following:

• Water management systems
• Mass transit systems
• Environmental control systems
• Manufacturing systems
• Electric power generation, transmission and distribution
• Oil and Gas Industry metering and control systems
• Traffic signals
The three components of a SCADA system are: 
  1. Multiple field RTUs, i.e., Remote Terminal Units.
2. Central Control Room with Host Computer(s)
3. Communication infrastructure
The Remote Terminal Unit RTU connects to physical equipment such as switches, pumps, and other devices and monitors and controls these devices.
As the term SCADA implies, the Host computers allow for "supervisory level" control of the remote site. The bulk of the site control is actually performed automatically by the RTUs. Host control functions are almost always restricted to basic site over-ride or supervisory level capability.

Data acquisition begins at the RTU level and includes meter readings and equipment statuses that are communicated to the SCADA as required. Data is then compiled and formatted in such a way that a control room operator using the SCADA can make appropriate supervisory decisions that may be required to over-ride normal RTU controls.


  An important part of most SCADA implementations are alarms which can be implemented as a component on an Intelligent Building solution. Alarms can be created in such a way that when their requirements are met, they are activated. The SCADA operator's attention is drawn to the part of the system requiring attention by the alarm. Emails and text messages are often sent along with an alarm activation alerting managers along with the SCADA operator.

SCADA master computers typically run on top of a third party operating system. Nearly all SCADA products run on either a UNIX variant or HP OpenVMS, although many vendors are beginning to provide Microsoft Windows as a host operating system option. Initially, more "open" platforms such as Linux were not as widely used due to the highly dynamic development environment and because a SCADA customer that was able to afford the field hardware and devices to be controlled could usually also purchase UNIX or OpenVMS licenses. However, in recent years all SCADA vendors have moved to NT and some also to Linux.

SCADA systems typically implement a distributed database which contains data called points. A point represents a single input or output value monitored or controlled by the system. Points can be either "hard" or "soft". A hard point is representative of an actual input or output connected to the system, while a soft point represents the result of logic and math operations applied to other hard and soft points.

The HMI package for the SCADA system typically includes a drawing program which the operators or system maintenance personnel use to change the way these points are represented in the interface. These representations can be as simple as a on-screen traffic light which represents the state of an actual traffic light in the field, or as complex as a multi-projector display representing the position of all of the elevators in a skyscraper or all of the trains on a railway. The interface is usually 2D and is displayed using the X11 Protocol, although some vendors provide immersive 3D interfaces and support for other display APIs such as Win32 GDI/DirectDraw.
  Since the early 1990s the role of SCADA systems in large civil engineering solutions has changed, requiring them to perform more operations automatically. Solutions sold as SCADA also often have Distributed Control System (DCS) components. Use of "smart" RTUs or PLCs, which are capable of autonomously executing simple logic processes without involving the master computer, is increasing. A functional block programming language, IEC 61131-3, is frequently used to create programs which run on these RTUs and PLCs. Unlike a procedural language such as the C programming language or FORTRAN, IEC 61131-3 has minimal training requirements. This allows SCADA system engineers to perform both the design and implementation of a program to be executed on a RTU or PLC.

For example, instead of relying on operator intervention, or master station automation, RTUs may now be required to operate on their own to control tunnel fires or perform other safety-related tasks. The master station software is required to do more analysis of data before presenting it to operators including historical analysis and analysis associated with particular industry requirements. Safety requirements are now being applied to the system as a whole, and even master station software must meet stringent safety standards for some markets.


For some installations the costs that would result from the control system failing is extremely high. Possibly even lives could be lost. Hardware for SCADA systems is generally ruggedized to withstand temperature, vibration, and voltage extremes, but in these installations reliability is enhanced by having redundant hardware and communications channels. A failing part can be quickly identified and its functionally automatically taken over by backup hardware. A failed part can often be replaced without interrupting the process.


The reliabillity of such systems can be calculated statistically and is stated as the mean time to failure, which is a variant of mean time between failures. The calculated mean time to failure of such high reliability systems can be in the centuries.

SCADA systems have traditionally used combinations of radio and direct serial or modem connections to meet communication requirements, although Ethernet and IP over SONET is also frequently used at large sites such as railways and power stations. Phonoscope’s pure Ethernet fiber optic network can also be served as a powerful communication medium.
This has also come under threat with some customers wanting SCADA data to travel over their pre-established corporate networks, or to share the network with other applications. The legacy of the early low-bandwidth protocols remains, though. SCADA protocols are designed to be very compact and many are designed to send information to the master station only when the master station polls the RTU. Current standard SCADA protocols include Modbus, Conitel, DNP3, IEC 60870-5-101 and RP-570. Many of these protocols now contain extensions to operate over TCP/IP, although it is good security engineering practice to avoid connecting SCADA systems to the Internet so the attack surface is reduced.


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