Throughout history, industrial revolutions have hinged on the power to automate processes. While automation today offers many benefits, imagine if you could automate thousands – or even millions – of processes simultaneously. This is the next potential wave of innovation, and it’s the organisations that are 'geographically dispersed' or 'automation heavy' that will benefit the most.
The increasing shift toward Industrial IoT (IIoT) tends to bring up a lot of questions about the continued value of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems that have traditionally served as the driver for monitoring and control in industrial markets. Although OT and IT are beginning to converge, there is still high demand for SCADA data.
However, new technology offers the opportunity for data to be used in ways that were previously not possible, such as predictive analytics. This doesn’t make SCADA obsolete, as many operators are using it and will continue to use it. But industries may start seeing new technology added to the network to support intelligent data transmission.
Industries like oil and gas, electric power, agriculture, and utilities are starting to pick up on the benefits of Sensor-2-Server (S2S) when it comes to profitability and cost savings through more advanced data analytics.
S2S is intelligent communication that begins at the sensor level and targets servers for specific reasons. These servers could include anything from a SCADA data server, that collects and monitors through the SCADA system, or a Big Data engine. S2S could be leveraged in a predictive analytics environment or server farm that compares data at rest to data in motion at the access layer of the network. The concept of S2S extends beyond transmitting data. It is about creating intelligent transmission from a specific location back to the appropriate server with the appropriate intelligence to drive action for change.
What is the access layer?
The access layer is the edge of the IT network. An IT infrastructure has a core that is home to all the big data and data analytics. At this core, the data is at rest because it has reached its final destination. Next is the distribution layer of the IT infrastructure which is where the major plants, sites, and facilities are located. Further out is the aggregate layer where data at the next level in the network is collected. Extending out even further is the access layer.
For example, in an industrial site, the S2S access layer is the furthest point at which the operators are collecting sensor data. Industrial organisations today need intelligent secure communication and transmission from the sensor data back to the appropriate server, and there are a number of available options.
Implementation of S2S Communication
When implementing S2S networks, the operator needs to have a solid understanding of the following:
- What sensor data do I want to collect?
- What does the architecture look like?
- Where does the data need to come from and where does it need to go? For example, is it just going to SCADA or is it going to other data sources?
The Four Tenets of Sensor-2-Server
To establish the most effective S2S communications network, there are four core tenets that the technology must support: collecting the data, protecting the data, transmitting the data, and controlling the data.
The technology must allow the operator to collect data from any sensor – whether the sensors are analogue or digital, wireless or wired. In some instances, the technology may need the extended ability to collect data at the access layer in a data logging fashion – allowing the operator to collect it, store it locally, and make it available to SCADA systems.
The intelligent communication must be able to protect the network against cyberattacks. It must fix the boundary between the sensor and backbone network. Without ample security in the environment, many industries can be at risk for severe consequences such as compromised data or denial of service.
The data must be transported to the appropriate location for analysis, no matter where the data is collected from. Operators should look for a system that offers seamless wireless data connectivity from Sensor-2-Server.
The Sensor-2-Server technology must add intelligence to the access layer. Data logging is critical, and operators must have the capability to pull data in and control what happens with the data, where that data is stored, and users can leverage that data at the local level or back at the core network.
Benefits of Intelligent Sensor-2-Server Communication
S2S technology can be effectively deployed in the energy sector, whether it is oil and gas, electric power, solar, wind, or tide-based energy. Additionally, utilities, precision agriculture, and irrigation can also benefit from intelligent S2S communication. With an intelligent communication system, operators can leverage new technology to improve the profitability of their businesses in ways previously considered impossible.
For example, if an oil and gas company can use predictive analytics to estimate the price per barrel, the company can be more responsive (in real time) on its oil production levels. The data gathered from predictive analytics can help operators determine if production should be increased or decreased in certain areas, thus driving higher profitability.
Industrial communication is changing in the sense that IIoT enables the possibility for every device in a network to be connected – including those in the outer access layer. This has created a convergence of OT and IT operations in many instances or, at the very least, has brought the two departments to a closer working capacity. Any operator choosing S2S technology, or any technology for that matter, must carefully consider the options and keep security as a top priority.
Scott Allen, Chief Marketing Officer at FreeWave Technologies