Multiple Facilities: Switching from Distributed to Centralized SCADA Architecture

Multiple Facilities: Switching from Distributed to Centralized SCADA Architecture

SCADA should begin with the end in mind: a project manager’s perspective.

By: Ayanna Edwards

As campuses and facilities expand, SCADA grows. Your current architecture might not be the most efficient for large network operation. Perhaps you built more facilities. Maybe you piloted SCADA at one location and decided to roll it out to other facilities gradually.

The design philosophy of several individual stand-alone systems has drawbacks, such as material cost and O&M inefficiencies. Consolidated architecture is the most cost-effective approach for deploying SCADA across a portfolio of facilities.

Unfortunately for a few of our mission-critical customers, hindsight is 20/20. They’ve learned, over time, how inefficient a distributed SCADA architecture can become with growth. Now they prefer a more centralized approach, as the costs of maintaining the various systems have become a challenge.

Whether you are trying to decide if you should migrate multiple facilities to one consolidated system, or you have yet to build a facility, here are a few tips that will save you from future headaches.


SCADA architecture growing pains

SCADA projects are often installed as part of capital construction projects at different points in time, and therefore operate as individual stand-alone systems. Maintaining a consistent SCADA architecture across multiple facilities presents some serious challenges.

One of our customers has multiple facilities, each with a different SCADA architecture, installed within several years of each other over a period of seven years. During initial implementation discussions, the needs of the site were the highest priority. At the time, there was little exploration into how the system could grow.

Now, they have the opportunity to expand the scope of their SCADA system to include additional facilities. The Band-Aid approach to consistency used in recent years across the current facilities isn’t going to cut it anymore. It’s proving to be costly. In order to add additional facilities in a centralized approach, an overhaul was required.


Benefits of centralized SCADA architecture

Lack of consistency in multiple distributed SCADA systems presents costly problems. Here’s why a centralized SCADA architecture eliminates most of those recurring issues:


Design consistency leads to higher operator efficiency

Thinking back to our customer with multiple facilities, there’s a lot of operator confusion. Because SCADA overview screens and SCADA objects were designed for the needs of the individual sites, there are subtle differences. Tags, icons, values, alarms, and graphics might differ across locations. It’s difficult for operators to switch between locations, and they’re less productive as they re-learn how to read each interface.

In contrast, centralized SCADA software uses object oriented design which lends itself well to standardization. All equipment is derived from a common set of objects, which makes modifications much easier to deploy since change management is administered from a central configuration database. Operators only have one standardized interface to learn.


System consistency means easier plant comparison

From a plant performance standpoint, a centralized architecture makes comparison easier between locations. With a standardized infrastructure, KPIs, or key performance indicators, are easier to calculate.

Chiller Plant Efficiency, and Other Medical Campus Central Energy Plant KPIs You Should Be Tracking

Tracking and linking important metrics gives operators basic values to benchmark against. Being able to see the state of each system, and if one isn’t performing as needed, operators can quickly take corrective measures when performance isn’t optimal.

A centralized architecture can open up a new world of monitoring and control - the ability to command everything from one location, with individual locations still retaining the ability to manage their site SCADA systems. It also aids in the ability to perform better comparatives from a performance standpoint.


Cost-effective license utilization

One of our customer’s biggest complaints is that they feel like they are always upgrading and buying new licenses. Because the systems were installed at different times, licenses between sites weren’t on the same upgrade schedule.

With a centralized architecture, licensing upgrades happen at the same time. In fact, tag quotas can be spread across locations, which means newer locations can take advantage of unused tags in the existing license. Instead of handling user licensing on a concurrent user basis, if licenses are applied to the enterprise, fewer user licenses are needed.

When we know there’s an ability for a facility to grow in a short timeframe, we typically recommend additional licenses, even if you won’t use them all at once. Because licensing is already in place, you won’t have to worry about different license schedules once you grow into those licenses. Plus, you only pay for labor once.


Reduced hardware/ software costs

Using a centralized SCADA architecture allows facilities to reduce their server hardware and software footprint. When a standalone facility establishes a SCADA system in a distributed architecture approach, an application server, terminal server, and SCADA software are amongst the common needs for a fully functioning system. When an additional facility is added to the system, these common needs must be duplicated at the new facility as well. With each addition to the system, the additive hardware/software costs begin to mount, and can even make the prospects of adding future facilities unappealing due to this growing total cost of the system.

With a consolidated architecture, a centrally located virtual server can greatly reduce the need for individual servers, while also maximizing software client licenses that already exist, without the need to purchase new software as frequently. This allows for a lot less painful approach to growth.


Planning for centralized SCADA

If you’re still planning your facilities, begin with the end in mind. During project specification, consider these two key questions:

“Is it possible more than one location could use SCADA in the next 3-5 years?

“If yes, does it need to be consistent?”

If the answers to those questions are both yes, your SCADA systems integrator might design the whole project completely different than they would have, including different SCADA software, programming, and design templates.

Asking those questions will end up saving you in steep future retrofit labor costs.


Intentionally design systems for consolidated effort

From my experience working with healthcare energy plants, and from what I learned at ASHE’s recent Annual Conference, it is very common to have multiple systems in-house that don’t talk to one another. Having systems intentionally designed for possible future consolidations is a desire of many facility managers at hospitals. We can help you get there.


Ayanna Edwards - Affinity EnergyAyanna Edwards is a Project Manager for Affinity Energy with responsibility for power automation, solar services, and account support, ensuring customers receive exceptional service and personal attention to their needs. She joined Affinity Energy in 2015, bringing over 15 years of engineering, technical, and project management experience as a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) in industries such as electronics, automotive, construction, manufacturing, and clean fossil energy.

Beginning her career as a Technical Sales Engineer in manufacturing, Ayanna’s skills in customer-focused solution development, resource orchestration, and alignment of supplier performance with customer expectations quickly led her into project management leadership roles at AdzZoo, Henkel, and Dow Corning. At CoaLogix, Ayanna afforded customers extended performance and significant cost savings through successful management of her portfolio valued at over $20MM.

Ayanna graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and enjoys an active lifestyle of jogging, dance, volunteering, and travel with family and friends.