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New Satellite Technology a Possible ‘Game Changer’ for Communications

As the interoperability discussion continues, so does the frustration of many who have worked on this issue for decades but haven’t seen their goals realized. So it makes sense to take a look into the future of what could be a bright spot.

Satellite technology has proven itself during major events but its limitations are known. During Hurricane Katrina, satellite technology allowed for some semblance of interoperability when most communications systems were down. A family of satellites first launched seven years ago by Hughes has the ability to be a “game changer,” in the words of some neutral panelists at a recent emergency management summit.

The new satellites, which Hughes calls Spaceway, offer path diversity. It doesn’t just bounce up from an antenna to the satellite and reflect down to a ground hub and connect to the Internet or a data center like the traditional satellite. The Spaceway is a router in the sky that can make multiple connections at once, enabling conference calls and video conferencing.

The Department of Defence tested the satellite’s ability in 2009, creating video teleconferencing between the U.S. Northern Command, the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Dahlgren Division and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego. The after-action report described it as “relatively quick to set up with the ability to carry on high-definition, clear and stable communications with other locations.” FEMA was scheduled to test it during winter 2011.

With the Spaceway, user groups can be built prior to an event and connect when necessary. Agencies and private-sector entities that don’t work together every day can connect quickly during a crisis when other terrestrial communications are not working.

The Spaceway satellite is more akin to a mesh network than the traditional reflector satellite, which enables it to invoke community groups. Another way of describing it is “any to any” connectivity instead of “one to one” connectivity.

Tony Bardo, assistant vice president of Government Solutions at Hughes, called it a “Plan B” network. “If the ground infrastructure is down and you are unable to put together a user group, your radios and so forth are down and you can still get connected, you can quickly invoke a community of users and managers and decision-makers that have access to this Plan B network.”

During Hurricane Katrina, circuits and Bell South towers were inoperable because they were submerged by the flooding. When the towers fell during 9/11, cables and servers went down under the rubble. “These structures on the ground that support our telecommunications are very much in harm’s way when it comes to natural disasters and attacks,” Bardo said.

With Spaceway, both the satellite and the routing capacity are 22,000 miles above earth and away from harm, unlike ground-based communication infrastructure.

“If you think about that ground hub in the old system, the ground hub is the router,” Bardo said. “The intelligence is taking place on the ground. Spaceway, with its router in the sky, can enable me to communicate with you in another field office and add another party somewhere else, and out of harm’s way. I send up your IP address, and it connects me with you. I want to connect with the data center, so I send up the IP address on the antenna of the data centre and it connects me there.”

Enhancing Oil,Gas and Power Operations – SCADA via Satellite

Oil and gas operations are located in unforgiving environments, from the blistering cold of the arctic to the scorching heat of the deserts and the storming conditions out on the open sea. To sustain secure operating conditions in these remote areas, reliable communication is as vital to the end-user as the umbilical cord is to an unborn child.

 

Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is a unique aspect of oil, gas and power distribution operations in that it does not entail communication between people, but between machines, also known as machine–machine (M2M).

SCADA describes a computer based system that manages mission critical process applications on the ‘factory floor’. These applications are frequently critical for health, safety and the environment.

The term telemetry is often used in combination with SCADA. Telemetry describes the process of collating data and performing remotely controlled actions via a suitable transmission media. In the context of this article, the telemetry media is a satellite communications solution.

SCADA in Oil, Gas and Power Distribution Operations

SCADA is not limited to a particular aspect of these types of operations. In the Oil and Gas industry, SCADA applications can be found in upstream areas such as well monitoring, downstream in areas such as pipeline operations, in trade by managing the fiscal metering/custody transfer operations and logistics in applications such as inventory management of tank storage facilities. SCADA systems in the Power Distribution industry use RTUs and PLCs to perform the majority of on-site control. The RTU or PLC acquires the site data, which includes meter readings, pressure, voltage, or other equipment status, then performs local control and transfers the data to the central SCADA system. However, when comparing and specifying a solution for challenging SCADA environments, RTU and PLC-based systems are not equal.

PLC Systems are Sub-Optimal for Complex SCADA Systems

Originally designed to replace relay logic, PLCs acquire analog and/or digital data through input modules, and execute a program loop while scanning the inputs and taking actions based on these inputs. PLCs perform well in sequential logic control applications with high discrete I/O data counts, but suffer from overly specialized design, which results in limited CPU performance, inadequate communication flexibility, and lack of easy scalability when it comes to adding future requirements other than I/O.
With the rapid expansion of remote site monitoring and control, three critical industry business trends have recently come into focus:

• System performance and intelligence – Process automation improves efficiency, plant safety, and reduces labor costs. However, complex processes like AGA gas flow calculations and high-resolution event capture in electric utility applications require very high performance and system-level intelligence. The reality is that even high-performance PLCs cannot meet all these expectations.

• Communication flexibility – Redundant communication links between remote systems and the central SCADA application form the basis of a reliable, secure, and safe enterprise. Power routing automation in electric applications, water distribution, warning systems, and oil and gas processes all require unique communication mediums including slow dial-up phone lines, medium speed RF, and broadband wired/wireless IP.

• Configurability and reduced costs – Although process monitoring and control are well defined and understood within many industries, the quest for flexibility and reduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) remains challenging. In the past, proprietary PLC units customized with third party components filled the niche, but suffered from lack of configurability and higher maintenance costs than fully integrated units. Today, businesses look for complete modular off-the shelf systems that yield high configurability with a significant improvement in TCO.

At the technical level, several requirements currently influence the SCADA specification process:
• Local intelligence and processing – High processing throughput, 64 bit CPUs with expanded memory for user applications and logging with support for highly complex control routines.

• High-speed communication ports – Monitoring large numbers of events requires systems that support multiple RS232/485 connections running at 230/460 kb/s and multiple Ethernet ports with 10/100 Mb/s capability.

• High-density, fast, and highly accurate I/O modules Hardware that implements 12.5 kHz input counters with 16-bit analog inputs and 14-bit analog outputs for improved accuracy.

• Broadband wireless and wired IP communications. Recent innovations in IP devices demands reliable connectivity to local IEDs (Intelligent Electronic Devices) as well as emerging communication network standards.

• Strict adherence to open standard industry protocols including Modbus, DNP3, and DF-1 on serial and TCP/IP ports

• Robust protocols for support of mixed communication environments.

• Protection of critical infrastructure – Enhanced security such as password-protected programming, over the air encryption, authentication, and IP firewall capability.

Selecting a Satellite Communication Solution – Factors to Consider

Security

When selecting a satellite communications solution, there are numerous factors that must be considered. Enterprise applications like e-mail, Internet access, telephony, videoconferencing, etc. frequently tie into public communications infrastructure. Due to security and reliability considerations it is considered best practice to isolate mission critical SCADA communications infrastructure from public networks.

The Rustyice solution is a dedicated satellite communications network solution tailored for the SCADA applications environment. By virtue of system design, our solution offers greater security against hacker attacks and virus infestation which mainly target computers that are connected to the Internet and are running office applications.

Reliability

Due to the critical nature of most SCADA operations, a reliable communication solution is of utmost importance. The satellite communications industry is mature with a proven track record. Satellite transponder availability is typically in the 99.99 percentile range, a number far superior to that of terrestrial networks. To build on this strength, our solution utilises a miniature satellite hub that is deployed at the end-users SCADA control centre. Data to/from the remote terminal units (RTUs) are piped directly into the SCADA system. There is no vulnerable terrestrial back-haul from a communication service providers facility, which can cause the entire network to crash if cut during public works, i.e. digging.

To increase the reliability of the hub, it is frequently deployed in a redundant/load sharing configuration. This ensures that the hub is available more than 100% of the time, making it far from the weakest link in the communication chain.

Types of Connectivity

Contrary to enterprise-related communications which take place randomly, SCADA communication is quite predictable. It is a continuous process, where the SCADA application polls the RTUs at regular intervals. The outgoing poll request is a short datagram (packet) containing as few as 10 bytes. The returned data from the RTUs are also in a datagram format with the message size being from 10 bytes to 250 bytes. One could easily assume that a satellite solution based upon dial-up connectivity such as Inmarsat, Iridium or Globalstar would be ideal for this application environment. Since SCADA is not just data collection, but also entails control (which at times can be of an emergency nature), you simply cannot wait for the system to encounter a busy connection. What is needed is a system that provides an ‘always on’ type of connection, commonly referred to as leased line connectivity.

A Rustyice solution supports both circuit switched (leased line and multi drop) and packet switched (TCP/IP and X.25) applications concurrently.

Contact us today to speak to one of our representatives and examine how a Rustyice Satellite SCADA solution can offer your operations the best of all worlds.

Can we really make Autonomic Network systems succeed?

The real world is uncertain. Thats a given. Our networks, at their most fundamental, carry the real world from one point to another and therefore by definition carry that uncertainty during every moment they operate. Any autonomic system which seeks to properly manage our networks faces this challenge of pervasive uncertainty. They will always be constructed around that dichotomy of bringing order to chaos by applying their adaptive techniques to create order from chaos. If we map too much of that adaptation into the systems, they become cumbersome and unwieldy. We therefore need to smooth the chaos curve in order to drive autonomic systems design in a direction that will maintain their efficacy. How might we do this? Read on for our thoughts.

We are currently engaged in a conflict with the increasingly complex systems we seek to create which we are losing. Things may have become easier for the end user(arguably), but these systems which provide the end user more simplicity mask a corresponding increase in the the complexity of the underlying systems which support them. This affects the economics of viability of new developments in the marketplace and actually makes some of them non-viable. This situation forces us into choices that we cannot make on an informed basis and our decisions may end up fossilising parts of the network so that future development becomes uneconomic or infeasible.

In principle, autonomic network systems are founded on the principle that we need to reduce the variability that passes from the environment to the network and its applications. In latter years, many companies including Rustyice Solutions have brought products to the market that simplify the management of networks by offering levels of abstraction which make configuration easier and allow the network to heal itself  on occasion. These products tend to smooth the chaos curve and increase the reliability of the systems without the involvement of a low level re-inspection of the systems themselves. They do this by integrating the available information from different semantic levels and leveraging it to give the systems a more holistic view from which to consider the operational status of themselves.

Lets consider what we expect of an autonomic system. It can be defined in terms of a simple feedback loop which comprises information gathering, analysis, decision making and taking action. If the system is working properly then this feedback loop will achieve and maintain balance. Examining these elements one by one, information gathering can come from network management platforms which talk to the discrete nework components on many levels as well as environmental and application based alerts. Analysis can mean such activities as applying rules and policies to the gathered information. Decision making is the application of the analysis against the rules and policies to determine whether or not they meet the conditions set out in the policies and taking action could involve adjusting network loads on managed elements and potentially informing humans who need to take some form of action. These are the fundamental terms with which we seek to understand any requirement from any of our own customers.

This sounds fine in theory but what do we need to understand in order to make it work? The network is currently modelled on a layer based concept where each of the layers has a distinct job to do and talks only to its neighbour layers as well as its corresponding layer at the distant end of the communications link. This model has served us well and brings many distinct advantages including hardware and software compatibility and interoperability, international compatibility, inter layer independence and error containment. It does however carry some disadvantages with it too and most significant of those in terms of this discussion is that of the lack of awareness at any point in the system of the metadata which is why we have the networked systems in the first place. The question of whether the network is doing what it is needed to do at the holistic level is something which no discrete layer ever asks, nor should it. It almost comes down to a division between the analogue concerns of the real world versus the digital, yes/no, abilities of the systems themselves.

Taking this discussion a step further we need to improve our ability to ascribe the real world requirements which are the reasons these networks exist and why we build them to the systems which we intend should be capable of making decisions about whether the systems are working or not. Can these systems really know whether or not the loss of a certain percentage of the packets in a data-stream originating on the netflix servers will impact the enjoyability of somebody watching the on demand movie they have paid for. From a higher perspective, the question becomes whether we can really design autonomic decision making systems that could understand the criteria the real world applies to the efficacy of the network and base their decisions on that finding. They also need to be aware of the impact any decisions they make will have on the efficacy of any other concurrent real world requirements.

There are many mathematical abstractions which seek to model this scenario in order to predict and design the autonomic behaviours we require of our systems and you will be relieved to read that we do not propose to go into those here. In principle however we need to move towards a universal theory of autonomic behaviour. We need to find an analytic framework that facilitates a conceptual decision making model relating to what we actually want from the network. We need to couple this with an open decision making mechanism along the lines of UML in order for us to fold in the benefits of new techniques as they develop and ultimately we need to be able to build these ideas directly into programming languages such that they better reflect the real world systems we want on a higher level of abstraction.

In conclusion, we can say that autonomics is a multi level subject and we need to take account of these different semantic levels. We need to build an assumed level of uncertainty into our programming in order to maximise our ability to engineer autonomic systems and we need to develop standards in order to further enable the capability of our systems in this area. These are the fundamental points which we at Rustyice Solutions begin any discussion with respect to network management and more especially autonomic networking such as WAN acceleration. If you or your business are interested in examining this topic in more detail with a view to enhancing the value which your network brings to the table why not give us a call. We look forward to hearing from you.

Energy Retrofits and Building Automation Save the Life and Expenses of a Building

The environmental impact buildings have in the UK is at alarming levels — accounting for 40% of the nation’s energy usage and an equal percentage of carbon output, and, when you consider water consumption, waste management and vehicle transportation for waste management as well as employees of the building, it is clear that change is necessary.

Building automation is the leading solution towards streamlining building energy management. Although BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) certification is a goal for many new buildings, often the certification covers only the construction and design process. (BREEAM) is a voluntary measurement rating for green buildings that was established in the UK by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). Since its inception it has since grown in scope and geographically, being exported in various guises across the globe. Its equivalents in other regions include LEED North America and Green Star in Australia, and HQE in France. BRE and CSTB (the French Building research centre) have signed a memorandum of understanding committing them to the alignment of BREEAM and HQE. It’s simple when it’s a project being worked on externally by a team. But once the building is occupied and in use, often the building maintenance team poorly manages lighting control, elevator access control, heating / ventilation and air conditioning, the building’s efficiency potential is not met, and the building uses an unnecessary amount of energy.

Not only should the focus be on constructing a sustainable Building Solution, but also on retrofitting old buildings to be greener and more energy efficient. By conserving water and utilising renewable energy, as well as implementing building automation systems, even older buildings can benefit from energy retrofittings.

Most building occupants applaud and welcome the idea of greening a building, but when it comes to behavioural change for the individual, many fail to change their ways, keeping the greening process from reaching its potential. Simple habit changes such as manually turning lights on after a timer has shut them off, or returning cutlery and dishes to the dishwasher instead of tossing out disposable plasticware can be resisted by employees.

Old buildings represent only 4% of BREEAM-certified square footage, but account for a fifth of BREEAM registered square feet. Making existing buildings greener poses a number of challenges, as it is a multi-faceted project to attack and integrate building systems. The coordination of a number of priorities is necessary, and often, they clash. For instance, meeting the requirements of energy efficiency with heating and air conditioning, while meeting the the comfort needs of occupants. Often instead of the greening falling under one large project, it is broken into conflicting pieces where different departments overlook a specific aspect of the building while it clashes with the energy needs of another aspect.

Above all other challenges, the budget for going green is the most difficult for building owners and building management to monitor and control. Most organisations have a long list of budget priorities and constraints, with an aim to increase their bottom line as much as possible. While going green does provide an increased return on investment, it takes some time to create and see the changes.

At Rustyice Solutions, our experience in the design and integration of BMS gives us the edge. We are confident that Rustyice Solutions Smart Building Technologies and information management will help you to competitively differentiate and thus win more business if your building houses tenants or save more money if the building is owned outright. Our unique solution design and sub-contract services will take your building project performance to another level. Call us today on 0800 012 1090 and speak to one of our Building Management Advisors. What have you got to lose except the waste?