Sleepless in Software City

Using and Knowing More Than One Software Platform and Having More Than One Person Involved Suggests Success

By Jeremy Pollard, CET

I had a nightmare. Indusoft has been scooped up by Invensys. Who will be next? Inductive Automation? Are those the last two independent software companies that were and are innovating?

That's the scary part. It's not that big companies can't produce innovative solutions. But I fear in the long run, we as users get the "it's all because of you" speech, which can be rephrased as, "Thanks for the money, and now we can move forward the way that we think we should, but give you lemmings the impression that it's all for you."

SEE ALSO: The Right HMI Tool for the Job

And then — as if the gods allowed it — I got an email from B-SCADA. So I spread my Google wings and wondered what the landscape looked like for HMI stuff, as I kind of did with programming software last month. I found an interesting garden.

The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that HMI/SCADA is protocol-dependent and not hardware-dependent, as programming software seems to be. OPC has torn the protocol world apart by providing connective tissue for any device, anywhere.

While this is good, it allows for a plethora of options to gather data in real time or historically with or without graphics. Writing a service in Windows or Java isn't as hard as it might seem.

So where do we sit right now?

Groov from Opto 22 provides a specific HMI platform that is hardware- or software-based. Because of OPC (in a future release) and a web interface, you can use it for any hardware.

That really goes for all things SCADA and Internet. Cloud-based services are becoming available, and of course, it's everything mobile. Cloud-based stuff is a very intriguing technology. I fear, however, that having a third-party manage your systems might not be the right thing to do for many reasons.

Inductive Automation, Indusoft and the big guys all have solutions for graphical interfacing for operators, management and for presentation of data. Is the market big enough to support all this activity?

Based on past pricing models, I believe it is. However with web-based interfacing and the ability to use Linux or a Raspberry PI device as the local connective device to the web, where's the business reason for spending a lot of money on SCADA solutions?

Heck, Inductive Automation broke into the market by delivering a fully functional HMI solution complete with an OPC driver set for free. How that works is elementary, my dear Watson.

The usability of any given system once was based on the development speed and rollout, and costs associated with multiple users. Management wanted information for business; engineering needed information for process, and operators for control.

It's no different now, but I have to wonder how hard it is to move from one platform to another. Ian Nimmo deals with abnormal situation management (ASM), which is essentially alarm systems. He has advocated for the longest time that SCADA screens are too busy, too colorful and overwhelming to most users. So if we have simple screens and a tag database in an open format, such as SQL, our movement should be easy.

If we also choose a web-based server system, then there's nothing to stop us from having four or five different servers using multiple OPC data servers. We can have best-of-breed alarm servers and data-logging software — and with web clients that shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. There's no excuse for any process or machine to have inadequate software.

RSView, Wonderware InTouch, GE Proficy and WinCC are some of the big guns. The pricing models are so 1990s. When I did a cost comparison for a client that needed 36 client nodes, the costs were so prohibitive that I suggested custom software, which reduced the cost by over 80%. Big money.

To roll out what that client needed today would be even less, but as with all systems, having the ability to have multiple experts in the development stream is crucial to future success. Using and knowing more than one software platform and having more than one person involved suggests success.

Programming software is so detail-oriented; SCADA and HMI not so much. A fully functional server can be had in minutes for a cost that will amaze you. Limits have been removed, which will take us back to the origins of SCADA. A spreadsheet and OPC — I wonder where DDE went.

Show Comments
Hide Comments

Join the discussion

We welcome your thoughtful comments.
All comments will display your user name.

Want to participate in the discussion?

Register for free

Log in for complete access.

Comments

No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments