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What is SCADA?

Category : Technologies

SCADA Explained

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is a system of software and hardware elements that allows industrial organizations to:

·         Control industrial processes locally or at remote locations

·         Monitor, gather, and process real-time data

·         Directly interact with devices such as sensors, valves, pumps, motors, and more through human-machine interface (HMI) software

·         Record events into a log file

SCADA systems are crucial for industrial organizations since they help to maintain efficiency, process data for smarter decisions, and communicate system issues to help mitigate downtime.

The basic SCADA architecture begins with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or remote terminal units (RTUs). PLCs and RTUs are microcomputers that communicate with an array of objects such as factory machines, HMIs, sensors, and end devices, and then route the information from those objects to computers with SCADA software. The SCADA software processes, distributes, and displays the data, helping operators and other employees analyze the data and make important decisions.330330


For example, the SCADA system quickly notifies an operator that a batch of product is showing a high incidence of errors. The operator pauses the operation and views the SCADA system data via an HMI to determine the cause of the issue. The operator reviews the data and discovers that Machine 4 was malfunctioning. The SCADA system’s ability to notify the operator of an issue helps him to resolve it and prevent further loss of product.

Basic SCADA Architecture

Who Uses SCADA?

SCADA systems are used by industrial organizations and companies in the public and private sectors to control and maintain efficiency, distribute data for smarter decisions, and communicate system issues to help mitigate downtime. SCADA systems work well in many different types of enterprises because they can range from simple configurations to large, complex installations. SCADA systems are the backbone of many modern industries, including:

·         Energy

·         Food and beverage

·         Manufacturing

·         Oil and gas

·         Power

·         Recycling

·         Transportation

·         Water and waste water

·         And many more

Virtually anywhere you look in today’s world, there is some type of SCADA system running behind the scenes: maintaining the refrigeration systems at the local supermarket, ensuring production and safety at a refinery, achieving quality standards at a waste water treatment plant, or even tracking your energy use at home, to give a few examples.


Effective SCADA systems can result in significant savings of time and money. Numerous case studies have been published highlighting the benefits and savings of using a modern SCADA software solutions.

The Birth of SCADA

To understand the origins of SCADA, we must understand the problems industrial organizations are trying to solve. Before the concept of SCADA was introduced in the mid-20th century, many manufacturing floors, industrial plants, and remote sites relied on personnel to manually control and monitor equipment via push buttons and analog dials.

As industrial floors and remotes site began to scale out in size, solutions were needed to control equipment over long distances. Industrial organizations started to utilize relays and timers to provide some level of supervisory control without having to send people to remote locations to interact with each device.

While relays and timers solved many problems by providing limited automation functionality, more issues began to arise as organizations continued to scale out. Relays and timers were difficult to reconfigure, fault-find and the control panels took up racks upon racks of space. A more efficient and fully automated system of control and monitoring was needed.


In the early 1950s, computers were first developed and used for industrial control purposes. Supervisory control began to become popular among the major utilities, oil and gas pipelines, and other industrial markets at that time. In the 1960s, telemetry was established for monitoring, which allowed for automated communications to transmit measurements and other data from remotes sites to monitoring equipment. The term “SCADA” was coined in the early 1970s, and the rise of microprocessors and PLCs during that decade increased enterprises’ ability to monitor and control automated processes more than ever before.

The Evolution of SCADA

The first iteration of SCADA started off with mainframe computers. Networks as we know them today were not available and each SCADA system stood on its own. These systems were what would now be referred to as monolithic SCADA systems.

In the 80s and 90s, SCADA continued to evolve thanks to smaller computer systems, Local Area Networking (LAN) technology, and PC-based HMI software. SCADA systems soon were able to be connected to other similar systems. Many of the LAN protocols used in these systems were proprietary, which gave vendors control of how to optimize data transfer. Unfortunately, these systems were incapable of communicating with systems from other vendors. These systems were called distributed SCADA systems.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, building upon the distributed system model, SCADA adopted an incremental change by embracing an open system architecture and communications protocols that were not vendor-specific. This iteration of SCADA, called a networked SCADA system, took advantage of communications technologies such as Ethernet. Networked SCADA systems allowed systems from other vendors to communicate with each other, alleviating the limitations imposed by older SCADA systems, and allowed organizations to connect more devices to the network.

While SCADA systems have undergone substantial evolutionary changes, many industrial organizations continued to struggle with industrial data access from the enterprise level. By the late 1990s to the early 2000s, a technological boom occurred and personal computing and IT technologies accelerated in development. Structured query language (SQL) databases became the standard for IT databases but were not adopted by SCADA developers. This resulted in a rift between the fields of controls and IT, and SCADA technology became antiquated over time.


Traditional SCADA systems still use proprietary technology to handle data. Whether it is a data historian, a data connector, or other means of data transfer, the solution is messy and incredibly expensive. Modern SCADA systems aim to solve this problem by leveraging the best of controls and IT technology.

Modern SCADA Systems

Modern SCADA systems allow real-time data from the plant floor to be accessed from anywhere in the world. This access to real-time information allows governments, businesses, and individuals to make data-driven decisions about how to improve their processes. Without SCADA software, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to gather sufficient data for consistently well-informed decisions.

Also, most modern SCADA designer applications have rapid application development (RAD) capabilities that allow users to design applications relatively easily, even if they don’t have extensive knowledge of software development.

The introduction of modern IT standards and practices such as SQL and web-based applications into SCADA software has greatly improved the efficiency, security, productivity, and reliability of SCADA systems.

SCADA software that utilizes the power of SQL databases provides huge advantages over antiquated SCADA software. One big advantage of using SQL databases with a SCADA system is that it makes it easier to integrate into existing MES and ERP systems, allowing data to flow seamlessly through an entire organization.

Historical data from a SCADA system can also be logged in a SQL database, which allows for easier data analysis through data trending.

What is IIoT?

IIoT promises to revolutionize manufacturing by enabling the acquisition and accessibility of far greater amounts of data, at far greater speeds.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

What is it and How Will it Affect Manufacturing?

The IIoT is part of a larger concept known as the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is a network of intelligent computers, devices, and objects that collect and share huge amounts of data. The collected data is sent to a central Cloud-based service where it is aggregated with other data and then shared with end users in a helpful way. The IoT will increase automation in homes, schools, stores, and in many industries.


The application of the IoT to the manufacturing industry is called the IIoT (or Industrial Internet or Industry 4.0). The IIoT will revolutionize manufacturing by enabling the acquisition and accessibility of far greater amounts of data, at far greater speeds, and far more efficiently than before. A number of innovative companies have started to implement the IIoT by leveraging intelligent, connected devices in their factories.

What are the Benefits of IIoT?

The IIoT can greatly improve connectivity, efficiency, scalability, time savings, and cost savings for industrial organizations. Companies are already benefitting from the IIoT through cost savings due to predictive maintenance, improved safety, and other operational efficiencies. IIoT networks of intelligent devices allow industrial organizations to break open data silos and connect all of their people, data, and processes from the factory floor to the executive offices. Business leaders can use IIoT data to get a full and accurate view of how their enterprise is doing, which will help them make better decisions.

IIoT Protocols

One of the issues encountered in the transition to the IIoT is the fact that different edge-of-network devices have historically used different protocols for sending and receiving data. While there are a number of different communication protocols currently in use, such as OPC-UA, the Message Queueing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) transfer protocol is quickly emerging as the standard for IIoT, due to its lightweight overhead, publish/subscribe model, and bidirectional capabilities. You can read more about MQTT.

Challenges of the IIoT

Interoperability and security are probably the two biggest challenges surrounding the implementation of IIoT. As technology writer Margaret Rouse observes, “A major concern surrounding the Industrial IoT is interoperability between devices and machines that use different protocols and have different architectures.” Ignition is an excellent solution for this since it is cross-platform and built on open-source, IT-standard technologies.


Companies need to know that their data is secure. The proliferation of sensors and other smart, connected devices has resulted in a parallel explosion in security vulnerabilities. This is another factor in the rise of MQTT since it is a very secure IIoT protocol.

The Future of the IIoT

The IIoT is widely considered to be one of the primary trends affecting industrial businesses today and in the future. Industries are pushing to modernize systems and equipment to meet new regulations, to keep up with increasing market speed and volatility, and to deal with disruptive technologies. Businesses that have embraced the IIoT have seen significant improvements to safety, efficiency, and profitability, and it is expected that this trend will continue as IIoT technologies are more widely adopted.

The Ignition IIoT solution greatly improves connectivity, efficiency, scalability, time savings, and cost savings for industrial organizations. It can unite the people and systems on the plant floor with those at the enterprise level. It can also allow enterprises to get the most value from their system without being constrained by technological and economic limitations. For these reasons and more, Ignition offers the ideal platform for bringing the power of the IIoT into your enterprise.

What is MQTT?

MQTT is a machine-to-machine (M2M) data transfer protocol that is quickly becoming the leading messaging protocol for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

MQTT: The Leading Messaging Protocol for IIoT

What is MQTT and Why is it Ideal for SCADA?

While there are currently a number of competing IIoT technologies and protocols in play, the extremely lightweight overhead (2-byte header), publish/subscribe model, and bidirectional capabilities of MQTT are uniquely suited to meet the demands of industrial control systems.


The newest version, MQTT Version 3.1.1, is an OASIS standard that is open and royalty-free. (OASIS is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, an international consortium that promotes the adoption of product-independent standards for information formats.)

What are the Advantages of MQTT?

The MQTT protocol allows your SCADA system to access IIoT data. MQTT brings many powerful benefits to your process:

·         Distribute information more efficiently

·         Increase scalability

·         Reduce network bandwidth consumption dramatically

·         Reduce update rates to seconds

·         Very well-suited for remote sensing and control

·         Maximize available bandwidth

·         Extremely lightweight overhead

·         Very secure with permission-based security

·         Used by the oil-and-gas industry, Amazon, Facebook, and other major businesses

·         Saves development time


·         Publish/subscribe protocol collects more data with less bandwidth compared to polling protocols

Why Was MQTT Created?

MQTT was created with the goal of collecting data from many devices and then transporting that data to the IT infrastructure. It is lightweight, and therefore ideal for remote monitoring, especially in M2M connections that require a small code footprint or where network bandwidth is limited.


MQTT was invented in 1999 by Dr. Andy Stanford-Clark and Arlen Nipper. Co-inventor Arlen Nipper is the president of Cirrus Link Solutions.

How Does MQTT Work?

MQTT is a publish/subscribe protocol that allows edge-of-network devices to publish to a broker. Clients connect to this broker, which then mediates communication between the two devices. Each device can subscribe, or register, to particular topics. When another client publishes a message on a subscribed topic, the broker forwards the message to any client that has subscribed.

MQTT is bidirectional, and maintains stateful session awareness. If an edge-of-network device loses connectivity, all subscribed clients will be notified with the “Last Will and Testament” feature of the MQTT server so that any authorized client in the system can publish a new value back to the edge-of-network device, maintaining bidirectional connectivity.

The lightweightness and efficiency of MQTT makes it possible to significantly increase the amount of data being monitored or controlled. Prior to the invention of MQTT, approximately 80% of data was being left at remote locations, even though various lines of business could have used this data to make smarter decisions. Now MQTT makes it possible to collect, transmit, and analyze more of the data being collected.

Unlike the usual poll/response model of many protocols, which tend to unnecessarily saturate data connections with unchanging data, MQTT’s publish/subscribe model maximizes the available bandwidth.


To find out more about how MQTT works go to:

Who Uses MQTT?

MQTT was originally developed for the low-bandwidth, high-latency data links used in the oil and gas industry. However, MQTT is now used in many applications beyond oil and gas — from controlling smart lighting systems to the Facebook Messenger application. Amazon Web Services recently announced that Amazon Internet of Things (IoT) is based on MQTT, as well. Overall, MQTT appears to be the protocol best suited for the control systems used by industrial organizations, and we can expect that its rapid rate of adoption will only increase in the future.


You can find more information about MQTT at: