August 10, 2017

Illinois City Upgrades City Pump Monitoring to Remotely Hosted Cloud SCADA System

Cloud SCADA Pump Control City Map Display

As one of the most common industrial control systems, a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system is of critical importance to municipalities. By allowing for the centralized monitoring of the larger water system — wastewater treatment, storm water, water treatment, lift stations, etc. — SCADA systems streamline access and help ensure that everything is running as planned. Unfortunately, traditional SCADA systems haven’t kept pace with technology, leaving many municipalities with unnecessarily high expenses and a lack of flexibility, access, and security.

When it came time for north-central Illinois city off the Illinois River to address its decades old SCADA system, antiquated controls, and unreliable radio system, the municipality recognized that it was time for a broader change. While SCADA systems have historically been operated from one central, on-site computer, the city didn’t want to feel tethered to or dependent on an old system. Rebuilding a SCADA system with multiple connections and hardware from various manufacturers is no small task, but engineers from Metropolitan Industries were able to work with the city to ease implementation and greatly streamline system monitoring by bringing the entire processes into the MetroCloud.

Understanding The Cloud

From smartphones and photos to social networks and servers, the term “cloud” seems to be working its way into every conversation and corner of life, but what exactly does it mean to be in the cloud?  It boils down to running software on someone else’s servers instead of your own “on premise” equipment. Those outside servers are owned by tech giants like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc. who offer up their infrastructure for rent for a fraction of what it would cost to do the same with on premise equipment.  Not only does it cost less, but the cloud is more reliable as your software is now running on the same platform as Amazon and Google run theirs.  Reliability on these cloud systems can go well beyond 99.9% uptime! IT costs are also drastically reduced as on premise equipment is eliminated and replaced with the cloud.  Given all the benefits, companies far and wide are rushing to migrate to the cloud as a way to lower costs and improve efficiency.  To be in the MetroCloud specifically means: eliminating upfront capital investments for on premise SCADA equipment and software, eliminating reoccurring IT costs related to on premise SCADA equipment and software, enhancing security, providing alarm notification and remote access, and improving reliability.

From Ground to Cloud

To help ease the transition for the city, Metropolitan worked with the municipality to take a two-step, transitioned approach for the implementation of MetroCloud SCADA, our remotely hosted SCADA monitoring system. The first step was to rebuild the existing SCADA system communications and improve operator access to the system. By combining our 60 years of expertise with pump systems and our deep understanding of associated telemetry communications, we formulated a game plan to transition away from malfunctioning radio communication as well as revamping the SCADA system by bringing it the MetroCloud. We began by replacing the majority of old, barely functioning 900Mhz and 2.4Ghz spread spectrum radios with LTE cellular modems. The existing radios were switched over to cell modems without the need for reprogramming existing controls thus providing a quick, seamless communication transition.

With the SCADA communications reconfigured, we were able to move to step two: transitioning a small number of municipal water components — three lift stations — to cloud hosting. The result? As planned, access was simplified, information was readily available with just a few screen taps or key strokes, and in less than a year the city took the plunge.

After recognizing the value of MetroCloud SCADA, they transitioned all eight lift stations, four wells, three pump stations, one water treatment plant, and one waste water treatment plant to the cloud and this new system has already proven its value. When the city was hit by a major tornado in February, communications via MetroCloud SCADA were sent as planned, allowing the city to remain aware of its water system despite the chaos and destruction that rocked the community. That’s all part of the security that’s inherent to every MetroCloud SCADA.

Cloud SCADA Pump Control - Phone Display Demo

Security is Priority

When talking about the cloud, security concerns are usually one of the first things that come to mind. While it’s good to be aware of risks, MetroCloud SCADA puts security first by working to guarantee uptime and restrict access to information. To ensure reliability, all data using the MetroCloud platform is hosted on Amazon Cloud Servers, with 99.9% uptime and multiple servers in geographically redundant zones, meaning you’ve always got a backup should something go wrong. Additionally, we designed this system so user equipment is never exposed to the internet. MetroCloud also creates private connections into various cellular providers to use private IPs for cellular communications.  Compared to public IP addresses, private IP addresses eliminate exposure of cell modems and the devices behind them to the Internet, essentially creating a gated community for your information – limiting access to only those that should have it. When connecting to MetroCloud via ethernet connection, VPN tunnels encrypt all data.  All remote access into MetroCloud also utilizes VPN tunnels to guarantee data is protected from point A to point B.  Remote access is available on virtually all platforms:  Android, iOS, and Windows.

With all of this being done by Metropolitan’s experienced pump system and control experts, setup is quick and ongoing maintenance is minimal. In addition to the cloud offering easy access, this storage/communication option eliminates the need for dedicated on-site computers/servers and the costs associated with maintaining this added infrastructure, including SCADA software licenses and upgrades. In fact, with free upgrades automatically pushed to the system, there is no IT involvement at all for most applications.

The automated control process made possibly by MetroCloud SCADA allows plant operators to focus on other tasks, which can significantly reduce operating costs while improving system performance and reliability. Operators have detailed visual projection of what’s happening within the system in real time, helping to avoid costly after-hour alarm callouts since the cloud SCADA system indicates the nature and degree of a problem to operators almost immediately. Operators also have flexibility to control the equipment as situations deem necessary over an internet connection on a plant computer interface, cell phone or tablet.

You could say that we have our heads in the cloud, and we’d probably agree. By remaining at the forefront of innovation in the market with MetroCloud, we’re taking steps to ensure that our clients are ready for the years ahead. Backed by a 60 year history of proven expertise in the pump systems industry, we’re looking forward to the next 60 years and we know that phone lines, computer towers, and at-risk data won’t get us there.

Thinking About Upgrading Your City Pump Monitoring to Remote SCADA?

We’d love to discuss your existing city pump monitoring capabilities and the possibilities of what cloud SCADA controls can do for your.