IoT vs. SCADA. What’s the difference?

New internet-based systems are transforming SCADA, but some old challenges remain.

· 3AG blog

Much about industrial data collection has changed in the past few decades. However, nothing holds more promise (or hype) than the Internet of Things (IoT), also known as the Industrial IoT (IIoT). For supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) engineers who cut their teeth on programmable logic controller (PLC) stacks and pre-internet SCADA, IoT might look like the latest trend. But what if something different is going on here?

SCADA – a definition

For those unfamiliar with the details of industrial computing solutions, SCADA systems control industrial equipment and read measurements from these operations. Borrowing from a recent blog post, SCADA systems perform the following:

  • Plant and process system monitoring
  • Industrial process and machine control (manual and automated)
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Alarm monitoring and notification
  • Reporting (real-time and historical)

SCADA systems are nearly universal in today’s manufacturing and utilities sectors, where they are used to monitor and optimize the performance of industrial processes.

IoT – a definition

According to Wikipedia “the Internet of things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects—“things”—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet.”

IoT systems in an industrial setting perform the following:

  • Plant and process system monitoring
  • Industrial process and machine control (manual and automated)
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Alarm monitoring and notification
  • Reporting (real-time and historical)

You’ll note that the lists of use cases for SCADA and IoT are identical. That is because these distinct solution categories perform the same essential functions. So how are they different?

SCADA vs. IoT – high-level differences

To start with, SCADA and IoT employ different technologies to transfer data from the plant floor to the computers of the central control system. Some of the key differences are summarized in the table below.

Table of differences between SCADA and Industrial IOT

As the above table indicates, IoT provides more open standards, more interoperability, more ease in adding and modifying installations, and access to cloud-based resources.

Is IoT too good to be true? The hype factor

If you’re reading this thinking that IoT sounds like amazing technology, and that all SCADA systems should be replaced with IoT, then you’ve definitely bought into the hype.

In case you’re not familiar with Gartner’s hype cycle, it’s a way of tracking adoption, expectations and the general zeitgeist for new technologies. According to Gartner, technologies follow a predictable pattern of adoption, beginning with an initial burst of excitement that leads to hype (hence the name). When everyone is initially talking about a new technology, chances are they have unrealistic expectations about what it can deliver. When this early spike in interest wanes, we end up in the trough of disillusionment, out of which true innovators finally deliver real tools and products that customers want to buy. Virtually every new technology follows this curve.

So where are IoT-based technologies on this cycle? Well… they’re looking a little hyped.

IOT hype cycle 2020