Since its first reported implementation in the 1960s, SCADA systems have undergone a sea change, graduating from first-generation monolithic SCADA systems to the IoT SCADA systems that are prevalent today. As all good things go, this was not an overnight silver-bullet on the board, and between the evolution of these incipient SCADA systems, there arose an impediment that was downplayed by many energy and utility providers, or they simply didn’t have the means to counter: the absence of an industry-specific solution built around the energy sector, especially in the area of substation automation. Realizing this gap between operational technology and information technology, a team of electrical and software engineers, led by Ameen Hamdon laid the cornerstone for SUBNET Solutions Inc. (SUBNET)—to provide room for energy and utility specific automation and integration systems. “We started to build and develop software for the energy ecosystem and one of our first products was a substation HMI (Human Machine Interface) software, released in 2000. Since then SUBNET’s product portfolio has been witnessing large-scale expansion notes,” Ameen Hamdon, Founder and President, SUBNET Solutions Inc.

Having served as a SCADA engineer, Hamdon is keen on emphasizing the present day technologies that are being deployed onto the transmission and distribution grids of utilities. “The Internet of Things (IoT) parallels the Smart Grid evolution, where the number of intelligent devices—including sensors, fault line indicators, controllers, and meters—is likely to grow in order of magnitude over the next decade,” Hamdon explains. With this, data collection, device management and cyber-security complexities will also grow proportionally. Utilities need solutions to cost effectively integrate and manage all the new devices, helping reduce device update, upgrade and replacement costs. SUBNET works with a broad spectrum of device and equipment vendors to offer utilities with solutions that meet the various communication standards and security requirements for electrical substation automation systems. Utilities can easily integrate these solutions into their SCADA and Corporate networks, based on their facility requirements. SUBNET refers to this as its Unified Grid Intelligence solutions or the “The SUBNET of Things”.

Empowering Substations

On a substation level, SUBNET’s ‘SubSTATION Server’ product is a multi-function substation integration solution. The SubSTATION Server is a holistic solution that serves the primary functions of a data concentrator, substation data gateway, asset-monitoring gateway, and cyber-security gateway. Addressing many legacy protocols as well as the newly established protocols, this product also has the ability to collect multi-sourced data—file-based data, which is different from the traditional SCADA data—and translate it to utilities for further processing. “SubSTATION Server can also collect data from asset monitoring, equipment monitoring, transformer monitoring, battery monitoring, and breaker monitoring systems,” Hamdon evinces.

SubSTATION Server serves yet another primary function—the cyber security—facilitating a secure perimeter gateway that protects all the edge devices in the substation or on distribution feeders, from various malicious attacks. Designed in a way where energy delivery owners can opt for a ‘mix-and-match’ option, SUBNET administers the SubSTATION Server product to be deployed for single function appliances or as a combined, multi-function gateway device.

The Bigger Picture—Power Systems

While the SubSTATION Server product caters to the energy substation, SUBNET‘s PowerSYSTEM Server broadens its purpose, and is capable of centrally managing these functions for the entire utility distribution grid with thousands of devices involved in more real-time monitoring and control of the distribution system. “The PowerSYSTEM Server has a dual-purpose: it acts as a data concentrator for those numerous devices and as a front-end processor to the SCADA system, historian or other information systems needing access to this device data,” adds Hamdon. SUBNET enables efficient data concentration that reduces the burden of the SCADA system.

The PowerSYSTEM Server has a dual-purpose: it acts as a data concentrator for those numerous devices and as a front-end processor to the SCADA system

Just as utility Transmission SCADA systems typically simplify their data collection by polling a Substation Data Concentrator (such as SubSTATION Server), Distribution SCADA or DMS Systems work best when they can poll a Distribution Data Concentrator like PowerSYSTEM Server. PowerSYSTEM Sever also ensures effective centralized management of data exchange between all edge devices and deliver that data to desired business systems, such as historian databases for asset monitoring purposes.

In an operational infrastructure that encompasses devices and equipments provisioned by a multitude of vendors and manufacturers, SUBNET‘s PowerSYSTEM Center delivers unified device management. Device Management goes well beyond SCADA and Non-SCADA Data collection, enabling Secure Remote Access, Password Management, Configuration Management and Firmware Management of the many different devices utilities will deploy. The PowerSYSTEM Center solution provides these functionalities, allowing a multi-vendor environment through a centralized system for utilities to manage devices, regardless of vendors.

“In an industry where most device management providers are equipment/device manufacturers themselves, SUBNET’s standout feature lies in the fact that we provide unbiased device management solutions,” extols Hamdon. SUBNET vendor-agnostic solutions give energy and utility firms the freedom of choice in collaborating with disparate suppliers and third-party vendors.

SUBNET at Work

Throwing more light into the real-time working of SUBNET and its proficiency in the device management space, Hamdon recounts an experience of working with a major Canadian utility organization. The client had deployed hundreds of reclosers from a specific vendor and was on the lookout for a centralized device management system for those devices. However, the proprietary communication protocol embedded in the device essentially limited the device management options to only that of the recloser vendor themselves. At this juncture, SUBNET developed a new technology that enabled the utility to manage the vendor specific devices, despite their proprietary nature. The utility provider also gained the added advantage of considering a vast pool of equipment suppliers for future projects.

The Road Ahead

Opening the door for delivering powerful device management solutions to the global energy arena, the Calgary, Canada based company has recently expanded its operations into South America, Africa, Australian and European markets. With steadfast campaigns focusing on DNP3 (Distributed Network Protocol), IEC-61850 and other communication protocols and architectures, SUBNET continues its proud 20-year history of conducting in-person training courses for utilities and energy vendors worldwide.

Driving interoperability and multi-function integration through its technology, SUBNET is raising the bar for energy management and distribution standards, with its display of comprehensive grid solutions. Integration solutions offered to energy and utilities used to lag behind IT technology by 10 to 15 years. “Our goal has always been to create products that keep pace with technology, and SUBNET will continue to leverage the best-of-breed new IT technologies into operational technologies,” indicates Hamdon.