A communication protocol is a system of digital rules for message exchange within or between computers. In the telecom world, knowing what protocol your equipment "speaks" is a very important point, since it's the language that your RTU (Remote Telemetry Unit) and master station use to communicate with each other.
In other words, communication protocols allow monitored devices exchange information with monitoring devices. However, each device must support the same protocol in the same version, and any differences might result in communication errors.
If you're starting to research about remote monitoring system, you probably noticed that manufacturers select which protocols their equipment will conform to. This means that you'd be choosing not only your monitoring solution, but the protocol used to support it. There are two major types of protocols that devices use: open and proprietary.
Here, at DPS, we provide remote monitoring devices for more than 30 years, and we've seen all kinds of scenarios of clients using both types of protocols. Since our clients are able to choose which protocol they want in their monitoring system solutions, we know that both open and proprietary protocols have their benefits and drawbacks.
Also, we're not invested in one option over another. Both can be used with successful outcomes for clients. Because of that, we want to give you impartial insights about each type of protocol, and help you evaluate your unique needs before making a choice.
Let's dive into some of the pros and cons of open protocols vs. proprietary protocols, so at the end of the day you can make an informed decision.
Open standard protocols are the kind that can be included in a wide range of device types from any equipment vendor. What this means is that manufacturers that choose to adopt an open protocol want to achieve protocol interoperability when they design their equipment's functionality and capabilities.
Examples of open protocols are: SNMP, DNP3, and Modbus.
Open protocols are rather universal - they can be used by anyone rather than one entity or company.
An open protocol is the one that the manufacturer publishes this information for anyone to see and use. You can use this information freely without being charged and without any conditions.
Remote monitoring systems that use open protocols allow for the network manager to choose between a wider selection of manufacturers who supply devices that talk the same language to communicate with each other.
Open protocol systems can be maintained by companies other than the system provider.
Since a very large number of different devices support open standard protocols, it's easier to make them work together.
Open protocol systems offer a higher degree of networking flexibility, with more integration options between existing and new gear. This means that you can add new devices (independent of vendor) into your existing network.
You can choose between a variety of different vendors for the monitoring solution that best fits your needs - in terms of technical requirements and budget as well.
Since open protocols have their technical information disclosed for anyone, it's much easier to hackers to study these protocols in order to find out how to access and control your remote monitoring network.
Although most of them offer security features such as authentication and cryptography, it's never a total guarantee that a hacker won't be able to find a breech on a protocol that they can have easy access to.
Normally, devices can communicate with one another without a problem when they are from the same manufacturer because they'll probably support the same protocol. This means that proprietary protocols are owned and protected by a determined company, and devices supporting this protocol can only communicate with other equipment supporting the same protocol.
Examples of proprietary protocols are: SCAN protocol, Larse, and Granger.
Proprietary protocols typically offer some specific features and capabilities. In order to compete with open protocols, they aim to appeal to people that need some level of personalization.
These protocols can include custom upgrades, functionalities, and tools.
Opting for a solution from a manufacturer of proprietary protocol systems will give you components that have been designed to work together.
This means that all elements of their devices are perfectly compatible with each other, since they are designed to use the same language of communication. If you plan to deploy gear that uses only this same proprietary protocol, all of your system should integrate smoothly.
When you work with a proprietary protocol, it basically means that your equipment is running on a unique protocol - used only by your specific vendor. It makes it difficult to add devices from other vendors to your system later, and you'll likely be restricted to this one supplier for support and purchase of future products.
In other words, proprietary protocols lock costumers in and take away their freedom of choice to expand their system with different vendors.
Proprietary protocols are usually perceived as traps. That's because most proprietary systems require recurring license fees, so the costs add up.
Recurring fees involve paying some amount of money over some length of time. There are different kinds of recurring fees. Some of them will require you to pay a moderate initial purchase price and then you pay a smaller fee month by month, for as long as you're using the system.
There are actually numerous kinds of recurring fee variations. There are even more modern models where you don't pay anything up front, but you're required to sign a control to pay some kind of monthly fee forever - as long as you want to use the proprietary protocol.
This all means that you're tied for the duration of contract and even after these years if you decide to change to another system later.
Plus, you'll be dependent on only this company for maintenance, support, updates, and upgrades. And you may endure poor service, slow response times, and ongoing maintenance costs - after all, you depend on them to have your system up and running.
You need to make sure you fully understand what you're committing to, and know that your proprietary protocol vendor is not going to trap you in the future. Licensing fees can have a huge impact on your budget, and it's important to calculate the true cost of ownership for your remote monitoring system.
The bottom line here is that if you need freedom to choose between vendors, and to integrate all your different devices together, choosing to work with an open protocol might be the best choice for you.
It may sound like an open protocol would always be the preferable option. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that proprietary protocols are bad, or that they can't be your right choice. If you need the guarantee of optimum performance between your devices, a proprietary protocol might offer that for you.
The bottom line here is that it doesn't matter what kind of devices you need to monitor in your remote site or facility, there are pros and cons that need to be weighed in when you're choosing which kind of protocol you want to to work with.
As an experienced remote monitoring solutions provider, we've seen all kinds of different scenarios, and we know that often times our clients don't even really have the choice to choose between working only with open protocol or only with a proprietary protocol. Most of them inherited a network full of mixed legacy devices, running on many different protocols.
A full swap-out of older devices is normally out of reach for many companies, simply because is too expensive to replace all the legacy monitoring equipment with modern devices at once.
Even if you think you're stuck with your older system running on different protocols, we can show you a way out to make all of them coexist.
In our Intelligent SNMP Legacy Integration white paper, we will present you with proven, field-tested protocol mediation solutions that will integrate your equipment running on different protocols. Download your free copy today and learn more about how you can avoid spending a fortune on replacement devices, and without sacrificing essential alarm capabilities.