What are the most commonly used acronyms related to Remote Site Monitoring?
By Andrew Erickson
May 24, 2023
Remote site monitoring involves the use of various protocols and acronyms. The parade of terms like SCADA, RTU, SNMP, NMS, FTP, VPN, IP, SLA, QoS, LAN, WAN, TCP, HTTP, ICS, M2M, PLC, DNP3, LTE, IoT, and RS485 can be overwhelming when you're new at this.
Each of these capitalized sequences of letters plays a critical role in ensuring uninterrupted and reliable operations of industrial processes. Understanding them is an important first step as you begin planning your project, your budget, and your purchases.
Let's look at some of the most common acronyms that relate to remote alarm monitoring at your widespread facilities
To give you tangible examples, I'll add specific commentary about how each relates to my work experience at DPS:
- SCADA - 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 and gather data in real time, and interact directly with devices such as sensors, valves, pumps, motors, and more. SCADA systems are essential in many industrial sectors for efficient and reliable operations. Depending on who you ask SCADA can have more of an "industrial telecom" flavor that is distinct from its usual definition related to process control. My experience with DPS equipment relates primarily to "industrial telecom", although our philosophy of custom engineering does create some spillover into process control systems sometimes.
- RTU - Remote Terminal Unit: An RTU is a device that collects data from sensors and other devices located at remote sites and then transmits this data back to a central monitoring system. RTUs are key components of SCADA systems and can control local functions autonomously based on the programmed logic. At DPS, our RTUs have a few different names, primarily "NetGuardian ###". The number designation indicates the capacity (relays & discrete contact closure inputs). Some RTUs and similar hardware boxes have different names to reflect their focus (ex. TempDefender, CellVoice, HVAC Controller, Remote Power Switch).
- SNMP - Simple Network Management Protocol: SNMP is a standard internet protocol used for the management of devices on IP networks. It can be used to monitor and manage network devices, and also to detect and respond to network faults or abnormal conditions. It's hardly "simple", but it is a standard. That makes it useful, as you can virtually always find equipment you need that supports SNMP. The move to SNMPv3 means encryption is now available, also.
- NMS - Network Management System: This is a system that is designed to monitor, maintain, and optimize a network system, responding to changes and faults to ensure network performance. An NMS can monitor both hardware (like switches, routers, servers) and network services (like DNS, gateways). "NMS" is shorthand for your entire remote monitoring systems within many organizations. When someone calls me after visiting my website and asks for "an NMS", I know we're on the right track. I then have to ask a lot of detail questions so we can hammer out precisely what we need to accomplish together.
- FTP - File Transfer Protocol: FTP is a standard network protocol used for the transfer of computer files between a client and server on a computer network. It is often used to upload or download configuration files to devices in a network. FTP is not secured, so modern alternatives like SFTP are preferred in most cases today.
- VPN - Virtual Private Network: A VPN creates a secure network connection over a public network such as the internet. It allows remote sites to connect securely to the network, ensuring the safe transmission of sensitive data. We sometimes use VPN tunnels at DPS when we offer hosted alarm master stations. This is rare, as the majority of our T/Mon master stations are purchased for on-premises installation ("on prem").
- IP - Internet Protocol: IP is the typical communication protocol for modern computer networks. It primarily facilitates the identification of hosts by their IP addresses and routes data from a source host to a destination host in a network. If you've used the internet or any standard computer network at your company/agency, you've used IP.
- SLA - Service Level Agreement: An SLA is a commitment between a service provider and a client. It defines the level of service expected by a client from a supplier, laying out the metrics by which service is measured, as well as remedies or penalties should agreed-on service levels not be achieved. This is particularly relevant for remote monitoring, as quality remote monitoring supports your ability to offer and be profitable with paid SLAs for premium service.
- QoS - Quality of Service: QoS refers to the overall performance of a network, particularly the performance seen by the users of the network. It may involve requirements related to bandwidth, latency, jitter, and error rates. QoS controls are also common in any kind of managed switch or router, enabling you to prioritizes types of traffic and max bandwidth per IP address to maximize the experience for as many users as possible.
- LAN - Local Area Network: A LAN is a computer network that interconnects computers within a limited area such as a residence, school, laboratory, university campus or office building. It provides a useful way of sharing resources between end users. When you connect to "the network" (even wirelessly via Wi-Fi), you're connecting to a LAN.
- WAN - Wide Area Network: A WAN is a telecommunications network that extends over a large geographic area for the primary purpose of computer networking. WANs are used to connect local area networks (LANs) together, so that users and computers in one location can communicate with users and computers in other locations.
- TCP - Transmission Control Protocol: TCP is one of the main protocols in the Internet protocol suite. It is used to send data over the internet from one network to another, ensuring the reliability of the data transmission. You may have seen "TCP/IP", which is TCP & IP working together (defined above).
- HTTP - Hypertext Transfer Protocol: HTTP is an application protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. It is the foundation of data communication on the World Wide Web. There's also "HTTPS", which is the secure encrypted version used for online banking and securing device interfaces on a large corporate or government network. NetGuardians, for example, have evolved from HTTP to HTTPS (SSL encryption) to HTTPS (more advanced TLS encryption).
- ICS - Industrial Control Systems: ICS are types of control systems used in industrial production, including SCADA systems, distributed control systems (DCS), and other smaller control systems.
- M2M - Machine to Machine: M2M refers to direct communication between devices using any communications channel, including wired and wireless. This concept is seen as an integral part of the Internet of Things (IoT). SNMP, MODBUS, CANBUS, and any similar protocol is an example of M2M communication. If the data is going to be received by another machine before you get to see it as a human operator, it's M2M.
- PLC - Programmable Logic Controller: A PLC is a digital computer used for automation of typically industrial electromechanical processes, such as control of machinery on factory assembly lines, amusement rides, or lighting fixtures. This is distinct from RTUs mainly because PLCs tend to be smaller and require programming (allows customization but dramatically increases installation complexity).
- DNP3 - Distributed Network Protocol 3: DNP3 is a set of communications protocols used between components in process automation systems. It is commonly used by SCADA and remote monitoring systems. Along with MODBUS, the bulk of the "SCADA" projects I deal with operate on DNP protocol.
- LTE - Long Term Evolution: LTE is a standard for wireless broadband communication for mobile devices and data terminals, based on the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA technologies. I honestly never knew this definition until recently. Just about every modern consumer knows LTE as "the newer/faster wireless phone service".
- IoT - Internet of Things: IoT refers to a system of interrelated, internet-connected objects that are able to collect and transfer data over a wireless network without human intervention. Networks for this purpose include LoRaWAN, which has a long wireless range with only limited bandwidth (usually plenty for IoT devices sending small M2M messages).
- RS485 - Recommended Standard 485: RS-485 is a standard for serial communication transmission of data. It defines the electrical characteristics of drivers and receivers for use in balanced digital multipoint systems. DPS RTUs use RS-485 ports for general device connectivity and for MODBUS connections to remote devices like propane and diesel generators.
DPS can help you decode acronyms and get started on any remote monitoring/control project
If you'd like a helping hand and guidance to get your project done faster, a great way to start is to simply have a call with a DPS engineer. We'll discuss your project goals and help you plan out your purchasing. If it involves DPS equipment (many, but not all, projects do), we obviously can help you with that also.
Call 1-800-693-0351 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 16 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...