Many utilities have yet to transform their legacy communications networks with modern packet-based technologies to control and protect the grid. Upgrading applications that manage the generation, distribution, control and monitoring of power facilities has been difficult, given the critical nature of these operational activities. In contrast, utilities have found it easier to invest in and deploy new internal infrastructure for IT applications that demand higher bandwidth at lower costs.
This article offers three reasons why you should modernize your utility network infrastructure. And, offers migration tips to help you transform your legacy network to a modern packet network.
Applying Packet Networks for Smarter, Faster Teleprotection
Utilities rely on teleprotection technologies to monitor and control the grid, isolate faults, and prevent or minimize outages. Teleprotection technology requires modernization, however, because traditional systems use TDM networking services on infrastructure that is reaching end of life and is at risk of failure. Many vendors are phasing out these networks or discontinuing support for the technologies.
Utilities are deploying newer teleprotection systems in conjunction with synchrophasors that can track grid performance data in real-time so the grid can respond faster to outages to improve reliability and resiliency. The approach requires highly reliable connections to facilitate interconnection-wide monitoring, analysis and automated functions.
Packet solutions, both Ethernet and IP-based, can serve these very demanding needs. Advanced solutions certified for utilities provide carrier-grade services, backed up by verifiable service-level agreements (SLAs), to deliver the performance and reliability and guarantees that mission-critical applications require. Certified solutions also comply with North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC (News - Alert) CIP) security standards for identifying and monitoring critical assets.
Packet Networking for Innovative Utility Applications
Once deployed, packet technologies can be used to provide backhaul for smart metering, help with the integration of distributed renewable resources, and transport surveillance video from substations and other facilities.
Utilities can use packet networks, as well, to gather and transmit data produced by utility IoT applications. Packet architectures also position a utility to provide innovative digital applications for customers that add value to utility services and increase customer engagement.
Network Visibility: An Essential Part of the Migration Process
Utilities need network visibility tools and expertise to ensure service continuity while ramping up the new services. This is challenging today because many utilities are reliant on spreadsheets and other manual processes that can’t provide real-time visibility into system conditions. To complicate things further, legacy infrastructure is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain because many in-house TDM experts, typically older engineers, are retiring.
Fortunately, utilities can implement software tools and automation in conjunction with their packet deployments to alleviate these challenges. Commercially available tools can provide real-time views into both TDM and packet network conditions to help guide technology evolution strategies and deployments. Both TDM and packet technology teams can use the tools while the organization shifts to the newer packet solution.
Using a Converged Network to Evolve from TDM to Packets
To avoid costly disruptions while migrating to packets, pseudowire emulation (PWE) technologies can be employed on new packet-based infrastructure to continue TDM services alongside the new packet services until the legacy technology is no longer necessary. The approach creates a virtual, dedicated lane for TDM services (such as teleprotection traffic) on the new infrastructure that can also carry packet-based traffic for video surveillance and other applications. As traditional TDM equipment is gradually decommissioned, utilities can use the retired equipment as spares for the remaining legacy base.
The key point is that a utility can begin consolidating operational technologies and information technologies now, on a converged network. The conveniences improve business efficiencies and reduce networking costs while allowing both OT and IT groups to meet their respective performance and management requirements.
Tips for Planning, Deployment, Management, and Maintenance
Packet technologies enable utilities to shift away from legacy communications networks safely and at a comfortable pace.
To get started, focus on strategic planning and design. Use topology discovery and health analysis tools to perform network audits. Conduct proof-of-concept or pilot projects. Apply lessons learned to develop a technology migration and service optimization plan.
Deploy your technology in stages. Phase in new packet switches alongside legacy gear and use PWE technology to transfer TDM from legacy equipment to packets without disrupting services. Reengineer network operations center (NOC (News - Alert)) systems and simplify NOC processes. Scale the new network as applications are deployed.
During the phasing-in process, take advantage of legacy infrastructure for its remaining life cycle. Use this time to leverage existing skill sets in the organization while training teams to become proficient in the new technologies. Business managers can use this time to update applicable business processes.
As the new network is deployed, shift your focus to managing and maintaining the equipment and services and operating the mixed NOC.
Consider using consulting and specialized services for all or part of the migration process. The support can help your utility make sure it accomplishes its essential modernization objectives while freeing utility management and staff to focus on day-to-day business.
TDM to Packet Networking – Modernize without compromise
The shift to packet-based technologies has strategic and practical benefits for utilities. Packet networks enable utilities to implement real-time measurement and analytical techniques that ensure mission-critical functions and high levels of network reliability. Packet technologies are versatile and can be used for smart grid and new revenue-making applications. Packet networks are more cost-effective and simpler to own and operate than legacy systems and the technology provides massive bandwidth to help future proof deployments. There is plenty of packet-savvy talent available in the IT industry to perform work on packet networks. External consultants can also help companies through all or part of the modernization process.
Edited by Maurice Nagle