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A reliable smart grid

7 October 2013 – While the information revolution has transformed most areas of modern life, some remnants of the industrial revolution remain. The combustion engine has changed very little over the past 100 years, and, while electricity generation mechanisms have seen some advances, the mechanisms by which power is transmitted have only been transformed recently with the concept of the smart grid.

The smart grid has brought utility delivery mechanisms into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation. From power plants and wind farms to electricity consumers, these systems are providing digital communication technology to devices across the network, allowing for intelligent control of the utility grid.

“Smart grids employ a number of devices on the network with sensors to gather data, as well as two-way digital communication between the device in the field and the utility’s network operations centre. As a result, this network now has many mission-critical elements that need to be managed. While digital technology improves the reliability, resiliency, flexibility, and efficiency of the electric delivery system, it opens up technical and business challenges,” Gerald Naidoo, CEO of Logikal Consulting, says.

“The devices required for a smart grid need to operate in a secure, stable network, as utilities need to maintain high availability to customer records, troubleshoot network and application response time issues, and support disaster recovery and business continuity plans. These geographically diverse, high-speed, highly segmented environments feature a number of potential points of failure, and varying user needs and patterns of network behaviour make managing this very difficult.

“A key feature of the smart grid is automation technology that lets the utility adjust and control each individual device or millions of devices from a central location. The stability and availability of the network is therefore key to gaining the value the smart grid provides,” Naidoo says.

“Network and application performance management that transcends component management tools and delivers holistic visibility across complex, multi-vendor, distributed environments is essential. The value of any business depends on optimal network performance, and this not only applies to utilities, it is particularly relevant to these businesses. As they streamline networking technologies to bring efficiency to business operations, they face critical management challenges,” Naidoo says.