Enterprises have widely deployed Software Defined WAN (SDWAN) over the past 10 years. The solution delivers assurance for applications, both in the cloud and in the data center, especially for remote users. The migration of many enterprise applications to the cloud during the pandemic has further driven the use of SDWAN. But does it offer any real benefits for utilities? Can it help utilities with deploying WAN connectivity to substations and distributed renewable energy sites? The answer is definitely Yes! And SDWAN can even provide benefits to simplify and streamline the provisioning of WAN infrastructure to these remote operational sites.

Most utilities today are used to building large networks utilizing technologies such as Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) and Dynamic Multipoint Virtual Private Network (DMVPN) to encrypt critical Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) communications, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) for the underlying transport network, and public or private cellular for remote sites with no other WAN connectivity. SDWAN brings these technologies together and enables automation to greatly simplify deployments.

Automation benefits

  • Zero Touch deployment of field gateways (i.e., no field staff required to configure a gateway)
  • Simple provisioning of service VPNs to segregate traffic (SCADA, CCTV, PMU, IP Telephony etc)
  • Templated configurations making it easy to change configuration and push it to gateways.
  • Application of unified security policies across a diverse range of remote sites and equipment
  • Managing multiple backhaul connectivity options at the gateway including private MPLS for critical SCADA traffic and cellular for backup and even internet-based connections for non-critical traffic, where appropriate.
  • Lifecycle management of gateways (e.g., firmware updates, alarm monitoring and statistics)

Deploying an SDWAN Overlay also allows the utility to control the end-to-end IP addressing schemes and remove the need to engineer complex routing plans based on the underlying transport network, quite often provided by a 3rd party service provider. This divorces the underlying transport network from the overlay network. Hence, it simplifies operational tasks and provides less reliance on the underlying network providers to make changes, which often have a cost associated for the utility such as adding a new service VPN for a new service is as simple as adding it to your gateway templates and deploying it.

Examples of SDWAN technologies deployed by utilities

  • Substation gateway – larger substation gateways providing resilient WAN connectivity and security functionality (Zone based Firewall)
  • Distribution Automation – secondary substations, pole mounted equipment or other field assets such as reclosers or capacitor banks.
  • Renewable energy sites – connecting onshore wind turbines, solar plants, and battery storage sites.

Distributed renewable energy sites

Utilities are now having to connect an array of renewable energy assets, spread across wide geographic areas. Onshore wind, solar and battery storage elements are examples of assets that need to be connected to the utility for monitoring and/or control.

Many renewable asset operators are also using public and private cloud-based applications, including SCADA. SDWAN can add further benefits in assuring application performance and reliability to the cloud.

Wouldn’t it be beneficial to have a single solution with a choice of industrial gateways for different site types? We think so and Cisco provides several industrial routers to suit all deployment sites and can be managed as part of the Cisco SDWAN solution.

Cisco IoT products such as the Cisco Catalyst IR8340 Rugged Series Routers for larger substations, Cisco Catalyst IR1100 Rugged Series Routers for distribution sites, and Cisco Catalyst IR8140 Heavy Duty Series Routers for outdoor field sites can all operate as SDWAN edge gateways alongside with the well-known Cisco Enterprise routers (Virtual and physical), which can be used for control centres and other operational sites to provide a single overlay network connecting to any site.

So, in summary, the Cisco SDWAN solution coupled with Cisco IoT Catalyst Industrial Routers is very relevant to Utility operational networks and can offer many benefits. Without compromising security, the solution is easy to use and allows to automate tasks that utilities needed to handle manually before. For Utilities already using the Cisco SDWAN solution for IT related use cases, it is easy to add Industrial endpoints to extend services to the substations. For customers using Cisco Industrial Routers today, SDWAN can be a powerful addition to the provision and management of the WAN.

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Marcus Smith

Utilities Solution Manager

IoT Product Management