Intelligent water management for irrigation is essential. If water regularly fell from a cloud there would be no need for it. But when each drop falls to the ground, this precious resource on the driest continent on earth must be utilised to its fullest. To do this we need plans to share it, technology to monitor it, and guidelines so that everyone can enjoy its benefits.




AWMA, a long term provider of infrastructure to the irrigation industry teamed up with Parasyn to provide new technologies to control gates, measure water flows and levels and manage farmer water demand. These new technologies including IP devices, SCADA and hosted SCADA in the cloud were provided by Parasyn but not right out of the box as one might expect.

Another form of cloud

As we look to the cloud to provide our taxi service, provision of clothes and groceries, we set our expectations firmly on fast to order and immediate results. In the industrial automation arena including irrigation control systems, SCADA Systems and data acquisition devices (PLCs and RTUs), the worldwide demand and relative number of devices is minor in comparison to consumer related products. In the industrial space the size of the investments are far greater, and the ease of transition to new technology is a significant limitation. Despite this, the crack in the dam wall is appearing and before we know it, the free flow of new disruptive technologies will infiltrate the industrial automation industries just as it has already overwhelmed the consumer industries. For the time being though, the new “open platforms” like those provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft (Azure) are far from the same, and they are mountains to climb in terms of the new resting place for industrial process control solutions. Security and access to control of major assets remains a critical factor less considered by the average consumer. This is for good reason, however security must be administered without compromise to meet social and commercial risk management strategies when managing public resources like water.

Why are some choosing the cloud?

Not every organisation wants to invest in and manage their own information system infrastructure. With technology churn occurring in cycles as small as 3 years we are continuously surprised SCADA equipment has lasted up to 20 years. The ability to retain staff or even find technology experts confident to manage several generations of technology will eventually become extremely challenging and a potential distraction to core business. For this and other reasons, specialty services including SCADA System services that do not fit the typical IT mould, are being considered for outsourcing. Along with this outsourcing, Server provisioning is more frequently being sourced from cloud based IT infrastructure providers.

Does the cloud actually have a silver lining?

Despite the pricing model looking very attractive, the economies of scale have yet to drive down the pricing models such that pricing is where it really should be. Yes the basic components for server provisioning may be “cheap” at first glance, but it’s the data provisioning and device connection management where the hidden costs will expose the unaware. This is likely to be removed in time as early adopters keen to capitalise on highly available (redundant) data centres where energy costs are shared and many technology issues are removed, but getting there as an early adopter means working closely with the infrastructure providers as they improve their systems and make them consumer ready. The early adopters are usually big business and heavy industry. This means expertise is required to transition from hardware based computer server systems to the cloud.

Jemalong, AWMA and Parasyn

By carefully planning what was suitable for the cloud and providing very tight controls over “cloud options”, the Jemalong system provides tablets and mobile device connectivity to stakeholders without any outright information system infrastructure purchases. In terms of field devices, conventional automation products are integrated carefully behind secure network devices using the latest security features to ensure assets can be managed effectively without consideration of where the computer equipment lives throughout its life. The truth is, there is no specific hardware per consumer and it’s the server hosting hardware that is shared by many others. The virtual environments still provide the technology service partner access to update and configure to operational requirements just as it has always been done. In fact as a testament to this avocation, Parasyn was never required to attend site once deploying the SCADA and cloud based server technology for the Jemalong Irrigation Management System. This was underpinned by frequent discussion, appropriate design management processes and good communication. “Communication [is] at the frontier of engineering” says (Dr Andrew Botros EA Vol 87 No 6) after years of research, and besides this being best practice in terms of professional engineering, it’s becoming an essential skill in delivering technology in global markets. The borders are down and technology providers are becoming globally available no matter where they rest their heads at night. This can only be done with business support systems in place and a solid commitment to communication, and not just documentation prepared by one party.

Specifics for the Jemalong irrigation SCADA System Solution

Without focussing on the complexities of managing open channels with extremely large latency, the IP devices, and cloud technologies including security, the following control elements allow Jemalong operators to manage their assets efficiently.

System Monitoring

  • Gate Upstream level
  • Gate Downstream level
  • Instantaneous flow rate at key locations
  • Totalised volumetric flow
  • Gate position
  • Site solar battery level

The system always operates fully automatic. Operators simply adjust control set-points to manage delivery of the product.

Gate Control & Control Sites Set-point Management

  • Gate position set-point is used for maintenance of upstream/downstream levels
  • Flow rate set-point
  • Upstream level set-point
  • Gate Schedule (set a single schedule including desired mode of operation, trigger date / time & setpoints)

Graphical User Interface (GUI)

The SCADA system HMI is used to provide operators with the ability to monitor system process values and set control points for the automated system. Operational data is saved to the cloud and provides historical trend viewing and alarm management. Selected alarms are sent by SMS or email to alert operators if they are to get involved to provide more intelligent intervention than already incorporated by the water information system.

Benefits to Jemalong

Jemalong are now set to manage their water infrastructure using SCADA technology hosted in the cloud. The cloud provides an on demand “pay as you go” computing platform that releases them from having to buy, configure and maintain hardware. They don’t need to find a dusty corner in the office to put it. They don’t need to have the power to run it, or the UPS to protect it. It removes the worry that if the hardware fails it will take the vendor at least a day to organise resources to come and fix it.  The cloud is scalable allowing systems to easily expand with no downtime, but only if it is required. This removes the problem off trying to “guess” what things will look like in one or two years and possibly over specifying the requirements today. Finally the cloud is very easy to keep secure. For businesses without the need for a manned 24/7 operations centre or the requirement to manage their own advanced applications in house, the cloud definitely has a silver lining.

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