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Fostering Smart Grid Evolution

A deliberate approach to infrastructure advancement.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2011

an enterprise framework for developing and integrating its smart grid. By so doing, the utility might reasonably expect to more effectively manage the scope, complexity, cost, and success of its smart grid evolution.

For starters, an enterprise framework supporting smart grid evolution must provide a structure of shared and interoperable technologies for creating, moving, managing, and applying useful information. As such, the framework must certainly provide unified technologies and practices for building and managing interfaces among the technologies within the overall system of systems—for example, a strong network infrastructure, standard web technologies, an enterprise service bus (ESB), a common information model (CIM), and service oriented architecture (SOA). For IT professionals, these are the defining characteristics of a framework. However, the framework can and should go well beyond the interfaces.

The system platforms that support most smart grid applications commonly require very similar sets of essential functions, like cyber security, web services, data storage, database management, backup and disaster recovery. A utility can effectively fulfill these common requirements with shared system resources. Components suitable for sharing include the hardware and software for virtually every part of a complete system platform. Host processors, memory, network interfaces, and operating system software can be consolidated and shared via technologies for clustering and virtualization. Data storage can likewise be combined and shared in enterprise-class storage management systems. On top of the core platform components, the utility can add a suite of shared software resources that support cyber security, web applications, and database management. When well implemented, the framework of shared system resources will help the utility achieve higher system availability by substantially unifying and thus simplifying the physical, logical, and procedural mechanics needed for redundancy and recovery.

A less apparent category of enterprise framework components is the handful of utility application systems that are in fact critical to smart grid evolution. Prominent within this category of application systems are asset management, workflow management, document management, GIS, service order management, and customer information and billing. Significantly, each of these application systems can benefit from using shared system resources. Also noteworthy, the value that can be derived from these systems is much more likely to be fully realized when they are implemented and managed as enterprise systems that are well aligned with the utility’s smart grid goals.

Completing the enterprise framework are the practices applied to smart grid development and integration. The practices of key interest here pertain to the utility’s vision and strategy, enterprise cyber security, process design, change management, stakeholder engagement, business case development and maintenance, and risk management. Not surprising, these same practices are fundamentally important to business and governance of all sorts—which should help explain why the practices employed are as critical to a utility’s smart grid evolution as are the technologies deployed. It’s useful here to again point out the simplifying impact of the aforementioned framework of shared system resources; given the number of common requirements that can be supported with shared resources, such a framework can make it easier for a utility to implement uniform practices for integrating, securing, and managing the combined