Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Security and other Notes from a Cold Distributech 2014

Cross-posted from the new Bochman Advisors' Blog.

What a wonderful thing a Distributech is.  Held alternatively in San Diego and San Antonio, the vibrant but relatively conservative host communities are a near perfect match for the demographics it attracts in the dead of winter.  What I'm saying is it's warm but it's not a jungle ... it's not Vegas, there's no Hangover.

This one, my fourth, was in San Antonio, and unfortunately, thanks to the Polar Vortex, or Son of Polar Vortex, it was too cold to sip cocktails by the River Walk, or run along the River Walk, or really to do anything outside besides hurry to the next dwelling.  Suffice it to say, most attendees, remembering balmy Distributechs past, did not bring the right clothes, and I for one left with a parting gift of H1N1.

My main objective for this one was to see how various Distribution Management System (DMS) vendors are updating their products to meet the increasing challenges and complexities that come with distributed generation and other emergent demand side technologies like demand response, energy efficiency, energy storage and microgrids.  My virtual guide for this trip, which included stops at Siemens, Schneider/Telvent, ABB/Ventyx, was GTM Research analyst Ben Kellison.

Of course, what I was really trying to learn from the vendors, while asking about their updates, was to what extent they were factoring security into the requirements mix. Since I'm not a professional analyst, I'll hold off on saying who seemed stronger or weaker, but in short the answer was mixed, with 2 of them scoring very well, and the other leaving me confused with too much marketing, which in some circles can be considered lying.

The keynote speakers gave plenty of attention to security, and most vendors, in addition to those who focus on security, let you know that security is built into their products.  But buyer beware, often the word Security can have as much connection to reality in that context as "new and improved" or "virtually fat free".  Even if you're not an expert, it pays to look under the hood.

Other companies visited: Belden/Tofino, Enernex, Industrial Defender, Burns McDonnell, Black & Veatch, GridCo Systems, Scitor, UtiliSec, Greentech Media, Proximetry, and Worcester Polytechnical Institute (WPI), one of the few US universities to offer classes to power systems engineers.  And of course, my recent alma mater: IBM where it was great to see and catch up with some old friends.

If you want another source of info on the zeitgeist of the utility participants, there's no better source than Jesse Berst with his just-posted 9 Biggest Utility Worries from Distributech. Of course, the more entrepreneurial among you will look at some of these worries and see opportunities.

But no matter how you see things, there's no debating we're all hoping to meet up again next winter in a reliably warm San Diego.

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