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Terminal servers and media converters - bridging smart grid interoperability gaps

By Max Burkhalter
June 12, 2013

Media converters and terminal servers sound so simple that you may wonder why they can be such exciting technologies. I mean, all they really do, when you boil it down, is convert one type of network signal into another. Sure, good media converters and terminal servers also offer cool functions like quality of service, fiber-to-fiber interconnectivity and protocol agnostic data transmission, but in the end, you plug a cable into one side and the solution lets the signal transform into a different protocol. While the functionality is simple, it is instrumental in allowing innovation in a variety of settings. One of the clearest areas where terminal servers and media converters pay dividends is the smart grid.

Terminal servers and the smart grid
Many utility-specific technologies require real-time communication functionality or other advanced capabilities that need, or at least used to demand, serial connectivity to get the job done. However, Ethernet is much less expensive than serial and, as it has matured, is now usable in a variety of settings where serial connections used to dominate. This is clearly evident in environments like transformer stations, where a few specialized tools may require serial connectivity, but everything else works just fine with Ethernet. With the rise of smart gird systems, Ethernet is also integral to connecting with IT tools that enable utility providers to maximize grid efficiency.

Serial to Ethernet terminal servers enable utility providers to connect solutions that depend on disparate network protocols, making it much easier to modernize the grid.

Media converters ease connectivity throughout the grid
Fiber to Ethernet solutions play an integral role in establishing an effective smart grid setup because the intelligent grid architecture depends on high-performance data delivery between grid stakeholders. This often means that electric companies are gathering data from power generation sites, substations, homes, offices and other locations to make decisions about capacity management and energy purchasing. A high-performance network is essential to supporting such functionality, and fiber-optic cabling architectures are often necessary to cover the distance between various utility components within the smart grid.

The problem is that fiber is not naturally interoperable with either serial or Ethernet solutions. As a result, serial to IP conversion is needed to carry signal over Ethernet, which eventually moves on to fiber to get it to utility managers as quickly as possible.

Smart grid solutions are dependent on a complex network topology to function properly. Effective use of both terminal servers and media converters can play a vital role in maximizing the technology's value.

Perle offers a range of cost effective serial-to-Ethernet converters to help meet NERC-CIP compliance for the protection of critical cyberassets in substations. The IOLAN SDS HV/LDC Terminal Server is designed to meet harsh environments associated with Power Substations with attributes such as support for substation AC and DC voltage ranges, extended operating temperatures and meeting emission, immunity and safety approvals associated with substation IT equipment.


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