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Digital Transformation for Utilities: 4 Essential Benefits Cloud and SaaS

After a decade-plus of investing in and implementing Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), utilities have everything they need to achieve full utility digitization. Now, the real innovative work begins.

AMI technology introduced the term “smart grid” to the utility industry. The smart grid was supposed to kick off a full digital transformation. The going has been slow in achieving the idealized vision of the smart grid. And unfortunately, a lot of the early promises have gone undelivered.

A key reason for the industry’s struggle to fulfill the smart grid promise is the sheer volume of data produced by AMI combined with information technology strategies rooted in on-premise, client-server architectures. Taming high-volume, high-velocity AMI data stream is expensive and difficult to do in real-time while converging with the utility’s business processes.

In this article, we’ll examine the four benefits of the PaaS and SaaS structure needed to truly reach the full potential of the smart grid. We’ll do this by showing how our own solution, GridOps, meets these benefits.

4 Critical Benefits of PaaS and SaaS Needed to Achieve the Smart Grid

This is where the cloud and cloud-native SaaS enter to realize the promise of AMI. Cloud computing isn’t new, but serverless Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud services have grown in just the past several years. When cloud-based PaaS is leveraged by SaaS application software solutions, it becomes useful to all utilities.

Here are the four benefits this combination gives utilities.

Benefit #1 – Elasticity

Elasticity is vital for unlocking real-time AMI use cases, especially those involving anomaly detection. As utilities mature towards real-time grid observability, they will comb the AMI data stream for dozens of distinct detectable conditions. They will do this at increasing intervals as meters in the field report more often.

These intervals create peaks and valleys of compute usage involving the processing of hundreds of thousands or millions of data points each hour.

Simply moving a server from on-premise to a virtual machine in the cloud does not overcome the limits of client-server computing and does not result in true elasticity. With Azure, Microsoft has undertaken the research and development necessary to uncouple essential server software (database, web/application server, identity management, etc.) from a single operating system instance. This enables a true consumption-based cost model that can allow for peaks and valleys of data volumes without paying for peak-level capacity. In other words, elasticity.

Benefit #2 – Use Case Optimized Application Code

AMI-powered use cases deal with high-volume, high-velocity data. Microsoft Azure PaaS services provide the compute and storage infrastructure to affordably scale. Still, application software handling AMI-powered use cases must be performant.

It’s no small feat to process tens of millions of data points hourly (or more frequently), cross-referencing telemetry readings with line of business data (customers, accounts, work orders, etc.), and to connect the resulting findings to concurrent business processes.

Our solution, GridOps, was natively designed for Microsoft Azure PaaS and architected with foundations for achieving this level of performance, all while offering users a compelling and productive user experience and full business process support.

To date, GridOps has been tested at data volumes 5X the largest US utility and accomplished this within a single instance (tenant) of the solution. GridOps can scale to an unlimited number of tenants. This is the relevance of serverless computing being used by a new generation of application developers.

Benefit #3 – Diverse Data Management Options

Being application developers, Trynzic loves relational database technology. That said, relational isn’t the proverbial hammer for all data management requirements. This rings true when applied to the AMI data stream. Cost and performance barriers quickly arise.

Microsoft Azure provides application developers with many tools for achieving the right balance between cost, performance, and use case. Underneath the covers, GridOps leverages Azure SQL, Azure Event Hubs, Azure COSMOS DB, Azure Data Factory, Azure Service Bus, Azure Data Lake, Azure Data Bricks, and Azure Synapse.

Benefit #4 – Affordability

In the preceding benefits we described highly advanced information technology capabilities. The problem arises when attempting these on-premise. The costs associated would be prohibitive to most utilities. As a result, it would likely fail a business case justification in the remainder utilities who could afford the requisite hardware, software, custom application development, and production support.

As a  result, the AMI data stream encounters a proverbial dam where it’s only released to downstream business processes via a nightly batch extract job.

Trynzic has proven that a SaaS software developer using Microsoft Azure PaaS solutions and good architectural patterns and practices can take advantage of the economies of scale inherent in cloud-native PaaS technologies. When you consider the people costs transferred to consumption-based PaaS and SaaS technologies, the cost advantage is clear.

Conclusion – The Key to AMI Digital Transformation is PaaS and SaaS

Many utilities have found their AMI digital transformation stymied by the limits of on-premise client-server technologies. Microsoft has invested billions into Azure PaaS. Using that, we created a purpose-built SaaS business solution for AMI utilities. One designed around Azure PaaS and free of legacy client-server code.

When Trynzic was founded in 2018, PaaS technologies were only recently maturing. We saw the limits of applying on-premise client-server architectures towards AMI-related use cases. We also saw AMI as the prototypical internet of things (IoT), indeed perhaps the most important IoT use case. Trynzic decided to embrace the future by creating GridOps. Now, the technology has matured, and the time is right for leveraging the full potential of the smart grid.

Trynzic’s GridOps powered by Microsoft Azure PaaS is leading the way to a fully realizing the promise of Advanced Metering Infrastructure. Let’s discuss how our cloud-based platform can unlock hidden value to your utility company.