2008

Companies are constantly looking for ways to monitor and track the critical device information that resides in their remote assets. They also need to understand the environments in which their devices reside. But why? The traditional method for remote device management is to send technicians to remote sites to gather information. This can be expensive and labor-intensive. As a result, organizations need to have a strong reason to gather remote device information; otherwise, it just doesn’t happen. This article will take a modern view of remote device management — what is it and why is it important? We will discuss the modern, cost-effective method of remote device management known as Drop-in Networking, and important considerations in creating a Drop-in Network.

Remote Device Management

In business, the world revolves around increasing profitability, and increased profitability comes from new and increased revenue sources and/or increased operating efficiency driving lower costs. In order to have new revenue, you must have something to sell and in order to increase efficiency, you must be able to identify the areas of inefficiency.

Figure 1. If a device is not easily connected because access to a network is not available, the data will not be accessible from a central location.
So, in the world of remote device management, the goal is to measure and control remote devices by enabling communication with a back-end application, thereby enabling new revenue sources and/or increasing efficiency. It sounds easy, and if the device is intelligent and networked, it is easy in general terms. However, if the device is something that is not easily connected because access to a network is not available, it doesn’t generally matter how intelligent the device or the application is — the data isn’t accessible from a central location (see Figure 1).

Early on, remote device management was mostly concerned with managing devices and environments that already were wired. Further, where there wasn’t an infrastructure, the proverbial human-based “sneaker-net” has been pretty effective to handle the necessary communication. However, it has not been enough to truly drive efficiency and new revenue.

What is a Drop-In Network?

What does this all mean in the world of industrial and commercial areas? As advancements in wireless technology have caused the wired paradigm to fade, and as pervasive wireless in consumer markets has driven our belief in easy, low-cost solutions, we need to remember that commercial needs are different. We can’t always rely on the human presence to adjust for the “number of bars” or to initiate a “new call.” We also need to account for the relatively small number of devices in a consumer application environment compared to the thousands of units in a commercial or industrial environment. There are millions of consumer devices, but each of us still only has a handful to manage. Finally, we need to acknowledge that reliability and mission-critical needs have an impact and a cost. As such, we are forced to ask if a wireless solution in the commercial and industrial world can be cost-effective. Because of recent wireless innovations, the way organizations gather information to improve operations is changing.

Figure 2. The components of a Drop-in Network include a device connectivity component through a personal area network (PAN) and/or local area network (LAN) back to a programmable gateway aggregation point. Information is then sent over a WAN to a remote application.
A Drop-in Network enables end-to-end wireless access to electronic devices in isolated, hard-to-reach locations. By addressing the challenge of networking devices where wireline infrastructure is unavailable, Drop-in Networking promises to revolutionize the way that companies apply technology to improve asset utilization and deliver smarter service solutions. This concept includes both hardware devices and software tools that allow customers to “drop-in” customized wireless networks for monitoring and control applications across a broad range of vertical markets. Key features of a Drop-in Network include:

  • Wireless
  • Non-intrusive
  • Power-optimized — supports sleeping end nodes that are often battery powered
  • Cost-effective — requires no new cabling
  • Secure
  • Reliable

Figure 2 illustrates the components of a Drop-in Network, which generally includes a device connectivity component through a personal area network (PAN) and/or local area network (LAN) back to a programmable gateway aggregation point. Information is then sent over a WAN to a remote application. Note that the goal of the devices’ PAN/LAN is to relay data between the devices and the on-site aggregation point. The gateway is used to move data from a low-level device view to a Web services-based framework using efficient, conventional Web programming languages like Python.

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