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How to Evaluate Command/Control Systems

Choosing a command/control system for your network is a very important job. The quality of your decision is going to impact your company, your coworkers, and you for (at minimum) the better part of a decade. That's a lot of responsibility, but it also means that you have a big opportunity to generate real business results for your company.

A good command/control system can improve your profits at both ends.
First, your costs can be significantly reduced from increased operational efficiencies. With good remote intelligence from the right system, you can send technicians out for maintenance and repairs when it's actually needed instead of for regular "check-ups" that waste time and fuel. You're also much more likely to avoid expensive equipment damage because you'll have the alerts you need to react quickly before problems spread.

T/Mon GFX map view designed for use as a command and control system

Second, you can protect your revenue streams by providing a more reliable service. Good service means you keep more of your customers (and even gain some as word spreads about your high service reliability). While your competitors are losing customers due to frequent, preventable network outages, you can collect those customers with your superior network.

What does a good command/control system look like?

While it's impossible to describe every single thing that makes up the ideal command & control system in this quick article, there's really no need. Understanding just a few of the most important factors will dramatically improve your ability to make the right decisions. Here are a few of the key factors to look for when choosing a system:

  1. Clear, intuitive display of network alarms
    Having a command and control system with a good-looking management screen does more than just impress your boss and other VIP visitors. A quality display, such as one that displays alarms on geographic maps, makes it much easier to use the system. Users with less training will be able to manage the network more effectively because the system is intuitive. It's easy for even a novice to see which area of your network is red and flashing. This protects you from wasted expenses and equipment damage and protects your revenue by keeping your customers (and government regulators, if applicable) happy.
  2. Filtering of nuisance alarm conditions
    There's a lot going on in your network. If you and your team have to manually wade through every single alarm message, you're going to quickly become overwhelmed. You're going to subconsciously start tuning out. Sooner or later, you're going to miss a critical alarm that's truly important. That's why a good system will use rules that you design to automatically filter out unimportant "nuisance" alerts and show you only the alarms that truly matter. The best systems can also correlate multiple conditions (ex. Simultaneous power losses at a cluster of sites) into a single alert ("NW region commercial power failure").
  3. Ability to automatically respond to threats according to rules you define
    Things can change quickly in your network. Some critical conditions require a very quick response. In these cases, the best course of action is to program your command/control system to automatically respond. For example, if commercial power has failed and your battery plant is below 20% capacity, you can program a good system to automatically latch a control relay at the site and activate the diesel generator. Command and control systems never fall asleep and never get distracted. Of course, you should still find a system that will notify you when it has taken automatic corrective action (what the problem was and what action has been taken).
  4. Telco-grade hardware/software appliance (rather than software only)
    Think about how many people depend on the service you provide. What are the consequences if your network goes down? Considering this, do you think you should be commanding and controlling your systems with the software you've loaded on a consumer-grade PC workstation? Instead, look for a telco-grade appliance in a metal case (preferably powder-coated for additional durability). This device should be running software in an ultra-stable software environment.

T/Mon is a cost-effective (and just plain "effective") command/control system

T/Mon is a hardware + software solution for remotely managing your network. It collects alarm information from a wide range of equipment (about 30 different protocols are supported, including the most popular like SNMP, DNP3, and Modbus). You can view alarms on geographic maps, on a Web 2.0 interface, or on your smartphone using the Mobile Web interface. T/Mon will also filter nuisance alarms, and you can specify automatic responses to specific events.