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How to Choose the Right RTU for Comprehensive Network Management and What It Costs

By Andrew Erickson

April 19, 2024


To support good network management for your organization, you must select the right Remote Terminal Unit (RTU). An RTU monitors various network conditions and controls remote site equipment. This makes it a central piece in network management strategies.

Today, I'm going to teach you how to do several things:

  • Understand the essential features of RTUs.
  • Navigate through different models.
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis.
  • Choose an RTU that offers the best value for your investment.
TempDefender and NetGuardian 832A products
TempDefender and NetGuardian 832A Devices

Key Features to Consider in an RTU

Before diving into the purchasing process, know what features are important for a network management RTU:

  • SNMP Capabilities: Ensure that the RTU supports SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol). This allows for easy integration with existing network management systems. SNMPv3 support offers enhanced security features. These features are crucial for sensitive data handling. You'll find it in most modern RTU models (example: the NetGuardian 864A).
  • Input/Output Points: Depending on the size of your network, the number of input/output points required can vary. Smaller networks might need an RTU with fewer discrete alarms and analog inputs, like the NetGuardian 216 or even a small TempDefender. Larger setups could benefit from larger units, such as the NetGuardian 832A. These larger units offer extensive I/O capabilities and advanced local alarm processing.
  • Scalability: As network grows, your RTU should be able to scale accordingly. Look for units that can expand their capabilities through additional modules or software upgrades, like the NetGuardian 420. This model can handle more complex configurations as your network expands.

Range and Pricing of RTUs

RTUs come in various forms, tailored to different network sizes and needs:

  • Basic Models: These RTUs generally have a price of around $1,000 and are suitable for smaller networks. They provide essential monitoring and control functions but have limited scalability and I/O options.
  • Mid-Range Models: These models offer more I/O points and better integration capabilities. These typically cost between $1,500 and $3,000. They are ideal for medium-sized networks that require detailed monitoring and some level of expansion in the future.
  • Advanced Systems: These are designed for large-scale deployments. These RTUs feature extensive customization options, numerous I/O points, and advanced security protocols. Prices for these RTUs range from about $3,000 to over $5,000. These systems, like the NetGuardian 864A, are best suited for large sites - or when you need comprehensive network management.

Assessing Network Needs Against RTU Features

To select the right RTU, you'll want to conduct a thorough assessment of your network's current and estimated future needs:

  1. Identify Critical Points: Determine which network elements are crucial for your operations and require constant monitoring. What has bitten you in the past? What are the expensive mistakes you should have avoided?
  2. Evaluate Growth Potential: Consider future expansions and ensure the RTU can scale as needed. You should also order at least 20% more capacity than you need today so you're not instantly up against a constraint.
  3. Security Requirements: Assess the security capabilities of the RTU, especially if you manage sensitive data or operate in regulated industries. Look for SNMPv3 (if you use SNMP protocol), TLS 1.2 (for HTTPS secure web interfaces), and SSH (for text-based TTY interfaces).

Setting Up a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Compare the costs of potential RTUs against the benefits they offer. An RTU that may seem expensive upfront could potentially offer savings in terms of reduced downtime and maintenance costs. Tools like lifecycle cost analysis can help quantify these benefits.

Also, consider any recurring license fees or maintenance contracts. "Recurring revenue" is a modern business reality. Make sure you're getting a fair total cost of ownership.

Obtaining and Interpreting Quotes

When requesting quotes from manufacturers, be specific about your requirements to ensure the quotes are as accurate as possible. Ask about:

  • Support and Maintenance Costs: These are often not included in the purchase price. However, they can significantly affect your total cost of ownership.
  • Warranty and Service Agreements: Understand what's covered to avoid unexpected expenses later on. It's often true that paying 10-20% more to choose a quality manufacturer will grant you free support and a better warranty.

Incorporate all potential costs into your decision-making process. Be sure to include initial purchase, installation, maintenance, and any necessary training for your staff.

A device may be more expensive initially, but it can be cheaper to maintain and upgrade in the future. This can make it more cost-effective in the long run.

Making an Informed Decision

Choosing the right RTU is a balance between cost, features, and future needs. Utilize demos and trial periods offered by manufacturers. Doing so will test how well an RTU integrates with your existing systems and meets your requirements.

This practical evaluation can be invaluable in making the right choice.

Leveraging Manufacturer Expertise

Engage with RTU manufacturers to gain deeper insights into the capabilities and limitations of their systems. Manufacturers can provide valuable guidance on how you can optimize their RTUs for your specific network environment.

This dialogue can also reveal additional features or hidden benefits that may not be apparent at first glance.

Considering Integration and Compatibility

Ensure that the RTU you choose is compatible with your existing network management systems and protocols. Compatibility reduces the likelihood of costly adaptations or software customizations down the line.

If you are using legacy systems, verify that the new RTU can communicate effectively with your central master station.

Central master stations like the T/Mon from DPS Telecom are multi-protocol, but your existing master station might not be. You must choose the right RTU if it's going to work seamlessly in your environment.

Evaluating User Reviews and Industry Feedback

Look for reviews and case studies from other users who have implemented the RTUs you are considering. User testimonials can provide realistic insights into the reliability and performance of the units under operational conditions.

Industry forums and review sites - as well as in-person trade associations - are also valuable resources for unbiased opinions.

Planning for the Future

Choose an RTU that not only fits your current needs but also has the potential to meet future requirements. Consider the likelihood of network expansions, increased data security needs, and technological advancements.

An RTU with upgradable software and hardware flexibility can provide a longer service life and better ROI.

Making the Purchase

You are ready to make a purchase only after you have:

  • Collected all the necessary information
  • Compared features
  • Assessed costs
  • Perhaps even tested the equipment in your lab or at a trial site

Ensure that all terms, conditions, and any agreements on support and upgrades are clearly documented in the sales agreement.

Clear documentation can prevent disputes and ensure both parties have the same expectations regarding product performance and support.

Let DPS Help You Along the Way

Choosing the right RTU requires careful consideration of many factors. Brands like DPS Telecom offer a range of RTUs that meet various operational scales and budgets. The extensive nature of the list ensures there's a fit for every type of network scenario.

To help you choose, we have an extensive list of our RTUs online. Your RTU options vary from smaller to much larger capacities. Because there are so many options, it's often easier to start with an introductory call to a DPS engineer.

Call (800) 622-3314 or email sales@dpstele.com for direct help from one of our experts.

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...