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3 Reasons Why You Need a Protocol Mediation Solution

By Morgana Siggins

December 12, 2019


There are no universal standards in remote telemetry protocols. Traditional telecommunications telemetry equipment uses a variety of protocols (TABS, E2A, TRIP, DCPF, DCPX, and SNMP are just some examples), typically transported over serial interface.

Some telemetry equipment manufacturers use proprietary protocols that don't readily communicate with other devices. These protocols work well with equipment they were designed for, but increasingly, network managers need to integrate equipment with incompatible protocols.

That's where the protocol mediation comes in. An efficient protocol mediation solution will link your older alarm monitoring equipment with the latest network management systems.

Here at DPS, we've been providing remote monitoring solutions for more than three decades, so we know that protocol mediation can extend the useful life of your legacy gear without limiting the future growth of your network.

Many vendors don't talk about protocol mediation because it usually means that you won't need to buy new devices from them. However, as a trusted monitoring provider we aim to put your needs first, and we recognize that protocol mediation is a cost-effective solution that avoids the unnecessary budgetary and manpower expenses of replacing functional equipment.

So, let's dive into how the protocol mediation works.

How Does Protocol Mediation Work?

A protocol is just a format for encoding info. It's usually in the form of a data packet containing the payload data (the actual message) and a header (extra bits containing address and routing info specific to the protocol).

What a protocol mediation does is it puts a new header on the payload data. The device gets the alarm input, takes out the payload data, re-encodes the payload data in the format of another protocol, and sends the re-encoded alarm to the alarm master . All of your data remains the same, but it is now formatted in a way that your upstream equipment can understand.

For example, this means taking an alarm in TABS, TBOS, etc., and making it an SNMP trap message or TL1 autonomous message.

The protocol mediation device knows how do this because it has a database that relates one alarm protocol to another.

By uniting your telemetry under one protocol such as SNMP, you are able to seamlessly communicate with one master station. This allows for a simpler network structure as well as allowing you to keep your legacy equipment in service longer, since their protocols can be translated to the latest IP-based standards.

Why Use a Protocol Mediation Solution?

You may need to mediate varying protocols for a variety of reasons. Here's some of them:

1. Platform Consolidation

Many network managers are seeing the benefits of unifying all their network management on a single master or masters system.

Consolidating on one platform makes network management more reliable and cost-effective in several ways:

  • You'll save on costs for equipment, maintenance, and staff training.

  • And your monitoring staff will not have to divide their attention between multiple different systems.

Consolidating platforms makes a lot of sense, but it necessarily involves mediating between legacy protocols.

A good protocol mediation practice is to have many different protocols accepted by a single integrated multi-protocol master. This is far superior than the expense and inconvenience of running multiple parallel and disconnected monitoring systems.

2. Inheriting Legacy Equipment After a Merger

After a merger, the network managers of the new enterprise often must integrate the incompatible network management systems of the two parent companies.

Full integration of network management after a merger is desirable for both business and technical reasons. The new enterprise will be expected to provide a uniform level of service for all customers. Technical managers will want to have uniform management and visibility of the entire network.

A protocol mediation solution is the most efficient means of integrating the two networks.

3. Loss of Vendor Support

Telemetry equipment manufacturers sometimes drop support for their products. Older products are no longer supported; smaller manufacturers go out of business; even large, well-known corporations eliminate their telemetry equipment divisions.

Legacy equipment works well in the present, but it can be a restraint for the future growth of your network. When the network expands or new capabilities are needed, legacy equipment must be either replaced or made to work with new masters and remote telemetry units (RTUs) .

Protocol mediation can extend the operational like of legacy equipment without limiting the development of your network.


What Specific Benefits Will You Get from Protocol Mediation?

Now that you understand how a protocol mediation solution works, you might be wondering if it is really a good idea. After all, what kinds of advantages a protocol mediation can bring to you?

Here's three major benefits:

1. Lower Costs

There is an obvious, but uneconomic, solution to all of these network integration problems: select one network management platform, and replace all incompatible equipment.

If you have a handful of small, cheap legacy devices in a network of modern equipment, I'd tell you to go ahead and replace them. But that's probably not your situation.

Replacing equipment that can still be useful is a waste of money. Depending on the size of your network and how much you've invested in your legacy equipment, the cost of a forklift swap out of your gear can range from hundreds to thousands to millions of dollars.

And it's not just the cost of replacing equipment. In addition to the costs of new equipment, replacing legacy gear costs the inconvenience, time, and personnel expense of traveling to remote sites across the network's territory. Do you have the budget to install all that new equipment? And how much will that cost you in overtime?

The bottom line is, replacing legacy gear with equipment that does the same job is spending money while gaining nothing.

Mediating incompatible protocols is the cost-effective solution to integrating networks while preserving investments in legacy gear. So, keeping your legacy equipment in place is going to save you a lot of money - more than enough to justify the much smaller cost of a protocol mediation solution.

2. Preserve Capabilities

What's the real value of a legacy alarm system? It's easy to think of legacy alarm monitoring as just an expense - one that maybe you can live without.

If you've got an SNMP management platform that monitors most of your major communications equipment, do you really need to worry about that section of old analog radio sites in "That Remote County"?

Absolutely. If those radios go down, it could kill service to a large section of your network. The people living in "That Remote County" are your customers too, and they'll switch to another carrier as fast as anyone if you disappoint them.

And in the long run, monitoring all your sites is cheaper than keeping them invisible. Your older sites are just as expensive to maintain as any site in your network - possibly even more expensive, given the age of the equipment. Proactive alarm monitoring will dramatically reduce your maintenance costs.

The most important aspect here is that if you preserve the capability of monitoring your legacy equipment in real-time, you can find out about problems when they're simple and cheap to fix. Without monitoring you won't find out about problems until they cause a service outage - and that usually involves thousands of dollars of equipment damage as well.

3. Maximize Efficiency

Now, let's say that you do monitor your legacy equipment, but it's through a separate, unintegrated, legacy alarm system. You've got everything covered, so you don't need protocol mediating, right?

Actually, trying to monitor by watching two or more screens is almost as bad as not monitoring at all. Tracking network alarms across different screens and interfaces is hard work. It confuses even the best system operators.

Sooner or later, someone's going to miss a major alarm - especially if people have gotten into the habit of really looking at one system, "because that's where all the important stuff is."

A protocol mediation solution can incorporate a wide variety of protocols under a single platform, while adding advanced network management features that will increase your network's reliability and security .


Protocol Mediation Using SNMP

SNMP stands for Simple Network Management Protocol. It's a standard, open protocol that various devices use to communicate with each other.

Devices at remote locations, such as broadcast antenna towers , can use SNMP to report problems before they grow. In corporate/government IT environments, switches and even network printers can send SNMP messages to report status information.

Even though SNMP isn't truly "simple" anymore, it has become a popular standard that allows devices from many different manufacturers to communicate with each other. And, because of that, SNMP is the main choice of network managers that need to perform a protocol mediation.

snmp protocol mediation
If your network monitoring looks like this, a protocol mediation solution might be a good investment for you.

How Does a SNMP Protocol Mediation Work?

On-site equipment reporting in a legacy protocol can be connected via serial interface to an SNMP remote. The alarm data is translated on-site to SNMP alarm messages (called traps) by the RTU and forwarded via LAN to an SNMP manager. The RTU functions as a translator between the legacy equipment and the SNMP manager , allowing them to communicate.

This same SNMP remote also should have standard equipment monitoring and environmental alarms. Combining many monitoring operations in a single unit, a multi-functional RTU is a practical and cost-effective monitoring solution for an entire site.

Unfortunately, not all remotes are compatible with SNMP, and those that are may only be compatible with one version of SNMP. Choosing an RTU that has multiprotocol capabilities is the key.

Protocol mediation allows you to continue to use valuable, functioning legacy equipment in an SNMP monitoring solution. This way your company can replace equipment in a few pieces at a time, rather than having to replace the entire network, drastically reducing costs.

SNMP as a Cost-Effective Protocol Mediation Solution

It's not smart - and in most cases, not financially possible - to try to move to a completely SNMP-based monitoring network in one step.

The costs of equipment replacement are huge, and there's no guarantee that a purely SNMP solution will provide all the functionality you need.

Protocol mediation puts you in charge of your SNMP implementation, reducing your costs and enabling you to maintain a high level of network visibility.

The right protocol mediation solution will convert alarms from all your older equipment - no matter what protocol it uses - to SNMP traps, so you can view all your equipment from your central SNMP manager .

With guaranteed compatibility between your older equipment and your SNMP manager, you can replace your older equipment when you choose - or you can keep it in operation for its full working life .


The Bottom Line: Is Protocol Mediation Right For You?

Protocol mediation solutions can bring many benefits for certain network scenarios. But, it doesn't really mean that it can be the right path to follow for everyone. For many companies protocol mediation is not even necessary.

In a nutshell, protocol mediation is right for you if:

    • You have implemented, are currently implementing, or are making plans to implement SNMP-based alarm monitoring.

  • You have a significant installed base of legacy equipment that you need to monitor.

  • You can't or don't want to waste money replacing functional legacy equipment.

  • You don't want to lose network visibility of your legacy equipment.

If a protocol mediation is the path you will be taking, then you'll need to be able to make informed decisions.

As a trusted remote monitoring systems manufacturer , we've provided many successful SNMP-based protocol mediation solutions. So, we know that sometimes it's challenging to determine what you really need and how to go about the protocol mediation project.

To help you, our team of experts have put together the 5 Steps to Successful SNMP-Legacy Integration white paper. This paper is a fast guide to the facts about SNMP-legacy integration. It will show exactly how you can integrate your older systems to SNMP - without sacrificing functionality or wasting money.

Download your free copy of the 5 Steps to Successful SNMP-Legacy Integration to learn more about field-tested protocol mediation solutions.

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins is a marketing writer, content creator, and documentation specialist at DPS Telecom. She has created over 200 blog articles and videos sharing her years of experience in the remote monitoring industry.