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West River Cooperative Telephone Company Uses ASCII to Increase Network Visibility

Eric Kahler
Eric Kahler,

West River Cooperative Telephone Company (WRCTC) was officially organized on October 23, 1953. Today, WRCTC provides telephone and internet services to more than 3000 members in the Bison, South Dakota area. Eric Kahler is the Central Office Technician for WRCTC.

In 2004, WRCTC decided to upgrade their current legacy monitoring equipment and implemented DPS equipment as their primary monitoring system. "We deployed the IAM and NetGuardians with serial-based ECUs out at all our remote sites," says Kahler "so we have been utilizing the Building Access System since 2004."

After deploying T/Mon and NetGuardians, WRCTC gained reliable visibility and after-hours alerts.

Kahler recognized the reliability and longevity of WRCTC's DPS equipment, which reduces the need for troubleshooting, subsequently saving him valuable time. "Honestly, I spend about two hours a year working on the LNX which is good because there aren't five or six of me," said Kahler. "It means it runs, and it has never broken down."

"I've always had really good luck with tech support. And the nice thing is that whoever I'm talking to, if they don't know the answer, they will get it. It's always been really great."

The notification options available with DPS equipment helps Kahler determine the severity of alarms while at home, saving him valuable down time. "What's been most beneficial is if we get alarms in the middle of the night, you can make that determination lying there, before you get up out of bed to head to the office in order to find out what's going on," said Kahler. "So it's been extremely helpful in that respect."

Kahler also appreciates the great service provided by the DPS tech support team. "I called tech support to help me get the database moved over from the T/Mon NOC to the LNX when we upgraded. That was pretty awesome. 20 minutes on the phone, and we were up and running," said Kahler. "I've always had really good luck with tech support. And the nice thing is that whoever I'm talking to, if they don't know the answer, they will get it. It's always been really great."

Now, WRCTC wants to move from summary alarms to full alarm detail.

Currently, WRCTC has only limited visibility of their equipment at remote sites. "Today we monitor all of our delivery equipment through the discretes on the back of the NetGuardians," said Kahler. "We only monitor the critical, major, and minor dry contact points on the back of the equipment."

"There are a few, basic things we want to monitor, whether the cabinets have commercial power, if the battery voltage in those cabinets is getting low, or if it just completely shuts off."

This limited information makes it challenging for WRCTC to find and correct a problem in a timely manner. "For example, if we have a storm that comes through and we have 5 of our 8 cabinets lose commercial power," explains Kahler, "we don't have the intelligence to know which ones do, without logging in to the equipment."

WRCTC's sites are remote, which makes reliable visibility a crucial aspect to the integrity of their network. "We get a lot of winter storms, and a lot of our sites are 30 miles from us," said Kahler. "If we lose visibility where we live, the only thing we can assume is that the power is cut to the building, and what we don't know is the voltage on the batteries that power all our equipment, or if our generator is running."

To improve their efficiency, WRCTC identified the most important things they want to learn to monitor in more detail. "There are a few, basic things we want to monitor, whether the cabinets have commercial power, if the battery voltage in those cabinets is getting low, or if it just completely shuts off," said Kahler. "It would be great if the adjoining nodes could notify us so we know that we just lost visibility on such and such cabinet. Those are really the three critical things we want to monitor; more intelligently than just monitoring those discretes."

DPS helped Kahler write ASCII rules to improve visibility

While the monitoring capabilities of the NetGuardians were an improvement to the previous Legacy equipment used by WRCTC, they wanted to utilize them even more. "A couple years ago, I spent time on the phone with one of the guys here and using ASCII, we built a couple rules that allows us to know which cabinets in that particular network are without power so we don't have to login to the equipment," said Kahler. "Then time got away and I've got 7 other networks I have to build these for, and I've totally forgotten how we built them. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come out here for the ASCII course."

For more detailed alarms, Kahler revisits ASCII and SNMP through DPS Factory Training

WRCTC sent Kahler to attended DPS Factory Training in order to better understand the capabilities of their DPS equipment. "The limitations of what I had known before I got here were the scenarios in which we have deployed the alarm monitoring," said Kahler. "As far as SNMP goes, I've never worked with it and I don't really know anything about it. The reason I wanted to come out for the SNMP training was just to take it in, and see if it's something we really want to deploy and utilize in our network."

Factory Training provided Kahler with new insights on how to implement more effective monitoring practices and increase network visibility. "It's going to become more beneficial to us once we get some of these derived alarms going. In the instances where maybe your IP connection to a site goes down, we don't have anything automated to tell us we lost visibility of a site," said Kahler. "So now I can go back, sit down and look at our network and what we are monitoring, and decide if we want to deploy the SNMP or the ASCII a little bit farther in detail."

West River Diagram
With the addition of ASCII or SNMP, WRCTC can receive full alarm detail, rather than just summary alarms.

WRCTC plans to expand door control and video surveillance

In addition to implementing SNMP or ASCII into their existing network, WRCTC has a few other projects they plan to investigate in the future. First, they are interested in increasing site visibility and security through IP camera monitoring. "We are looking at possibly deploying some form of video surveillance," said Kahler. "It would kick on if a door was opened, or there are too many failed attempts to open a door, regardless of whether it's a person that's supposed to be in there or not."

Second, they are finding it hard to maintain other legacy systems they still use. "At our headquarters building, we have a legacy Building Access Control System that we can't find parts for anymore," said Kahler. "We've looked at replacement through the existing vendor and it's pretty expensive."

DPS custom design allows for a perfect fit solution

In an attempt to use the existing infrastructure provided by the current legacy equipment, Kahler contacted DPS for a solution. "All the strikes are in the door, all the sensors are in the door, all the card readers are already there, and everything wires back to one central closet," said Kahler. "I called Mark at DPS 4 or 5 months ago, just to see if there's a solution available, and he's confident there is one. He's planning a custom device that will allow us to not to have to use all the different ECUs back at our Headquarters."