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An introduction to Monitoring Fundamentals strictly from the perspective of telecom network alarm management.

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How to Select the Alarm Monitoring Software.

Checklist: Alarm Monitoring Software Essentials.

Here's a handy checklist of essential features you should look for in alarm monitoring software. Print this checklist out and use it to rate the software you're evaluating. If a system can't meet these basic requirements, cross it off your list.

Alarm Collection and Device Management.

  • Multi-protocol support for your existing devices: Make sure your alarm monitoring software supports alarm collection from all your existing devices, including your older legacy gear. You can get rid of all your specialized consoles and monitor your network from one screen.
  • Back-up dial-up reporting: Don't rely on your primary network to bring back alarms. If anything goes wrong with your transport, you'll lose your telemetry data just when you need it the most. Look for alarm monitoring software that supports dial-up alternate path reporting.
  • SNMP support and ping alarms: If you're responsible for both telecom and IP equipment, consolidate all your monitoring on one alarm monitoring software system.
  • Live analog monitoring: You can't adequately monitor battery levels, temperature, and humidity with one-threshold contact closures. Look for support for analog inputs, including live monitoring of actual analog values.
  • Control relays: Many common site problems, from power outages to high temperature alarms, can be solved by quickly turning on a generator or an air conditioner. Remote operation of site devices is the best way to eliminate unnecessary site visits and it's a lot faster than going in the truck.

Alarm Sorting and Analysis.

  • Alarm sorting: A large, complex network can create a cascade of alarms. Some are unimportant, but others are critical. Look for alarm monitoring software that can automatically sort and prioritize this flood of information for you.
  • Root cause analysis: Finding the underlying cause between alarm cascades can take hours of patient detective work. Look for alarm monitoring software that can automatically correlate repeated combinations of alarms.
  • History and trend analysis: Identify problem areas and eliminate recurring problems with alarm monitoring software that keeps a complete alarm history that's exportable for trend analysis.
  • Nuisance alarm filtering: Even the best NOC staff stops taking alarms seriously if they're bombarded with status alerts, oscillating conditions, and unimportant alarms. Look for alarm monitoring software that filters these out.
  • Custom combination alarms: A low battery isn't a serious problem, and neither is a failed generator - but they're pretty serious when the happen at the same time. Look for alarm monitoring software that can watch many different alarm inputs and spot critical alarm combinations.

Alarm Presentation and Notification.

  • Web interface: Everybody knows how to use a Web browser. A Web interface makes sure all your field techs can access your alarm system, from any computer from any location.
  • Pager and e-mail notifications: Pager and e-mail notifications let your field techs respond to alarms while they're still in the field, speeding repairs and reducing windshield time. Look for alarm monitoring software with SMS support, which can send detailed alarm notifications to alpha pagers, cell phones, and PDAs.
  • Detailed alarm notifications: Summary "major/minor" alarms don't give you enough information to make dispatch decisions. Look for alarm monitoring software that includes detailed diagnostic information in each alarm.
  • Alarm correction instructions: Detailed instructions included in alarm notifications ensure that system operators, without extra training, will know precisely what to do and who to call if an alarm happens.

Does Your Software Support These Alarm Monitoring Functions?

  • Alarm collection and device management: Don't settle for limited alarm monitoring software. Get multi-protocol support for every monitoring device in your network, plus discrete alarms, analog alarms, ping alarms, and redundant path reporting.
  • Alarm sorting and analysis: Make sense of alarm cascades with automatic intelligent alarm sorting, filtering, processing, and trend analysis.
  • Alarm presentation and notification: Send detailed alarm descriptions and correction instructions to NOC and field techs via pager notifications and web interfaces.

What About Alarm Master Hardware?

All of the software features above are important, but so is the hardware that runs the software. Here are some key things to look for:

  • Choose a dedicated appliance, not just software.
    You should only purchase software in the form of a hardware appliance that's built to telco-grade specifications.
  • Demand hardware redundancy.
    Choose an alarm master that has redundant mirrored hard disks (ex. RAID). Look for dual power inputs. The ultimate in hardware redundancy is to have a duplicate alarm master running in a completely different facility.
  • Consider input power requirements.
    Will you be running your alarm master in a central office with 110 AC? Will you have protected -48v DC? Voltage matters when you're ordering your master station.