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

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How to gain visibility and control of your remote sites as though you were there

Remote monitoring, at its core, is all about knowing what's happening at a site without actually being there. While all monitoring systems provide some type of visibility to your remote sites, the amount of information and how you access it varies greatly from one system to the next.

Assume for a moment, that most basic monitoring systems will be able to handle your alarm input monitoring needs-contact closures, analog inputs, relay outputs, and a variety of notification methods. Let's go beyond that.

Video Surveillance - there's nothing like visual confirmation
A complete network alarm management system requires more than just environmental and equipment monitoring. Security issues and personnel are also part of the complete picture. Proactive network managers prefer network monitoring systems that include video surveillance, which is especially useful when used in conjunction with a building access system. Video surveillance enables you to:

  • Capture images of unauthorized facility access (great for collocation buildings)
  • Visually confirm who is at a door before giving them access to the facility.
  • Visually confirm critical environmental conditions
  • Assist technicians at remote facilities
  • Check the weather status of remote sites (This can be crucial-imagine flying a technician to the top of a mountain only to find out it's snowed in).

For best coverage and performance, look for a remote camera solution that offers the following features:

Multiple cameras: Is one camera enough for your remote site, or will you need several to get the proper coverage (all door entry points, equipment rack, floor, ceiling)? You should look for a system that allows for multiple cameras if you are interested in more than one view of your remote site.

Remote mounting: Some systems provide a camera that is located inside a 1 Rack Unit box. At first, this may seem convenient, but are you really prepared to have your entire rack of equipment facing the doorway? Is a 15-degree range of motion good enough? Ideally, you should be able to mount your cameras anywhere you like.

Image capturing & email: If unauthorized personnel enter your remote facility, wouldn't you like to be notified as soon as possible? How does instant email with images of the intruder sound? Make this a requirement when you are considering video surveillance.

Building Access - control who enters your site, when, and where
There are many reasons why you would want to control entry points to your facilities. If you're sharing space with other collocation tenants, unauthorized facility access is of the utmost concern. Or perhaps you have a remote facility in the middle of nowhere and you would like to allow a technician in for repairs while keeping vandals out.

So how do you control your building access points? You could provide a key to a technician or meet them at the remote site, but this can be difficult if your NOC is hundreds of miles away from the remote site. And if personnel have a key or card to the facility, they control when the building is entered or exited. What if you were billed for 6 hours of work while the technician only spent 3 hours at your remote site?

If you're considering a system that controls building access, be sure to look for a system that can do the following:

Independent Door Control: Look for a system that can control each door at your facility. Do you really want to provide a key that allows access to your entire facility? Some systems let you control exactly which door can be entered or exited. Some systems even let you determine the exact time of day a particular person can enter a particular door.

Keypad and remote entry: Keys or magnetic-stripe cards are not useful when a remote facility is located on the top of a mountain, across the state, or across the country. With a remote entry system based on keypads and entry codes, you can let someone in from across the country - once you've visually confirmed they are the proper personnel.

Traffic logging: A complete history of who, when and where a door is accessed can provide critical information in the event of vandalism, improper repair work, or billing discrepancies.

Web browser access to remote site alarm and configuration data
Your company most likely has some type of network alarm management system-or is at least considering one. These systems typically involve smaller Remote Terminal/Telemetry Units (RTUs) that report alarms to an upper level master station often found in Network Operation Centers (NOCs). This is perfect for a bird's-eye view of your network. But what if you need a closer look? And what if your network isn't big enough for a master station right now?

If you need to view detailed information about your remote site, look for monitoring equipment that has a built-in web browser interface. With a browser interface, you can log in directly to the remote unit that is providing the alarm messages to your NOC. This serves a few purposes:

Remote Provisioning: Remote browser access is perfect for provisioning your monitoring gear remotely. Imagine having to drive to a site at the top of a mountain ridge just to change the primary paging target because your technician is gone on a week-long vacation. The more you can control your equipment remotely, the less windshield time you'll have. When evaluating monitoring equipment, try to determine how many configuration options you can edit using your web browser. Naturally, you'll want to make sure there are plenty of security measures in place as well.

Alternate Viewing Method: Another advantage to having direct web browser access to your remote monitoring equipment is not having to rely on your master station for alarm data. Maybe your NOC is located in another state and you are in charge of a smaller set of sites. Maybe something critically impairs your master station, and you still need visibility. In either case, you need to be able to log in to your remote gear and see what is going on directly, without a second or third device.

No Per Seat Licensing: Web-based browsing typically allows multiple users to access a single server. As a side benefit, this configuration usually includes unlimited seat licenses. But this isn't always the case, so be sure to insist that web-based applications embedded in your hardware do, in fact, have unlimited seat licenses.