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An introduction to Monitoring Fundamentals strictly from the perspective of telecom network alarm management.
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An alarm monitor remote is used to collect telemetry data from (and sometimes control) equipment at remote sites. In industries like telecom, energy and rail the very nature of service delivery demands a communications network that is spread out across a large area. In many cases, individual network sites are located very far from the nearest town. It's obviously not possible to continuously staff remote locations in this topology so an automated system is required.
Alarm monitor remotes, also known as Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs; also Remote Terminal Unit) are units that automatically collect and report important events that may affect the reliability of that site (and all corners of the network that depend on it). After your alarm monitor remote detects a problem, it will notify you using one or more of the notification channels it supports.
Choosing an alarm monitor remote is an important task, for both you and your company. Your company needs to have reliable alarm monitor remotes in place to keep service online and to prevent otherwise loyal customers from becoming upset and switching to a competitor. You also need to choose the right remote to deliver solid results for your company and impress your superiors. Understand that promotions occur following years of reliable performance, while a single major service disruption has ended many careers. Choosing the right alarm monitor remote is one of the best steps you can take to protect your company and yourself from the dangers of an unreliable service network.
So how do you go about choosing the right alarm monitor remote for your network and industry? Despite what you might expect, your industry plays a surprisingly small role in determining the alarm remotes you need. Phone companies, utility companies, transit companies, governments, and militaries can all successfully use the same remote since their networks can be substantially similar.
What does matter, however, when choosing an alarm monitor remote is the various capacity requirements you have at your remote sites. Remotes are available in all sorts of capacities, so you have good choices whether you want to monitor one particular thing or hundreds. It's important to choose the right capacity. If you pick an alarm monitor remote that has too much alarm capacity, you're paying for something that you're never ever going to use. Even worse is if you purchase too little capacity. If your remote is too small for its site, either now or in the foreseeable future, you're going to have to sacrifice network visibility. That adds risk to your monitoring system, and there's just no good reason for that.
When choosing capacities, though, it's important not to choose too many different alarm remotes. If you do that, you're going to crush yourself or your installation teams with confusion when it's time to install the diverse bunch of remotes you've purchased. The absolute best way to minimize alarm monitor remote confusion is to purchase just a single model. But as you've already read, you need to balance simplicity with remote capacity that matches your differently sized sites. So, if you're lucky enough to have mostly identical sites, go ahead and purchase just one model of RTU. Your installers will thank you for it.
But if your sites are substantially different in size, the benefit you might gain from complete alarm monitor remote uniformity is overpowered by the benefit of matching a few different models to corresponding site sizes. Your installation team will still have a reasonably easy time handling just a few different models, but you'll reap the benefits of choosing an alarm monitor remote at each site that closely matches the monitoring requirements.
You also want to make sure that the alarm monitor remotes you choose have the appropriate transport and notification options to meet the needs of your network. If you have a NOC center to manage all alarms, you'll probably require protocol-based notification via LAN, T1, fiber, or GSM/CDMA wireless modem. SNMP protocol and DNP3 protocol are the most common in telecom and SCADA applications.
If you have a smaller network, however, you may instead want network alarm monitor remotes that are capable of sending notifications directly to your email inbox, cell phone, or home phone. This a useful technology when you don't have a NOC center but still need good network monitoring. Good remotes don't necessarily need a central master station (SNMP manager, etc.).
Now let's take a look at some of the remotes commonly used in networks in much of the world. I've purposefully chosen remotes that have been deployed on multiple continents. These are not only common in many countries, but they've also proven themselves in a variety of scenarios.
For fairly large sites, the NetGuardian 832A is a common choice. It has been described as a "large sampler platter" of alarm monitor remote features. Considering the 1RU chassis size and looking at the back panel connectors, you can easily see that this thing is approaching the limit of what can be contained in a single rack unit of physical space.
The NetGuardian 832A has 32 discrete alarm inputs for monitoring contact closures, 8 analog inputs for temperature/humidity and similar sensors, and 8 control relays from remotely activating doors, beacon lights, generators, and other key equipment. It also has a built-in 10/100 switch, so it supplies LAN to multiple external devices at your remote site.
In addition, if you have equipment with a serial (TTY) interface, you can use the NetGuardian's 8-port serial terminal server to remotely access that equipment over LAN. It's functionality like this that turns what would otherwise be an ordinary alarm monitor remote into a 2-way monitoring and control tool.
For smaller sites, the NetGuardian 216 (back panel pictured above) and the NetGuardian LT offer many of the same functions as the NetGuardian 832A, but are scaled for medium and small sites.
Bill contacted DPS earlier this year looking for the following alarm monitor remote functions:
After analyzing these needs, we recommended the NetGuardian 216 G3 remote alarm monitor with:
Earl and Chuck worked with DPS on another project where they are generator owner-operators (They more or less lease them out). This one in particular was one where they would be doing the generator management.
The project was for relatively small 40-50KW Generators. The larger sites had a 64K DSL out to them and up to $50,000 in PLC gear. In the smaller sites for this project, they were looking for wireless connectivity.
In this project, Earl and Chuck worked with an external antenna to send wireless (CDMA/GSM) alarm notifications from their alarm monitor remotes.
The advantages of a NetGuardian alarm monitor remote for this project included:
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