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SNMP Monitoring in the Smartphone Age - Best Practices

Your network covers a large geographic area. It's likely that you have to manage a large territory with a smaller team than ever before. That means you're out in the field for a good part of the day.

T/Mon mobile web interface on Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry smartphones
In this example of a smartphone-compatible SNMP manager, T/Mon's web interface is accessible on any smartphone with a web browser. Android, iOS/iPhone, and BlackBerry smartphone examples are shown above.

How can you be expected to maintain network visibility when you're not in the NOC center? Fortunately, with the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), your network administrators can manage and monitor your network management system.

SNMP monitoring tools can help you if you have a telecommunications network spread out across a large geographic area, regardless of your industry.

SNMP is a simple, open protocol and is most commonly used for many monitoring units today. It consists of 5 SNMP TRAP commands, also called SNMP messages - such as trap messages. They allow the transfer of information between your RTU and the SNMP HMI (also called a manager or master station).

SNMP can do a lot to make your network alarm monitoring more cost-effective and your network more efficient - if you clearly identify your network monitoring goals and have the right tools to achieve them.

But, in today's world, it's not enough to just have an easy, open protocol. To have a system that can successfully manage and monitor your managed devices, you have to have the right gear. SNMP is only one small part of the monitor network system.

That is why choosing the right SNMP-enabled devices will turn your smartphone into a complete terminal for SNMP protocol management.

Leveraging mobile technology to improve visibility over your network should be an easy decision. With a mobile NOC, your network instantly becomes more reliable - saving you the headaches associated with preventable outages.

Here are 5 best practices for establishing a smartphone-friendly SNMP setup:

1. Choose an SNMP manager with a smartphone-compatible interface

The best way to keep control over your managed network devices while you're out of the office is to use an SNMP manager that offers a fully functional interface for your smartphone. This can be a dedicated smartphone app, but web browser interfaces tend to offer the same advantages without the hassles of installing updates, and OS incompatibility.

If you have a large number of remote sites, this feature can be especially helpful, as you can check your units from anywhere, as long as you have a cell phone and internet access.

Just make sure that any web interface that you'll access on your smartphone is properly scaled for its smaller screen. You don't want a clunky "zoom and scroll" window into your SNMP system.

And don't forget that you need a system that features a clean display, is easy to use, and is streamlined to optimize your monitoring capabilities. The more streamlined your system is, the better chance you have at increasing site visibility and reducing outages and missed alarms. Plus, it makes training new techs easy and simple.

2. Set up automatic notifications of new SNMP trap messages

When it comes to maintaining your network uptime, you absolutely have to know when there's a problem - no matter where you are or the time of the day. It's essential that your monitoring alerts can be received 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You need notifications that are capable of reaching you no matter where you are or the time of day. 24/7 notifications could be the difference between an outage and network uptime.

A web interface is a great tool, but some problems are severe enough that you should be notified immediately when they occur (rather than waiting for the next time you check the web interface). This can take a few different forms. You can get email, text messages, or even an automated voice call sent directly to your phone.

When certain SNMP traps are received, your SNMP manager should be able to alert you in these ways. These alerts can also be generated by your SNMP RTUs directly, but it's better to use your SNMP manager if possible. It's easier to manage that way, and your SNMP manager can pull together more information to send you more useful alerts.

Of course, it's easy enough to monitor a small network (10 sites or fewer) with direct text messages/emails from the RTUs themselves to your smartphone. You could also theoretically access the web interfaces of each RTU from your phone, but it's unusual for those interfaces to be designed with smaller smartphone screens in mind. If you're looking to monitor SNMP from your smartphone, however, you probably have a larger network that justifies a central, aggregating SNMP manager.

Also, remember that it's simply not enough to just receive a notification that an alarm has been triggered. You need an alert that includes meaningful detail, so you're able to adequately respond. Vague alerts like "Alert: Alarm Point #3" only leave you guessing about what to do next. Is this a simple update that can be ignored or a critical problem that requires immediate attention?

3. Use automatic notification messages that support acknowledgment

More and more network administrators are choosing to receive email alarm notifications on their cell phones. This provides detailed alarm notifications wherever they are, without the need to carry an extra pager.

Automatic notifications are a good tool, but they can create some problems in a large network. What if multiple people are notified of the same problem? How will others know when another technician is already working on the problem?

Alerts that support acknowledgment is the solution. Alerts that support acknowledgment are the solution. NOC managers can immediately know that a tech is working on the alarm.

Once an alert is acknowledged, that alarm will vanish from the list of currently standing alarms. Acknowledgment can be through a link in an email, a simple reply (ex. "ACK") to an SMS text message, or any similar method.

Your notification system should also alert you when an alarm has cleared. This is especially useful if you're on your way to a distant remote site and the alarm clears, notifying you en route that there's no longer a threat. This way, you can turn around and head back, instead of wasting time and resources going all the way to the site for an alarm that has already cleared.

4. Schedule and assign alerts so they're sent only to the right person at the right time

Also, what if you have different after-hours technicians assigned to different hours and days of the week?

Different types of alarms should be sent to different people (security team vs. electrical team, etc.). Even the same SNMP trap received at different times of the day or week should probably be sent to different on-call technicians (everyone has to sleep sometime, after all).

A good SNMP manager will allow you to schedule certain categories of alerts for different people at different times, so you are able to choose the exact day and time you and your techs can receive alarms. That way, the right person on your team is always notified, and no one else is saddled with an unnecessary distraction.

Priority settings are the key so the right people get the most critical alerts in a timely manner.

5. Escalate alerts that are never acknowledged

Sending notifications of new SNMP traps to only the best possible person's mobile phone is a great solution - until there's a problem, that is. If that one person is busy, asleep, or otherwise distracted, your single point of failure has just failed. To avoid this scenario, your SNMP manager should be smart enough to escalate an alarm to a manager or supervisor if it is not resolved (or at least acknowledged) in a timely manner.

In this circumstance, the next person up on the responsibility chain would be contacted when an alarm is not acknowledged within a predetermined period. This escalation can continue until the alarm is acknowledged, ensuring that a dangerous situation is not allowed to remain unknown for long.

This is the perfect medium of minimum distractions and maximum visibility.