Thursday, September 13, 2012

Best practices for connecting to machine-to-machine applications

Many M2M monitoring applications
run in remote locations on low power,
increasingly with a satellite or cellular
communications link.
An increasing number of IT applications are missing one key component: the user. From monitoring product distribution in the energy industry to autonomous machines that humans interact with daily like cash machines to healthcare devices that monitor themselves and "call-in" their own maintenance requests, one of the key components of many machine-to-machine (M2M) applications is communication.

While autonomous monitoring is useful, being able to transmit the data in real-time as well as provide remote control makes many M2M applications practical. A recent article in Utility Products magazine has a good list of best practices for using cellular communications for a two-way link to remote monitor and control devices.

Uplogix uses cellular communication as one option for out-of-band connections to our Local Managers (LMs). Cellular is increasingly cost-effective and available in many locations with the added benefit of not-needing to install or maintain local infrastructure.

The Uplogix Local Management platform is often used in M2M systems to provide management and control for a variety of sophisticated multi-component devices such as satellite communications systems (modems, dish controllers and networking gear), analog supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA) and digital cellular connected devices in M2M solutions (e.g. ATMs, Intelligent Power Systems and M2M gateways themselves).

Many of the recommendations in the article for choosing cellular monitoring applications have similar applications to Local Management. This makes sense, because when you think about it, with its constant monitoring and reliable automation capabilities, Uplogix is a type of machine-to-machine application. With our automation, it's really Machine Management of Machine-to-Machine systems. (We're not so sure that M^32M will catch on as a shortcut though.)

We also have the benefit of being a human-to-machine application, providing an on-site "virtual toolbox" for experts offsite to access remote gear as if they were sitting in front of it and connecting directly with their laptop.

Some of the recommendations applicable to both cellular for M2M and Uplogix are:
  • The solution should be carrier-agnostic
    You don't want to have to manage different gear at every site. In the case of Uplogix, you can expand this to not wanting different M2M management solutions for each piece of gear. With our base-level serial connections to managed devices, Uplogix can monitor and take actions for almost any piece of gear.
  • It should provide advanced wireless device management capabilities beyond simply pushing out firmware or configuration changes
    Device management is a two-way street. You want to be able to command remote devices, as well as see the impact of those changes. Uplogix can not only push out changes, but it also saves previous states, monitors the success of changes, and can automatically roll back failed changes to ensure devices continue to work. These are events that previously would have required a site visit from a technician.
  • M2M gateways should include advanced tools to manage and monitor connected assets
    Uplogix uses its position at the edge of the network to do more than monitor devices. We're able to conduct quality testing from the viewpoint of the end user, in the M2M world, not a human user, but other devices. We can conduct synthetic calls from one site to another and measure over 40 different quality variables to isolate issues or indicate a problem, often before it becomes detrimental. In true M2M fashion, these tests can be automated, so that they occur more often than a human would want to conduct them, as well as accurately, and as a trigger for proactive actions.
For more information on the use of Local Management for device management and control of M2M systems as well as in more traditional networks, please visit our website.