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How to Buy the Best RTU to use with Solarwinds

By Andrew Erickson

October 23, 2022

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Working in the remote monitoring space, I deal with compatibility questions constantly. Monitoring systems naturally evolve over time, so one of your biggest challenges is making sure all of your new gear works properly with your old gear.

One specific variation of the standard compatibility question is: "Which RTUs will work with my Solarwinds software?"

Let's do a quick review of Solarwinds (you might have arrived here with a research task and not yet be familiar), discuss what RTUs are compatible (there are many), and then talk about which RTUs rise above the rest and actually are the best choice for your monitoring system.

What is Solarwinds?

Although its name is often synonymous with the software it sells, "Solarwinds" is actually a network management software company founded in 1999. They create tools for managing on-premises, cloud, and hybrid IT infrastructures.

Solarwinds’ flagship product is "Orion". It's a centralized system for managing networks, applications, and infrastructure. The platform uses an agentless architecture and can be deployed on Windows and Linux servers.

Orion integrates with a wide range of 3rd party products and technologies, making it a popular choice for network management.

Critically, Orion supports the SNMP protocol, which is singularly responsible for broad RTU compatibility.

What is the SNMP protocol, and why is it important for Solarwinds compatibility?

SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) is a standard application layer protocol for managing network devices. It's been around since the late 1980s, and it's supported by an incredible range of hardware and software products.

Solarwinds leverages SNMP to collect data from network devices like routers, switches, and firewalls, as well as from more specialized gear like RTUs.

As long as a device supports SNMP, it can be added to and monitored by Solarwinds.

What RTUs are Compatible with Solarwinds?

As you know, "RTUs", or remote terminal units, are devices used for monitoring and controlling remote equipment. Historically

RTUs typically use SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) for communication, which means that they will work with just about any monitoring system that also uses SNMP.

Solarwinds is no exception - any RTU that supports SNMP will work with the Solarwinds Orion Platform.

That's very straightforward answer to a potentially complicated question. In the past, achieving RTU compatibility was a complicated mess of different protocols. Often, manufacturers would invent their own protocol just to force you into their ecosystem. Think of this like the modern consumer products from Apple Computer. They're often excellent, but they staunchly resist compatibility with other devices so you keep buying from Apple.

Fortunately, the modern trend has been toward open standards like SNMP. That's been to the advantage of shoppers like you, who have much more brand choice. It has also made it easier for manufacturers to get started in the industry. Compare how (relatively!) simple it is to design and build an RTU vs. also designing and building a complex central master like Solarwinds.

With open standard protocols like SNMP, a new company can manufacture a "Solarwinds-compatible RTU" relatively quickly and easily. That gives you more options when you're planning your purchasing.

This competition among RTU manufacturers also drives up quality and drives down prices. As with any marketplace, different sellers have different approaches to price vs. quality.

Not all RTUs are created equal. Some RTUs have more features than others, and some RTUs are easier to configure and use than others. Price is also a factor when you have limited budgets (pretty much always, although RTUs are much cheaper than most other elements of a major telecom project).

Which of the Many Solarwinds-Compatible RTUs Should You Choose for Your System?

The best RTUs for Solarwinds compatibility are those that:

  1. Support SNMP protocol (v1, v2c, and/or v3 depending on your security rules), and
  2. Give you the most features (that you actually need), and
  3. Have very intuitive interfaces that are easy to use (including by brand-new employees)

Let's pick these apart one by one, then I'll give you some good specific models to look at.

Which SNMP versions do I need?

Solarwinds, being modern software, supports all of the 3 major versions of SNMP (SNMPv1, SNMPv2c, SNMPv3). I've already written extensively about the finer points of the different SNMP versions, but I can give you the 30-second overview here:

You can use any version of SNMP if your organization does not require SNMPv3 (which supports encryption) for security reasons. Frankly, however, I would expect an ongoing move toward SNMPv3 that eventually becomes a hard requirement.

Look at the recent move in web browser software to requiring TLS v1.2 for security. One day, Google's Chrome browser just stopped supporting earlier versions. There was no manual override. It would just refuse to access older websites with older security certificates.

Because SNMPv3 is only a bit more difficult to set up, I really recommend that you just choose RTUs that support it as part of your current project today.

Because RTUs are small remote devices with fairly limited hardware, something as "simple" as message encryption can be impossible for cheaper models. That means that, if SNMPv3 becomes required later, you'll be forced into purchasing RTUs again if you make the "cheap" choice today.

What RTU features are important?

The features of an RTU are important, but the specific features that matter most will depend on your particular project. For example:

Do you have a lot of sites that need to be monitored?

You'll want an RTU with a lot of analog and digital inputs so you can keep track of everything happening at each site.

Do you have a lot of sites that are very remote?

You'll want an RTU with an attached cellular modem so you can stay connected even in the middle of nowhere.

Do you need nearly 100% RTU reliability?

(Hint: Yes, you do)

You'll want an RTU that has a proven track record of performance AND built-in hardware redundancy (ex. dual power inputs with dual replaceable fuses).

Recommended RTUs for use with your Solarwinds software

Aside from our T/Mon master station, which some of my clients do use to convert other protocols to SNMP to send to Solarwinds, our specialty at DPS is designing excellent RTUs. As a result, I can absolutely recommend a few models to get you started with your research.

The NetGuardian 832A is our original model, having now evolved through several hardware generations. The 832A is good if you need a lot of discretes, analogs, and control outputs - plus extras like a serial port terminal server.

Another very popular model recently has been the NetGuardian DIN. As the name implies, this is much smaller and mounts on a DIN rail. That makes it a good choice when you need to monitor small cabinets with Solarwinds.

I'll talk with you about your RTU options

Truly, the fastest thing you can do to get your pre-purchase research moving is to just give me a call. We'll talk about what you're trying to accomplish and put together a recommended feature list. That's something you can use to comparison shop - if you want to and have enough time.

Honestly, I like to think that I can put together such a compelling case for DPS NetGuardian RTUs that many of my clients end their research after talking with me. It actually has a lot to do with the fact that your project is big and complex. You can't spend all your working hours researching RTUs at incredible levels of detail.

Give me a call to discuss your RTU requirements. Call me at 1-800-693-0351 or email me at sales@dpstele.com

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Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 15 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...

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