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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Purchasing and Installing Remote Monitoring Solutions

By Andrew Erickson

April 29, 2023

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As the world grows more and more dependent on telecom infrastructure, the need for effective remote monitoring becomes increasingly important. This is also true for foundational industries like power distribution and mass transit that are always in demand and must always be reliable.

Remote monitoring solutions provide real-time data and notifications for a wide range of applications, from industrial process control to IT infrastructure management.

This is your step-by-step guide on deploying a remote monitoring solution. Together, we'll cover best practices for selecting the right hardware, software, and network infrastructure.

Toward the end, we will also discuss NetGuardian RTUs (Remote Telemetry Units) and the T/Mon master station as one set of specific examples of remote monitoring solutions.

Step 1: Define Your Monitoring Requirements

Before diving into the technical aspects of deploying a remote monitoring solution, it's crucial to define your monitoring requirements. Consider the following:

  • What types of assets do you need to monitor (ex. IT equipment, industrial machinery, HVAC systems, UPS batteries, backup generators, propane/LPG or diesel tanks)?
  • What environmental conditions should be monitored (ex. temperature, humidity, power)?
  • How many locations require monitoring? County governments I work with commonly have 10-20 radio towers. Power utilities spanning multiple US states can have more than 1000 sites.
  • What is the desired level of automation for your monitoring solution? Will you make all decisions manually or simply review logs of what the system has done automatically by predefined algorithms or AI?

Once you have a clear understanding of your requirements, you can make more informed decisions about hardware, software, and network infrastructure.

Step 2: Choose the Right Hardware

Selecting the right hardware for your remote monitoring solution is crucial for effective performance. I find it's easiest to teach you the basics if we start from specific examples.

Based on my work with DPS clients, I happen to be very familiar with NetGuardian RTUs and the T/Mon master station. You can use much of what I describe as buying criteria as you evaluate offerings from any vendor. I'll walk you through the "what" but also "why" each element is so important.

Example: NetGuardian RTUs

NetGuardian RTUs are designed for monitoring various equipment types and environmental conditions. They offer a range of features, including:

  • Scalable input/output (I/O) capacity (DPS will help you choose the correct model during your purchasing phase), allowing you to customize the RTU to your specific monitoring requirements. Were it not for the many different site capacity requirements for discretes, analogs, and controls, DPS would not manufacture nearly so many different models.
  • Support for different and/or multiple communication protocols, making it easier to integrate with existing infrastructure. This is commonly needed for legacy mediation applications.
  • User-friendly web interface for configuration and management. These used to be installed software, but the ongoing evolution of web interfaces has rendered that (and the IT security headaches involved) obsolete.

Example: T/Mon Master Station

The T/Mon master station, on the other hand, serves as a centralized monitoring hub for multiple RTUs (both NetGuardians and third-party models) and third-party devices. It offers:

  • Consolidated alarm management, enabling operators to view and acknowledge alarms from multiple RTUs in a single interface.
  • Alarm escalation and notification, ensuring timely response to critical issues
  • Support for both legacy and modern communication protocols, facilitating seamless integration with a variety of devices

When choosing hardware, consider factors such as scalability, ease of integration, and compatibility with existing systems.

Step 3: Select the Right Software

The software you choose for your remote monitoring solution should provide a comprehensive and user-friendly interface for managing alarms, configuring devices, and generating reports. Additionally, it should be compatible with your chosen hardware and support the desired level of automation.

If we return for a moment to our above examples, you can simplify your project if you choose hardware-software appliances sold as a single unit. Both NetGuardian RTUs and T/Mon master stations are sold that way.

In a lot of other cases, you'll find software that is licensed for installation on your own generic server hardware. If you do this, just make sure you choose hardware that has enough power to handle your chosen software.

Some general features to look for in remote monitoring software include:

  • Customizable dashboards and reporting capabilities
  • Alarm acknowledgment and escalation (users must indicate they have seen and alarm; unacknowledged alarms can be forwarded to a coworker or supervisor)
  • Real-time and historical data visualization
  • Integration with third-party applications, such as trouble-ticketing systems and asset management tools.

Step 4: Design the Network Infrastructure

Your well-designed network infrastructure is critical for the efficient transmission of data between your remote monitoring devices and the central management system.

It's likely the case that you already have all the LAN connectivity you need at your site. You're probably just adding monitoring. Still, it's worth reviewing best practices in the event you're building out a new (greenfield) site or need to add something.

Consider the following best practices when designing your network:

  • Use redundant communication paths to ensure reliable data transmission, even in the event of a network failure. This can be, for example, RTUs that fail over to cellular modems during a LAN failure.
  • Implement proper security measures, such as firewalls, VPNs, IT/OT network separation, and encryption, to protect sensitive data.
  • Opt for wired connections over wireless when possible, as they typically offer greater reliability and performance. Network security is another factor that drives virtually all of my clients to wired connections.
  • Ensure sufficient bandwidth is available to accommodate the volume of data generated by your monitoring solution. One of the virtues of NetGuardian-to-T/Mon communication is that the data exchange is literally just a few bytes unless there has been a lot of alarm activity in the last few seconds. Other protocols like SNMP are much more verbose, but that's usually not a problem by modern Ethernet standards.

Step 5: Test and Optimize

Once your remote monitoring solution has been deployed, it's essential to test and optimize its performance. Regularly review system performance and alarm data to identify areas for improvement. Conduct routine maintenance on your hardware and software to ensure they continue to function optimally.

This is one area in particular where choosing a full-service provider becomes very important. For many vendors, your purchase is more of a "thank you and goodbye" than the start of a long-term relationship. If you pay a little extra for comprehensive service, that will often include assistance and support for things like testing and optimization.

Call DPS to Discuss Your Remote Monitoring Project

There is an almost infinite number of subtopics to think about when it comes to remote monitoring. I've only managed to scratch the surface here.

To really get your project moving, you should speak with a remote monitoring expert. At DPS, remote monitoring and control tech is all we do (aside from some custom products for our long-term clients).

Call DPS now to speak with an engineer: 1-800-693-0351.

You can also email DPS 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 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...