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An introduction to Monitoring Fundamentals strictly from the perspective of telecom network alarm management.
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Network reliability is the crucial driver of customer satisfaction. It doesn't matter how low your prices are. If your network services are not reliable, then you will drive customers away. While this concept may be the cornerstone of your business, how can you ensure that your network is in fact running at 100% capacity at all times? Its your network and, most importantly, its your business. Get the most that you can out of your resources. Anything you can do to increase your network reliability will help you gain the competitive edge you need to survive in today's environment.
Remote Alarm Monitoring and Control systems will enable you to accomplish both goals. The goals of having enhanced network reliability and a competitive edge. You cannot accomplish either goal with an insufficient legacy monitoring system. You need to upgrade, but perhaps you are hesitant to change your system. Not because you are blind to its faults, but because you consider upgrades to be more trouble than they are worth.
You might not want to change your system, but your competitors are upgrading theirs. Don't be the company that ends up with unsatisfied customers and high exit levels. Don't fall behind as other companies continue to grow and prosper. Besides, any old equipment and gear that you have can still be re-purposed after an upgrade. The cost of lost customers and tarnished reputation usually makes a monitoring system upgrade an excellent investment.
If your competitors are delaying Remote Alarm Monitoring and Control upgrades, then you have a chance to gain a competitive advantage. Let your investment in Remote Alarm Monitoring and Control improvements give you a marketing edge. Let your competitors be the ones with lower customer satisfaction and higher customer churn.
The most effective method of protecting your network reliability is to take the time and effort to understand the needs of your alarm monitoring system. Afterwards, use that knowledge that you have gain to choose the best upgrade path.
Here are 3 burning questions to ask when you are selecting a remote alarm monitoring vendor:
An upgrade does not mean tearing your network out by the roots. You can instantly achieve a better level of visibility and reliability just by replacing your alarm master. An alarm master is the central alarm collection and processing point. Replacing your alarm master means that you can keep your existing remotes online. If you do not have an alarm master, then you should reevaluate your network's need. More likely than not, you will need or want an alarm master station.
The master station is the weakest point of an older system. If it dies, the entire system is dead. This is obviously the component that most urgently needs to be replaced. However, the master is also the most important component of your network reliability management system.
A better master gets more out of your existing remotes. It should be able to support the protocols used by your existing remotes so that visibility of those remotes is not lost. By extracting the most valuable information from your remotes - the information your staff needs to know in order to determine the root cause of network faults - you can achieve better network reliability management without a monitoring overload.
As a result, a new master can instantly take your existing monitoring and remote telemetry units to a whole new level of effectiveness.
Not every vendor can help you overcome an inadequate or aging monitoring system. If you are armed with the right information, though, then you can separate the vendors who do from the ones who don't.
Those who are best equipped to assist you are the ones that provide the following services:
You must make sure that your monitoring system supports these essential remote network reliability tools:
Alarm presentation and notification: Send detailed alarm descriptions and correction instructions to NOC and field techs via pager notifications and web interfaces. Information regarding the alarm should be clearly detailed so that an alarm can be easily understood. A wide range of notification methods should be available so that a notification will not go unnoticed. An unnoticed alarm is a probable cause for some really bad situations if it does not get caught right away.
Alarm collection and device monitoring: Do not settle for limited remote network monitoring equipment. Get multi-protocol support for every monitoring device in your network, plus discrete alarms, analog alarms, ping alarms, and redundant path reporting. You might have some legacy hardware or hardware that can not communicate together. A multi-protocol device can bring different devices together into a centralized platform. This will ensure that all of your devices can visible on your network.
Here's a handy checklist of items essential for network reliability, which can be used to rate the systems you are evaluating.
Many common site problems, from power outages to high-temperature alarms, can be solved by quickly turning on a power generator or an air conditioner. Remote operation of site devices is the best way to eliminate unnecessary site visits and is a lot faster than going in the truck. Don't waste windshield time on simple tasks that can be automated.
Live analog monitoring:
You cannot adequately monitor battery levels, temperature, and humidity with one-threshold contact closures. Look for support for analog inputs, including live management of actual analog values.
Multi-protocol support for your existing devices:
Make sure your next master system collects alarms from all your existing devices, including your older legacy gear. You can get rid of all your specialized consoles and monitor your network from one screen.
Back-up dial-up reporting:
Do not rely on your primary network to bring back alarms. If anything goes wrong with your transport, you will lose your telemetry data just when you need it the most. Look for a system that supports dial-up alternate path reporting.
SNMP support and ping alarms:
If you are responsible for both telecom and IP equipment, consolidate all your management on one system. Check if IP equipment is still available or if it is unreachable through the network with ping alarms. SNMP means that widely used and full-featured SNMP manager software is available for alarm management.
Almost everybody knows how to use a Web browser. Modern browsers are fast, intuitive. and easy to use. A web-based alarm management interface will make sure all your field techs can access your alarm system from any computer at practically any location.
Pager and e-mail notifications:
Pager and e-mail notifications let your field techs respond to alarms while they are still in the field. This speeds up repair time and reduces windshield time. Look for a system with SMS support, which can send detailed alarm notifications to alpha pagers, cell phones, and PDAs. Almost everyone has an internet connect phone now a day, this means that notifications sent through SMS is sure to be received by someone.
Alarm correction instructions:
Detailed instructions included in alarm notifications ensure that system operators, without extra training, will know precisely what to do and who to call if an alarm happens. No more guesswork or assumptions are needed when there is detailed instructions for resolution of the alarm.
Detailed alarm notifications:
Summary "major/minor" alarms do not give enough information to make dispatch decisions. Alarm notifications should provide detailed information. Detailed information should contain all the information required for successfully clearing the alarm without any guesswork. Look for a network alarm management system that includes detailed diagnostic information in each alarm.
History and trend analysis:
An alarm history will help you keep track of when alarms happen. It will also provide crucial information for trend analysis. Identify problem areas and eliminate recurring problems with a system that keeps a complete alarm history that's exportable for trend analysis.
Custom combination alarms:
A low battery is not a serious problem and neither is a failed generator, but they are pretty serious when they occur at the same time. Look for a system that can spot critical alarm combinations.
Nuisance alarm filtering:
Even the best NOC staff will stop taking alarms seriously if they are bombarded with status alerts, oscillating conditions, and unimportant alarms. Look for a system that can filter these nuisance alarms out from critical and more pressing alarms.
Root cause analysis:
Finding the underlying cause between alarm cascades can take hours of patient detective work. Look for a system that can automatically correlate repeated combinations of alarms. This will save the frustration and hassle of searching endlessly for the root cause of a problem.
A large, complex network can create a huge cascade of alarms. Some are not immediately important but others are critical and crucial. Look for a system that can automatically sort and prioritize this flood of information for you.