If you call us and ask what kind of alarm system you need, we won't make a quick recommendation of "Buy this! Everyone has it. You should have it too!" Instead, your phone call starts a consultation in which your sales engineer will help you identify the network elements you need to monitor and the most effective way to monitor them.
Let's go through the same 3 steps as the DPS Telecom consultation process:
1. Survey where you are now: What alarm monitoring do you currently use, if any? What equipment do you need to monitor? What data transport is available in your network?
2. Define your monitoring goals: what would your ideal alarm system - the alarm system that does everything you need and want - look like? Do you need 24/7 pager and email notification? Do you want to integrate several different alarm systems onto one user interface?
3. Plan your alarm system upgrade: How do you get from where you are now to where you want to be? Is upgrading at once feasible and within your budget, or should you phase your upgrade over several budget cycles? What alarm capabilities do you need right now, and which can wait?
In your site survey, you're looking for three things:
1. The equipment you need to monitor and the number of alarm points you'll need to monitor it.
2. The currently available data transport between your remote sites and your Network Operations Center (NOC) - the office where your alarm presentation master is located.
3. Any existing alarm collection and presentation equipment you already have. You may be able to save money by incorporating your existing alarm equipment into your new, upgraded alarm system.
Now let's look at what kind of network equipment you should be monitoring.
It takes a lot of equipment working together correctly to keep your network running, and you need accurate information about every element involved.
That means monitoring not only your base telecom equipment, but also all the equipment that supports it and the environmental conditions that all your equipment requires to operate correctly.
The things you need to monitor fall into four categories:
1. Telecom and transport equipment: switches, routers, SONET equipment, fiber optic equipment, microwave radios, etc.
2. Power supplies: commercial AC power, battery plants, rectifiers, backup generators, UPS systems, etc.
3. Building and facility alarms: intrusion, entry, open door, fire, smoke, flooding, etc.
4. Environmental conditions: temperature, humidity, etc.
How do you find the right RTU? Here's 5 essential features to look for:
1. Discrete alarms: Monitor device failures, intrusion alarms, beacons, and flood and fire detectors.
2. Analog alarm inputs: Monitor voltage, temperature, humidity and pressure.
3. Ping alarms: Detect IP device failures and offlines .
4. Control relays: Operate remote site equipment directly from your NOC.
5. Terminal server functions: Control switches and other gear remotely via Telnet over LAN.
Now that you have an idea of what you should be monitoring, your next consideration is the nuts and bolts of how you are going to monitor it.
There are three phases to alarm monitoring: acquisition, transport and presentation. Let's look at each phase in order.
There are three kinds of alarm inputs: contact closures, analog inputs and protocol inputs.
Contact closures are also called discrete alarms or digital inputs. A contact closure is a simple on/off switch that produces an electrical impulse when it's activated or deactivated. Contact closures are the simplest kind of alarm input, so they're often used as a kind of lowest-common-denominator means of getting some kind of alarm from any kind of equipment.
Analog inputs accept current or voltage level inputs over a continuous range. They're the ideal kind of alarm for monitoring things like temperature and battery charge, where it's important to get an actual, physical measurement of the condition in real time.
Here's where having a quality alarm system really counts. Some alarm systems simulate analog alarms with "threshold" alarms. For example, you might get a low-battery alarm if the battery voltage drops to -48 volts. But that information by itself is meaningless. After the voltage crosses the -48-volt threshold, does it stay there (indicating that the battery is merely low) or does it continue to drop (indicating that the battery is being rapidly drained)? With threshold alarms, you have no way to tell.
Protocol inputs are electrical signals formatted into a formal code that can represent much more complex information than contact closures or analogs. There's a wide variety of protocols for transmitting telecom alarm data. The most common telemetry protocols are open standards like SNMP, TL1, ASCII, and TBOS, but there are also manufacturer-specific proprietary protocols. SNMP, TL1, and ASCII are simply ways of encoding ordinary written text for electronic transmission; these protocols are human-readable, if you know the code's terminology and operators.
Once alarm data collected at your remote sites, it needs to be transmitted over a data network to your alarm presentation master at your NOC. Alarm data can be sent over nearly any kind of data transport: Ethernet LAN/WAN, dial-up modem, dedicated circuit, overhead channel, etc.
There are two things you should keep in mind about alarm data transport:
1. As much as possible, you want to work with transports that are already available in your network. You don't want to create added expenses by committing yourself to installing new network infrastructure. It's best to choose an alarm system that is compatible with the transports you already have.
2. It's a good idea to have a secondary backup path for your alarm data in case your primary path fails. No transport is 100% reliable, and you don't want to lose alarm visibility of your revenue-generating network under any circumstances.
The final phase in alarm monitoring is presenting the alarm data in a useful way so that a human being can read the information and use it to direct repairs. This is done through a specialized computer called an alarm presentation master. The master collects the alarm reports from RTUs at the remote site and then format, sorts, and displays the information for a human operator.
The master is really the most important part of the entire alarm system. For the NOC technicians who monitor alarms and dispatch repairs, the master IS the alarm system - it's the only window they have to see what's going on in the network. The features and capabilities of your alarm master directly control how much useful information your NOC techs can see. A high-quality, full-featured alarm master gives you the tools to substantially lowers your network maintenance costs.
Here's a list of 7 critical features that your alarm master should have:
1. Protocol mediation and multiprotocol support:
2. 24/7 unmanned monitoring via pager and email notification:
3. Detailed alarm descriptions:
4. Alarm sorting and categorizing:
5. Separate Standing Alarm and Change of State (COS) Alarm lists:
6. Nuisance alarm filtering:
7. Expansion capability:
Now, the question is, how do you get from where you are to where you want to be? It's very rare for a company to be able to suddenly leap from their current alarm monitoring to their ideal system. Budget restrictions and the cost of installing equipment mean you can't usually get everything you want in one budget year.
Here are some strategies that will help you find a smooth, gradual upgrade path that will let you transition to a new alarm system over several budget cycles:
Define your immediate monitoring needs
What are the essential alarm monitoring capabilities that you must have today? What critical equipment do you absolutely have to monitor right now?
Keep in mind, your definition of an immediate, essential need might be different than someone else's. For example, if you have the staff to keep an eye on an alarm screen 24/7, you might not need pager notification. But if you need to manage critical network assets during unmanned after-hours and weekend times, paging is an essential capability.
Start slow, then expand
Once you've taken care of your bare minimum needs, you can add more alarm capacity and more monitoring capabilities over several budget cycles. You don't have to spend more than you can afford in one budget year, but you'll gradually move toward your ideal system.
Use protocol mediation to incorporate existing equipment
The first stages of your upgrade can be easier and more cost-effective if you can install a new alarm master first and then gradually replace RTUs at your remote sites. An alarm master with multiprotocol support can support your existing remotes, so you can immediately add new presentation capabilities without replacing all your remote site equipment.
Keep your future goals in mind
While you're planning your expansion, think about what your monitoring needs are likely to be 5, 10, 15 years down the road. It's easier and more cost-effective to add alarm capacity in a controlled way in the immediate future than to rush a new deployment through when you've exceeded your alarm capacity.
You've just been put in charge of purchasing, selecting or recommending a new network alarm system for your company. Where do you start? What alarm equipment do you need?
We are committed to helping you get the best alarm system for your specific needs. So, call or email us and ask for a free consultation on your alarm monitoring needs. We will be happy to help you.
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