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An introduction to Monitoring Fundamentals strictly from the perspective of telecom network alarm management.

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Custom Product Development at DPS

Custom product development is practically a founding principle at DPS. Every product that's available today was once a custom product designed for a specific project. You can take advantage of this either directly (by requesting a custom product yourself) or indirectly (by choosing a product that was originally custom designed for the same problem you're now facing).

Custom product development (on a reasonable timeline of a few weeks or months) is made possible through in-house engineering. Without an engineering team that's right down the hall from other departments, such development would be impossible (or extended for many months or even years).

This doesn't necessarily mean that 3rd-party engineering is slow. The time lost is during interchanges during the development process. As your vendor and a 3rd-party engineering team communicate, each small roadblock in the custom product development process means another handoff. This wait time quickly builds, and this is what makes projects engineered in this way stretch out over many months or even years.

The back panel of the NetGuardian 216T alarm remote
The NetGuardian 216T received a T1 interface because it was needed for Consolidated Communication's project. Now, this result of custom product development is available for anyone who needs to use FrameRelay/T1 or PPP/T1 to report alarms.

This is precisely why DPS has vertically integrated engineering into its operations. All of the waiting time normally associated with 2 separate companies communicating are eliminated. The Engineering Department is always available for questions and feedback, and they can always communicate with you, the client.

One effect of performing custom product development for a wide variety of applications is a very large product portfolio. A quick review of the DPS RTU's page reveals dozens of options. The number of choices can initially seem overwhelming, but there's one simple key to understanding the product line. That key is "building blocks".

DPS RTU's each have a unique combination of capacities. Each has a different number of discrete inputs, analog inputs, control relays, and terminal server serial ports. Beyond this, certain RTU's have special capabilities like dual-redundant power supplies, T1 interface, SFP fiber interface, dial-up modem reporting, and voice dial-out alerts.

When you think about RTU's in this way, they're considerably easier to understand. There are a limited number of core monitoring building blocks, plus a growing number of special capability building blocks. Since many DPS clients will have similar monitoring needs to your own, it's very likely that an existing RTU will meet your needs quite well. Even if there isn't a good fit for your project, you can still benefit from custom product development that creates the right fit. By calling DPS, you can combine these building blocks in just about any combination.

But remember not to limit yourself to only the capabilities that you see on existing DPS remotes. The engineering team maintains a list of all building blocks either deployed or under development. Your custom product development requests help us to direct our efforts in the most useful directions. You benefit by creating a supply of products that meet your exact needs.

Here's a small list of just a few building blocks that are available for the engineering team to embed in custom products for you:

  • Propane/Diesel Monitoring
    If you have site generators to provide a backup power source, the odds are very good that they run on either diesel or propane. You need to monitor your fuel tank levels to make sure that power is actually available when it is needed. You can use tank level data to make more efficient dispatch decisions for refueling trucks. You can also monitor remaining run time after a natural disaster, like a hurricane, that knocks out power to many sites. This can be an invaluable tool during a potential crisis.
  • Wireless Interface
    To do its job best, an RTU must depend on as few other systems as possible. The more other systems it relies on, the less likely it will be able to report the problem when some of them fail. By circumventing network gear's typical reliance on a physical LAN connection, wireless technology presents a big opportunity for you in custom product development. Both GSM and CDMA modems are available, so you can receive alarm data wirelessly from any site with cell coverage. Wireless can be used as the primary reporting path or, to save wireless bandwidth, as a backup channel in case LAN fails. Not that WiFi is another wireless technology that can be used to bridge nearby sites (within a few hundred feet) or to give technicians the ability to access network resources at a remote site without leaving their trucks. This can be especially powerful in snowy winter climates, where leaving vehicles always presents added danger.
  • IP Camera
    While RTUs provide "visibility" of your remote sites by sending you sensor data and equipment alarms, their really is nothing quite like actually viewing an image of your site remotely. This building block entered the DPS custom product development process to satisfy several different client concerns. Some clients wanted surveillance for the typical reason: to deter intruders and, in the event of a break-in, to have a record that can be used to identify a suspect. In addition, there were a variety of less exciting but still important reasons to have IP cameras integrated into remote monitoring systems. Some DPS clients had sites at high altitudes that were snowy for most of the year and had no road access. An IP camera in an external housing (with a heater to keep the camera sensor above freezing) is useful to assess whether or not the weather permits a safe helicopter trip. IP cameras have also been used as a staff supervisory and training tool. When you have a rookie technician at a site, imagine the power of being able to view that technician's movements through the site. You could provide guidance remotely via cell phone or VoIP order wire.
  • UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)
    Just like a wireless data connection, a UPS power supply that's built into your RTU reduces its reliance on site systems, which increases its ability to report alarm information when the site is under stress. In this case, an internal backup power supply enables your RTU to report alarms even when the site's power has failed. Typical run time is about 9 hours, plenty of time to get data from the site before commercial power is restored or you have prepared for an extended outage. Again, custom product development can serve you well if you expect reasonably frequent power failures (or your network is so important that even infrequent power failures must be guarded against).

Custom Product Development Case Study
Billy Young from Consolidated Communications needed an RTU with a T1 interface. It also needed to use internal parts that could withstand the 110-degree Texas heat. "We wanted to monitor our cabinets, and there was nothing hardened out there that worked within our network architecture," Young said, adding "We were limited on space. We only had one rack unit."

Billy Young - Consolidated Communications

Billy Young
Central Office Engineer
Consolidated Communications

And Young was looking to squeeze a lot of functionality into that one rack unit. "We wanted a T1 interface with Frame Relay support. We wanted an Ethernet hub in the back, and we wanted it to be T1-fed," Young said. "We wanted to have 16 scan points, some control relays and some analog relays, and we wanted it web-based."

Young's search for a solution took him to several vendors. Some of them saw his desire for Frame Relay support as more of a nuisance than an opportunity. The response from one was, "Absolutely not," recalled Young. "They said PPP was their existing design and they weren't going to change it."

When he had trouble finding an RTU to meet the unique demands of Consolidated's network, Young knew just where to turn. "I've had a good relationship with DPS Telecom. I've been dealing with them for years," he said.

Billy Young witnessed the process firsthand. It all started with his call to a DPS sales engineer. After establishing the client's needs, DPS executed its time-tested new product development process. In the end, Consolidated got exactly the product they needed.

The new product is the NetGuardian 216T, and it has already solved several of Consolidated's monitoring problems. "One of our small offices is very remote, and we haven't had detailed monitoring there," said Young. "But since all it took was a T1, we now have monitoring of all our environmentals and network connectivity for some very critical equipment," Young continued. "It gives our technicians access to the network to check email, do testing, or look up records, and it saves time on truck rolls because now we can access it remotely."

When asked about his satisfaction with the final product, Young let his purchase orders do the talking. "I've taken the liberty of ordering fifty, and I intend to order additional units next year," he replied. "What does that say?" Throughout the development process, Young never questioned whether Consolidated would find the perfect fit. "I had no doubt that whatever DPS committed to, they'd do it," he recalled. "And they have."

Young has advice for anyone else considering a custom-engineered monitoring solution. "They need to get their technical specs and contact DPS Telecom," he said. "We've had nothing but a positive experience. It took very little time, and we got the product we wanted."