During a long afternoon at work you fuel up from the vending machine, which never seems to be out of your favorite soft drink thanks to a network connection that sends inventory information and replenishment requests to the vending management company. After work, you call home for ideas on a movie to rent, making the call using a Bluetooth connection between your cell phone and the communications system in your car. On the way you stop at the drugstore to print some pictures from your digital camera at a self-service kiosk, then rent a DVD from a rental machine.
Millions of transactions like these occur each day because of embedded systems that run inside vending machines, gas pumps, kiosks, price checkers, retail point-of-sale stations, and other devices within the retail, hospitality, and financial sectors of the market. At home, there are embedded systems in utility meters, appliances, security systems, set top boxes like DVRs, and home electronics. There are embedded systems in medical devices in hospitals and doctors’ offices and in factories or industrial sectors as part of machine-to-machine (M2M) interfaces like processing equipment, controllers, sensors, and robotics/automation equipment.
While embedded and remote devices are not always highly visible because of their behind-the-scenes role, they are becoming pervasive. There will be more than 400 million embedded devices and M2M connections by 2014 (“Number of Embedded Mobile & M2M Connected Devices to rise to 412 million globally by 2014” Juniper Research. January 19, 2010), when more of the world’s mobile data traffic will be transferred monthly on embedded computing systems than during all of 2008 (“Mobile Data Traffic Trends for Embedded Computing Devices” ABI Research, 2009). Last year, there were approximately 75 million embedded devices with cellular communication capability, but that is expected to triple to more than 2.2 billion by 2014 (“Cellular M2M Connections to Triple by 2014” ABI Research, September 22, 2009). Meanwhile, the number of M2M devices capable of 4G wireless communications will explode, from just 40,000 this year to 12.6 million in 2015.
As the markets and importance for embedded devices grow, so will the need for effective remote device management solutions. Embedded devices need to be managed just like other IT assets – yet traditional enterprise IT management solutions often are not currently equipped to handle the configuration, security and remote management challenges posed by embedded devices.
Software residing on embedded devices must not only protect data, safeguard customer information, and meet enterprise standards for network, device and data security, but it must also work to reduce the occurrence of downtime.
Uptime is essential for embedded devices, but ensuring uptime can be challenging because of their very nature. Many embedded systems need to be operational 24/7 so they can’t be shut down for routine maintenance. Embedded systems are designed to run unattended, and are installed in equipment or locations that are far from the physical reach of those responsible for support and service.
Because of these challenges and characteristics, whenever and wherever embedded devices are used, remote management systems should be used along with them.
How to Implement: Features and Capabilities
Because uptime is so important for embedded devices – and because the devices themselves may be hundreds of miles away from anyone qualified to service them – monitoring and management features that can help maintain uptime are extremely valuable. Below are the essential features and capabilities on how to remotely manage embedded devices.
Secure and automated, two-way communication. Remote device management solutions with two-way communication can receive status reports, utilization data and diagnostic information from embedded systems and provision security updates, software patches and other changes to them. Two-way communication is an essential feature for proactive management because it can alert administrators to performance issues before actual problems occur.
Remote access. It isn’t enough to see what’s happening within an embedded device; support staff also needs the ability to do something about it. With remote access, administrators can perform troubleshooting without having to physically touch the device. In the retail example, remote access capability saved hundreds of labor hours. Remote access minimizes downtime because it provides the centralized tools for faster problem resolution.
Device health information. With device health information, organizations can improve uptime by minimizing the time lag between when a problem occurs and when it is discovered. Remote device management solutions that automatically alert administrators when error messages are detected or when devices go offline enable issues to be identified and resolved more quickly. The management system also should be able to collect, store, and report information about utilization and uptime, unauthorized access attempts, and other historical data that can be used to help configure, manage, and secure the device.
Additional security. Remote device management solutions are not substitutes for building security safeguards into embedded devices, but can augment and strengthen security. Embedded devices should have native protection to prevent hacking, secure data, and provide authentication for communication and data transfer. Device management solutions can enhance these protections by giving administrators the ability to remotely lock down devices, selectively or completely wipe data, block communications and data transfer, and otherwise disable the device.
Multi-platform support. Remote management solutions can add more value by supporting more types of devices, and by being able to integrate with and complement existing enterprise management solutions. The management solution needn’t be device specific – the same solution used to support embedded devices could also be used to manage other assets, such as smart phones, PDAs and handheld computers, kiosks, POS terminals, industrial controls, etc. Device management solutions that support network standards, leading operating systems such Microsoft Windows Mobile, Microsoft Windows and Embedded CE, and multiple smart phone and device platforms provide value by enabling the organization to leverage its investment in management capabilities across multiple assets. The value of leveraging will grow as organizations have to manage increasingly large and diverse populations of embedded, mobile and wireless devices. To further leverage legacy investments, the management solution for embedded devices should support and integrate with enterprise management solutions that may already be in place, such as Microsoft® Configuration Manager 2007. Administrators do not want a separate management solution for each different type of device they need to support, so they should plan for the future by specifying management solutions that can support a heterogeneous environment.
Embedded devices are all around us, their capabilities are growing exponentially, and the installed base is projected to grow into tens of billions. The possibilities are exciting, but organizations need to be careful to ensure that as their population of embedded devices grows, they have the ability to manage them. Vending machines, kiosks, industrial controllers, and other embedded systems don’t look like laptops or PDAs, but the principles and best practices for managing IT assets need to be applied to them. Wherever devices are embedded, remote management capabilities should be embedded with them so systems can be maintained reliably, efficiently, and securely.