Remote access today
Australia is a tricky market. Whether you’re a contracted engineer, systems integrator or OEM machine builder, our small population density and the vast distance between existing and potential clients can often be great. With the market becoming saturated and a decline in manufacturing, it is becoming evident that businesses are needing to focus on more efficiency, making the most of their existing assets and their employees’ skill base.
How much time do you or your employees spend travelling between sites commissioning, running diagnostics, making repairs/upgrades or collecting machine data? To me, these travel costs are detrimental to both the client and service person — additional fees and time that neither should have to spare. How much money would your business save if you cut travel costs by even 2%?
Enter remote access. It has been around for a long while and M2M communications are not new. We’ve moved through technologies like dial-up modems, VHF radio and 2G networks. These connection media have made M2M difficult to use, maintain or even implement. Low-speed connections and unintelligent hardware also severely limited its functionality, capability and security. Because of this, remote access has generally been limited; its use often reserved for the most remote sites, where the equipment is basic and non-vital.
Many companies have noticed the growing trend towards remote access and a need for a more powerful, easy-to-use solutions. We can now see an ever-growing selection of devices with all sorts of functionality, and, with 3G now covering most of the continent, speed is no longer an issue. Many of the manufacturers are using centralised servers to manage IP addresses and user access, removing the requirement for purchasing static addresses or manually dialling devices. So what should you look out for when researching which device is best for you? A few things you should consider for your application when looking at what’s in the market, in order of importance, are: security; features; ease of use; fast set-up and deployment; scalability; robustness; unit cost; and power consumption.
Figure out your needs — some remote access solutions offer a myriad of features and others are essentially just basic dialling devices. Some extras you should expect to see around are SMS alerts, VNC support, a variety of hardware connection types, server relay capabilities and failover internet connections.
In most applications you simply cannot compromise on security when looking at remote access. Without proper measures, you could be leaving hardware open to the public or even passing critical information over insecure media. There are minimum IEC standards that public sector companies have to adhere to and I’d suggest exercising the same level of caution. Furthermore, I rate ease of use and ease of deployment highly above cost: if it’s not easy to use, then your savings on a difficult product may very well be wasted on setting up devices and training.
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