Using your Bluetooth connection between your car and phone, you call home to see what to pick up for dinner. After you stop by the drugstore to quickly print some pictures from your digital camera at the self-service kiosk and rent a DVD from a rental machine on your way out.
Millions of transactions like these occur every day because of embedded systems, which run inside everything from vending machines, gas pumps, kiosks, price checkers and retail point-of-sale stations.
At home, there are embedded systems in utility meters, appliances, security systems, set top boxes like DVRs and home electronics. Hospitals, doctors’ offices and industrial sector all utilize embedded systems as well. Embedded systems appear as part of machine-to-machine (M2M) interfaces like processing equipment, controllers, sensors and robotics/automation equipment.
Although not always highly visible due to their behind-the-scenes role, embedded and remote devices are becoming pervasive. By 2014, there will be more than 400 million embedded devices and M2M connections.
Last year, approximately 75 million embedded devices with cellular communication capability were active, and that number is expected to triple to more than 2.2 billion by 2014. Meanwhile, the number of M2M devices capable of 4G wireless communications is expected to explode, from just 40,000 this year to 12.6 million in 2015.
With importance of embedded devices growing, the need for effective remote device management solutions is becoming more in demand. It is crucial that embedded devices are managed just like other IT assets despite the fact that traditional enterprise IT management solutions often are not currently equipped to handle the configuration, security and remote management challenges that embedded devices pose.
Software with residence 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 minimize the occurrence of downtime.
Uptime is crucial to embedded devices, yet ensuring uptime can be a challenge due to the very nature of embedded devices. Many embedded systems must be operational 24/7, making a shut down for routine maintenance impossible. Designed to run unattended, embedded systems are installed in equipment or locations that are far from the physical reach of those responsible for support and service.
By taking these challenges and characteristics into account, it is clear that whenever and wherever embedded devices are in use, remote management systems should be used in conjunction.
Implementation:Features and Capabilities
Due to the importance of uptime in relation to embedded devices – and because the devices themselves can be hundreds of miles away from those qualified to service them – monitoring and management features capable of maintaining uptime are of immense value. Below are the essential characteristics and capabilities on how to remotely manage embedded devices.
Secure and automated, two-way communication . Remote device management solutions with two-way communication can obtain status reports, utilization data and diagnostic information from embedded systems and provision security updates, software patches and other alterations to them. An essential feature for proactive management, two-way communication can alert administrators of performance issues prior to the occurrence of the problem.
Remote access. Simply being able to see what’s happening within an embedded device isn’t enough; support staff also needs the ability to do something about it. Remote access allows administrators to perform troubleshooting, subsequently removing the need for physical contact with the device. In the retail example, the capability of remote access saved hundreds of labor hours. Remote access minimizes downtime by providing the centralized tools for faster problem resolution.
Device health information . Utilizing device health information, organizations can minimizing the time lag between when a problem occurs and when it is discovered, thereby improve uptime.
By alerting administrators when error messages are detected or when devices go offline, remote device management solutions enable issues to be identified and resolved more rapidly.
The management system should also be able to collect, store and report information pertaining to utilization and uptime, unauthorized access attempts and other historical data that can be used to help configure, manage and secure the device.
Additional security. Although remote device management solutions are not substitutes for building security safeguards into embedded devices, they can augment and strengthen security. It is important that embedded devices have native protection in order to prevent hacking, secure data and provide authentication for communication and data transfer.
Device management solutions can amplify these protections by providing administrators with 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 does not have to be device specific – the same solution used to support embedded devices could additionally be used to manage other assets, such as smart phones, PDAs and handheld computers, kiosks, POS terminals, industrial controls, etc.
Device management solutions uphold network standards, leading operating systems such Microsoft Windows Mobile, Microsoft Windows and Embedded CE and multiple smart phone and device platforms provide value by facilitating leverage in an organization’s investments in management capabilities across multiple assets.
As organizations are forced to manage increasingly large and diverse populations of embedded, mobile and wireless devices, the value of leveraging will see significant growth. By supporting and integrating with enterprise management solutions that may already be in place, such as Microsoft Configuration Manager 2007, management solution for embedded devices can further leverage legacy investments.
In addition, planning for the future by specifying management solutions that are capable of supporting heterogeneous environments can help prevent administrators from suffering through the use of separate management solutions for each different type of device they need to support.
Embedded devices are all around us, their capabilities are flourishing at a rapid rate, and the installed base is projected to expand into tens of billions. The possibilities are arresting, but organizations must be cautious in order to ensure they are able to manage their embedded devices as their population grows.
Vending machines, kiosks, industrial controllers, medical devices 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, it is of the utmost importance that remote management capabilities are embedded with them effectively allowing systems to be maintained reliably, efficiently, and securely.
Mark Gentile is founder, president and CEO of Odyssey Software Inc ., creator of Athena, an enterprise-class mobile and embedded device management product for today’s most popular device platforms including the Windows Embedded CE operating system.