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Effectively Manage Embedded Solutions Remotely

Wherever there are embedded devices – embed management capabilities

To get through a long day at the office you grab a snack from the vending machine, which never seems to be out of your favorite item thanks to a network connection that sends inventory information and replenishment requests to the vending management company. After work, you call home and ask what to pick up for dinner, making the call using a Bluetooth connection between your cell phone and the communications system in your car. On the way home you stop at the grocery store to grab dinner and rent a DVD from a rental machine.

Transactions like these occur every day by people around the world thanks to 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. Embedded Systems can also be found in many household items including utility meters, appliances, security systems, set-top boxes like DVRs, and home electronics. There are even embedded systems in medical devices in hospitals and doctors' offices and in factories or industrial sectors as part of machine-to-machine (M2M) interfaces such as processing equipment, controllers, sensors and robotics/automation equipment.

Although embedded and remote devices are not always obvious, due to their behind-the-scenes role, they are becoming pervasive. There will be upwards of 400 million embedded devices and M2M connections by 2014. Last year, there were approximately 75 million embedded devices with cellular communication capability, but that's expected to triple to more than 2.2 billion by 2014. Along with this exponential growth, the number of M2M devices capable of 4G wireless communications is expected to grow from just 40,000 this year to 12.6 million in 2015.

Embedded Management Challenges
As the importance of embedded devices grows, so will the market, and along with it the need for effective remote device management solutions. Embedded devices need to be managed just like other IT assets, however, traditional enterprise IT management solutions are frequently not equipped to handle the challenges posed by embedded devices. This is because 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, or eliminate, the occurrence of downtime.

Uptime is essential for embedded devices; this makes shutting them down for routine maintenance out of the question. 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.

Implementation and Features
Since uptime is so important for embedded devices, and the devices may be hundreds of miles apart, monitoring and management features that help maintain uptime are extremely valuable. Below are the essential features and capabilities on how to remotely manage embedded devices.

Ability to Access the Device Remotely
Since it is not enough to just see what's happening within an embedded device, support staff also needs the ability to fix a problem. With remote access, administrators can perform troubleshooting without having to actually touch the device. Remote access minimizes downtime because it provides the centralized tools for faster problem resolution.

Two-Way Communication That Is Secure and Automated
Remote device management solutions with two-way communication are able to receive status reports, allowing them to utilize data and diagnostic information from embedded systems and then administer security updates, software patches and other changes. Two-way communication is a quintessential feature for proactive management because it alerts administrators to performance issues before actual problems occur.

Top-Level Security
Remote device management solutions are not only substitutes for building security safeguards into embedded devices, but should also 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.

Health Information from the Device
With device health updates, organizations can lengthen uptime by reducing the lag time between when a problem occurs and when it is discovered. Remote device management solutions automatically alert administrators when error messages are detected or when devices go offline, enabling issues to be identified and resolved quickly. The management system should also 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.

Support for Multiple Platforms
Remote management solutions can add even more value by supporting various types of devices and 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. 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 increase, 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.

More Stories By Mark Gentile

Mark Gentile is founder, president and CEO of Odyssey Software Inc, a pioneer in the mobile enterprise software market. He has led the design, development, and implementation of mobile enterprise solutions for many Fortune 500 companies across North America. Odyssey Software is the creator of Athena, the industry's premier enterprise-class mobile and embedded device management product for today’s most popular device platforms including the Windows Embedded CE operating system.

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