Remotely Manage Hardware with Embedded Technology

Organizations must be cautious to ensure they can manage their embedded devices as their population grows.

By Mark Gentile

Embedded technology is used every day. Bluetooth’s connect to a car’s communication system and mobile phone for hands-free driving. At a local supermarket, items are scanned by the price checkers, and DVDs are rented from a kiosk at the store exit..

Millions of transactions occur every day because of embedded systems, which exist nearly everywhere, from utility meters and appliances at home to gas pumps and kiosks around town. Embedded systems are a part of machine-to-machine (M2M) interfaces such as processing controllers, sensors, and robotics/automation equipment.

Although not always visible due to their behind-the-scenes role, embedded devices are becoming pervasive. By 2014, there will be more than 400 million embedded devices and M2M connections. In 2009 there were approximately 75 million active embedded devices with cellular communication capability, 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 the importance of embedded devices growing, demand for effective remote device management solutions is growing.

Reducing Downtime

Software that resides on embedded devices must protect data, safeguard customer information, and meet enterprise standards for network, device, and data security while minimizing downtime.

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 locations that are far from the physical reach of those responsible for support and service.

Remote management systems should be used in conjunction with embedded devices whenever and wherever such devices are used.

Features and Capabilities

Because maintaining uptime with these machines is critical, monitoring and management features are of immense value. Successful remote management of embedded devices depends on many features.

Remote access: Simply being able to see what’s happening within an embedded device isn’t enough; support staff must be able to act upon it. Remote access allows administrators to troubleshoot, removing the need for physical contact with the device. Remote access minimizes downtime by providing the centralized tools for faster problem resolution.

Multi-platform support: Remote management solutions can add greater value by supporting more types of devices, and complementing and integrating with 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 smartphones, handheld computers, kiosks, and industrial controls. As organizations are forced to manage increasingly large and diverse populations of embedded, mobile, and wireless devices, the value of leveraging will grow significantly. In addition, planning ahead by specifying management solutions that are capable of supporting heterogeneous environments can help prevent administrators from using separate management solutions for each type of device they must support.

Secure and automated, two-way communication: Remote device management solutions with two-way communication can obtain status reports, utilization data and diagnostic information as well as provision security updates, software patches, and other alterations from embedded systems. To ensure proactive management, two-way communication can alert administrators of performance issues prior to the occurrence of the problem.

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, to secure data, and to provide authentication for communication and data transfer. Device management solutions can amplify these protections by enabling administrators to remotely lock down devices, selectively wipe data, block communications and data transfer, and otherwise disable the device.

Device health information: By utilizing device health information, organizations can minimize the lag time between when a problem occurs and when it is discovered. 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 also collects, stores, and reports 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.

Summary

Embedded devices surround us, their capabilities are flourishing at a rapid rate, and the installed base is projected to expand into tens of billions. The possibilities are endless, but organizations must be cautious 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 there are embedded devices, remote management capabilities must be embedded with them effectively allowing systems to be maintained reliably, efficiently, and securely.

Mark Gentile is founder, president, and CEO of Odyssey Software Inc. and 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, an enterprise-class mobile and embedded device management product for today’s most popular device platforms, including the Windows Embedded CE operating system. You can contact the author at mgentile@odysseysoftware.com