The Truth About Lockups

The digital electronics in routers, modems and networking devices used by power companies inevitably lock up and must be reset manually – not always an easy task, especially in situations and locations that are not easily accessible. More importantly is how these lock ups effect our world.

What is a Lock Up?
A lock up describes the all too familiar condition when an electronic device is no longer remotely accessible and can’t be revived without human or machine intervention. No matter which term is used – locking, latching, freezing – the end result is the same; a device that is no longer functioning in its normal operating manner. This natural phenomenon happens to every digital electronic device – including computers, cell phones, switches, routers, modems, gateways, PDAs, etc. Despite extensive research by universities, governments, and major Fortune 100 companies no reasonable solution has been developed to protect commercial grade electronics entirely from lockups.

What are the consequences if a network device of a utility company locks up? It means down times, resulting in loss of valuable information, remote control and automation due to lost communications. Lock ups affect SCADA, substations, RTU’s, data collection, voltage monitoring, towers (light beacon monitoring), AMI/AMR and any mission critical remote monitoring.
The fact that network devices lock up is undisputed and today, we are more dependent on digital technology than ever before. Over the past several years, advances in digital technology have impacted our lives in almost every aspect – from cell phones to iPods, from smart phones to modems, cameras and switches. All of these devices today contain microprocessors, software, memory, communication and voltage regulation hardware – in other words, they are all susceptible to lockups.

Regardless of the cause, lock ups are not preventable in network devices. As we have experienced, the only solution is to turn the device off (draining all charges), wait for a controlled amount of time and then turn it back on. While this sounds easy, manually doing so can prove to be extremely costly and time consuming.

Solutions: The Software Watchdog
To combat more elementary failures, many manufacturers include a software or internal hardware watchdog in their digital security cameras. In theory, the watchdog will restart the network device if there is a problem. However, an internal watchdog can’t reset itself once the network device is locked up because in most instances the watchdog is part of the digital electronics itself, which is frozen.

Solutions: Key Fobs
Key fobs work like garage door openers. There is a receiver that must be installed in the camera and the user has a key fob remote. While they are inexpensive and easy to use, there are also several drawbacks. To reboot a network device, someone has to drive to the site and press a button from not more than 45 feet away. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing that the network device is back online without additional monitoring equipment on-site. Also, similar to garage door openers, the signal may be stolen and then used to turn off the camera.  The Fob also requires additional maintenance as it has both an internal battery and requires an addition RF transmitter and receiver that is also susceptible to failure.

Solutions: An Independent External Watchdog
A better solution is to have an independent and isolated control device that automatically cuts power to the camera, waits a pre-calculated time, and then restores power – returning the affected device to working order. The device should be physically isolated from the original’s internal electronics, so that it is not susceptible to the same fate as internal watchdogs in the event of an internal lockup.

That was the inspiration for VideogeniX products. Because iPulse and uSwitch are a separate entity from the microprocessor, it can reset devices that cannot be restarted by an internal device, which may itself be frozen.
Economical and cost effective, iPulse and uSwitch monitors the device’s communication, and through its “Patented” algorithms, recognizes when a lockup occurs. it connects directly to the device’s power source and sends power to the network device through a switchable cable – allowing it to continue to receive power while restarting the network device. In the event that the monitoring software fails or is not installed properly, there is an optional automatic reset time frame built in as a fail-safe measure. At a pre-selected interval, iPulse can also perform an automatic restart every 12 hours, 24 hours, 2 weeks – or whatever time frame is most appropriate for the application.

iPulse and uSwitch have been successfully proven in the communications and automation sectors. Several major utility companies have already been using the technology as a preventative and proactive solution.

The benefits are enormous. By being able to immediately reboot the network devices, iPulse eliminates the need for human intervention that has affected security integration companies, smart grid applications, cellular companies, M2M, law enforcement and municipalities.

While no one can completely prevent common lockup phenomena from occurring, it’s encouraging to know that there is a solution that will not compromise communications. With such an easy solution, it is time to make sure that all network devices stay connected.