The Mission Critical Digital Signage Network

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The lack of full remote access has killed or crippled many digital signage networks because of the costs brought on by having to send technical people to installed sites to resolve whatever problems have developed with the media players or screens.

Often, the equipment is located in areas that are accessible only after normal operating hours, and sometimes only by a pair of workers using anything from ladders to hydraulic lifts. Rolling a truck – the oft-used phrase for field service calls – during overtime hours, and then renting equipment such as man-lifts, can send network operating costs through the roof.

The problem is especially troubling because it often takes hours to make the service arrangements, while the actual fix might take minutes or even seconds. Every network operations manager can tell you stories about trying to resolve issues with local managers, and then giving up and going on site – only to discover a PC or screens was unplugged.

The solution is to regard media players, screens and related devices as being unreachable once they’re installed. Do all the work in the planning stages to get the proper software and network tools in place that makes almost any remedy possible without ever sending a service crew on site. Set up properly, trucks should only be rolled on a digital sign project when the equipment needs to be replaced or upgraded.

Many digital signage software platforms now have remote management tools built into their software, and other network operators are using consumer-level remote desktop tools to log in and try to identify and fix problems from a distance. But many of these remote management software applications offered by signage software houses cannot guarantee compatibility between the software functions and hardware platforms.

SUSI To The Rescue

Advantech recognized a consistent problem, and developed something called SUSIAccess to address remote monitoring and troubleshooting challenges. SUSIAccess (short for Secure & Unified Smart Interface) is the natural by-product of remote management software we’ve had since 2004 for embedded systems. The new version enables users to remotely control, configure and manage multiple devices and data, as well as provide system maintenance, backup and recovery. This new solution gives users more control over their devices regardless of the hardware platform specifications.

Airports are a particularly compelling use case for remote access tools. There may be hundreds or even thousands of media playback units in a typical airport providing departure and arrivals information, boarding and destination information at gates, advertising and wayfinding. A lot of what is being pushed to screens is mission-critical, and problems have to be resolved quickly and remotely. Putting ladders up in a busy departures concourse is usually impossible.

With SUSIAccess, when a device starts to falter or fail, the system will send a message so that the operator can remotely diagnose and resolve problems. Each player using SUSIAccess can be tracked individually, and tools allow operators to remotely capture an image of the screen and check if it’s crashed or hung-up, even if the device is inactive and not communicating with the central command server.

Truly robust controls also allow operators to do things like schedule players to turn on and off according to schedules, something increasingly required not only by venue operators and even by power authorities wanting to reduce network loads. The on/off function can be implemented even if the power button on the media player was switched off previously.

Another big distinction with SUSIAccess from some built-in remote management tools is data mining. The software actively detects and saves related data on the server for subsequent evaluation. Backup or recovery can be performed with the help of a utility, and an emergency OS image is stored on an FTP server or in a hidden partition. Getting a player and screen back in action, when things are properly set, can be as simple as clicking the restore button to recover the whole system.

Getting a digital signage project planned and launched is a big task. Often, a lot of the thinking goes into start-up and not enough into long-term management. A lot of time and cost can be conserved by ensuring the network has the tools in place to stay on top of problems in the field, and fix them quickly and with minimal impact on operating budgets.

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Advantech has white papers on remote management. To download copies, click here