The evolution of safe, secure and real-time remote monitoring technology is happening now. Australian Mining editor Daniel Hall speaks to Netgear Australian and New Zealand Managing Director Ryan Parker about the latest in remote monitoring technology.
Hall: How has remote monitoring technology changed within the last five to ten years?
Parker: It is now much easier for users to gain remote access to their networks. Ten years ago companies were still using banks of dial-up internet modems.
Remote users would have to dial-in to specific modems to get network access, and know the configuration parameters and other technical details of the connection before they could do so. Needless to say the process was slow and confusing.
The Internet gave rise to technology like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which has revolutionised the way users connect back to the office from almost any remote site.
Mine workers in the field need to know relatively little about the technical details of the connection from their lap
tops back to the office network.
Devices at both ends (the laptop and the main network) are configured to communicate with the VPN device, which establishes the secure link automatically.
Despite their added simplicity, VPNs had their own challenges, because from time to time configuration settings on remote laptops or the VPN device would change, and IT personnel would still need to spend hours reconfiguring and troubleshooting remote device.
The most recent evolution in remote access technology is Secure Socket Layer (SSL), the same technology that most banks use to provide users with secure online access to bank accounts. SSL works over a standard web
browser, and the front-end requires little more than a user password to establish a secure link into the main network (or bank system in this example), so only the authorised user can view the information.
Today, remote access technology providers can provide branch office-to-branch office security, and SSL solutions
that enable people on the road to use any web browser to securely log onto their network.
Hall: What trends in the industry have led to the development of this technology?
Parker: The main driver for developing this technology is enabling access to information in real time from anywhere in the world.
Information drives the global economy, and the Internet has become the de-facto global medium for sharing information.
SSL technology allows us to use the simple front-end of the public web to give remote workers highly secure and flexible access to the information they need on private company networks.
Hall: How can users ensure that connections are safe?
Parker: It is an old adage, but the weakest link in network security is always the person using it.
SSL puts the onus of security on highly trained IT managers who manage their users’ name and password system for their network.
Since this is the only ‘door’ into the network, inexperienced or non-technical users needn’t have any access to it.
The reality is that if IT managers do not have strict policies in place that dictate user names and passwords that are being used to access the network, then this becomes the weakest link in the security system.
The weakest link is always going to be the people that make it work, because the technology, when used as intended, is proven to be secure to the highest possible standards.
Hall: What are the key challenges in improving remote operations capability?
Parker: The most important step is to engage with organisations that are specialists in network security and understand a user’s requirements from an infrastructure point of view so they can advise on applying the appropriate security level for the company.
Also, while the specialists will need to make sure that the system itself is secure, it is equally important that the
users — who are not specialists — can easily work with and configure their own systems to make the process as simple as possible.
When a security system gets in the way of productivity, it becomes a liability to the company, and is likely to be
compromised or, even worse, left unused.
Users should ensure that they are working with organisations that are specialists in deploying the technology and communicating its advantages to average users.
Hall: What steps are taken to integrate the technology?
Parker: Solutions providers can either engage with one of its reseller partners — or if the mine has a preferred partner for providing IT, then the company will work with them to scope out the products required to build the security solution.
Generally speaking, there is lot of infrastructure already invested in these operations, solution providers need to
examine what is on site already and then work to make sure it is as secure as possible.
SSL technology is primarily reliant on Internet access, so operations that already have Internet accessibility, whether in underground or open cut environments, will be able to use the technology.
Hall: What key messages would you have for mine managers and operators looking to engage with remote
Parker: Users should look for standards-based technology, find an integration partner that understands their business and the needs of their staff and how they work, and make sure that the solution they choose meets the company’s business requirements and is not something that will be a burden to staff.
Networking products are standards-based and use best-of-breed technologies that are deployed in the enterprise space.
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