One of the first things we ask a client when we’re designing a bespoke system is how it’s going to be maintained. Vulnerabilities can and do arise over time, requirements change, new features need to be added, and often these factors can only be addressed without direct access to the hardware we’re putting together.
At Humboldt Solutions, we have years of experience when it comes to rolling out timely updates on all manner of systems – and the way we do it, as you’ll see here, guarantees a swift response and the absolute minimum downtime.
Building for the future
Many of our clients need bespoke hardware for use in specific locations. Whether they’re data uplinks for media use or control systems for public utilities, they are often installed in secured premises to which staff have limited access. In environments like these, accessing them remotely is usually the only practical means of keeping them up to date.
This has become a more realistic proposition over the last two decades, with the roll-out, first, of reliable dial-up connections, and latterly of near-universal always-on broadband.
But these are far from the only options.
Satellite-connected devices, the best known of which are television set-top boxes, can be set to listen for updates around the clock. Where this isn’t practical, or where a device has no need of a satellite connection, we can instead integrate a wireless data link using a private 3G or 4G network.
Private mobile networks offer a secure alternative to sending data over public services by connecting directly to a company’s in house systems. The two-way connection allows the device in which it’s installed to initiate a call back to base to check for available updates, or for a base station to dial in as soon as a patch is ready.
Predictable, stable platform designs
We can deploy any operating system on the devices we build, but our preferred solution – as implemented in the majority of our hardware – is a custom Linux system running on components that have been chosen specifically for the length of their projected service life and slow, predictable evolution.
By only sourcing components that we know will be supported by their original manufacturers, often for ten years or more, we can be sure that should a system require a repair we’ll be able to source appropriate spares and keep downtime to a minimum.
Further, rolling out a tailored operating system means we can exclude any packages that aren’t required for the task at hand. Not only does this reduce the risk of the system being compromised, and the number of patches that need to be applied over time; it also means that when we next need to intervene we can say with absolute certainty how the new software will work with what’s already running on that system – and on any other devices that connect to it.
Remote upgrades in the real world
We maintain a closed-box satellite uplink service for a UK-based data distributor, which seeds local broadcasters with text files, audio samples and interviews for adding context to the bulletins they put together in-house. The system has been running hands-off for several years, and in the last month we rolled out its first major update in a decade.
This was done remotely, without physical access to either the base station or the reception points, which are white label PC systems located in radio stations around the country. Due to the nature of the business, the updates had to be conducted in such a way that they wouldn’t interrupt any station’s output, which meant timing them to fit between regular transmissions.
By administering the update from a central location, local station staff didn’t need to play any part themselves, while the savings made through not dispatching engineers to work on site greatly reduced the cost of the operation overall.
As far as the listener was concerned – and, in many cases, those who worked with the systems that were being updated – nothing had changed, and although it will likely be many more years before the next major intervention will be required, our clients enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that a quick, off-site fix can be applied should any issues arise.
If you’re planning a new project, or you need to upgrade your existing infrastructure to handle remote patches, call Humboldt Solutions on 01276 415 768, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can simplify your ongoing systems maintenance.