Switching to Cleaner Air

BOSTON (05/23/2000) - Since 1992, when 135 countries signed the Rio Accords on environmental issues, nations around the world, including Malaysia, have begun measuring and monitoring air quality. They use sophisticated gas-analyzing devices, sometimes placed in isolated sites spread out over great distances and linked by computer networks.

Advanced Pollution Instrumentation Inc. (API) in San Diego, which designs, builds and installs pollution analysis systems throughout the world, says the ability to access this equipment remotely saves customers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

In order to reliably monitor its network equipment remotely, API has outfitted each of its air-analyzing devices with an RS232-connected modem, as well as a serial code-activated switch (S-CAS) - also called a serial code-operated switch (S-COS)- between modems at the network routers, according to Mark Cogan, API's international sales manager. The switches are manufactured by Reliable Communications Inc. in Angels Camp, California.

"In 1992, most of the countries on the planet, except for the United States, got together at a conference in Rio de Janeiro and promised that they would all respect the environment," says Cogan. "And they promised to monitor the air quality by using standard techniques."

The government of Malaysia in 1995 hired Alam Sekitar Malaysia Sdn. Bhd.

(ASMA), an environmental information and services company in Malaysia, to collect and disseminate air-quality data. ASMA then turned to API to set up a network to monitor the air quality throughout Malaysia - approximately 127,000 square miles.

Cogan says the measurements taken at monitoring stations, which consist of a number of air-analyzing instruments, are used to develop an air-quality index, or model, for the country.

Because a great deal of Malaysia is covered with jungle and is remote from cities, network administrators must routinely communicate with sensors at individual monitoring stations. The administrators diagnose the operating conditions of the stations, download data and perform other remote operations and analyses.

"The S-CAS, or S-COS, code-[activated] switch allows people sitting in Kuala Lumpur, sometimes over 1,000 kilometers [621 miles] from a monitoring station, to be able to address individual monitors within each Malaysian monitoring station and perform routine maintenance without ever having to go into the field," Cogan says.

Jasni Bakhtar, ASMA's information technology manager, says the switches save time and money.

"Our technicians can make a diagnosis remotely [with the switches] and then [know exactly] what spare parts to bring to the monitoring station with them," Bakhtar says. "They save time [and therefore money], because they don't have to go into the field twice."

Bakhtar says the government of Malaysia recently purchased the monitoring stations from API. Although ASMA has technicians who handle any problems that might crop up, the company also has a contract with API for technical support.

Cogan says the serial code-activated switch works whether the network is up or down.

"As long as the administrator can establish some telemetry to a modem at the monitoring station, you can operate all the equipment transparently," Cogan says.

In many places throughout Malaysia and the rest of the world, it's easier to connect the telephone system via a cellular phone and modem than via land-line connections, Cogan says.

The network system looks much like a LAN, Cogan says. It's made up of servers, workstations, a network operating system and a communications link. The network system uses central network software, with the modems serving as the connection points.

David Ellison, customer relations manager at Reliable Communications, says companies can monitor and maintain their networks from anywhere in the world by using the company's code-operated switch.

Ellison offers an example of how the monitoring works: "It's 2:30 a.m. and the network is down in Missouri, so a technician in Wisconsin immediately gets on his computer and remotely scans all console ports to identify the offending device, corrects the problem, and the network is back online. The company saves thousands," he says.

Cogan says remote network support saves money because technicians no longer have to go into the field to address routine maintenance.

In Malaysia, where there's a 50-station network, the savings are huge, Cogan says.

"The spend-to-save ratio is staggering," he says. "It costs about $3.5 million to build a 10-station network. And the savings is about $1 million in field labor [per 10-station network] per year."

According to Cogan, network systems with remote network support like the one in Malaysia are becoming increasingly popular as countries develop economically.

"Generally, environmental concerns and actions take place in growth markets," Cogan says. "When people have taken care of food, clothing and shelter, they begin to turn to legacy issues like water and air quality. But we also see these concerns in areas that experience severe problems, such as New Delhi and Mexico City."

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