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Inside the Box: Monitoring heartbeats

When a machine sends a heartbeat, it’s sending a message saying, “Hey I’m online, I’m alive.” Measuring heartbeats can not only tell an operator whether a machine is online or offline, but it can also share if it’s in distress. With software at the endpoint, at regular intervals, usually measured in seconds, a heartbeat signal is sent. It’s like having a heart monitor inside the machine recording and sending heartbeats to signal to the operator how it is doing. Not unlike the human heart, monitoring heartbeats is vital to understanding the overall health of a fleet of kiosks, vending machines or other self-service devices. When a machine is down or slow, it can result in lost sales and negatively impact customer loyalty.

How do you measure heartbeat?

I recently had a chat with Mark Wutka, lead engineer for Canopy our advanced IoT platform for monitoring and managing large networks of devices. Mark is the brains behind Leaf, the software agent that runs “inside the box,” or on the kiosks and vending machines for many of Banyan’s customers. Mark designed Leaf with such sophistication that Leaf acts as a traffic cop or single-point-of-contact for these machines. Since a heartbeat simply indicates that the machine is alive, Leaf can omit the heartbeat if it has recently sent other messages to the server, since those messages also indicate that the machine is functioning. Leaf is listening and learning the machine’s behavior, which allows it to reduce redundancy and operate more efficiently. This becomes incredibly important, especially when operators are managing large networks of devices.

Beyond simply measuring whether the machine is alive, Leaf gathers additional health metrics – CPU, memory, and disk usage, and can also monitor various operating system processes. This refined view is helpful in knowing whether the machine will perform as expected. It may be alive enough to send heartbeats, but sluggish because it has run out of memory. These additional metrics help anticipate problems before they become visible to the customer.

Why does measuring machine heartbeats matter?

Many industries are making the shift from physical to digital, and deploying self-service kiosks to help automate functions and improve customer experience. According to recent reports, the global kiosk market is expanding rapidly and is expected to be $30.8 billion in the next five years. Making a move to automation means having customers interface with technology, and in doing so, it’s important to keep a pulse on all devices — whether it’s a fleet of vending machine serving freshly brewed coffee or a ticketing kiosk allowing customers to get passes to a game or event. If a kiosk is a little sluggish, or worse yet down, it’s a big problem. Imagine if a Barista or ticketing agent came to work ill, or took the day off, employers would want to know. Right? That’s why measuring machine heartbeats matters.

Check back for another Inside the Box update to learn more about Leaf. Next up we’ll go inside the box and learn how Leaf manages talking to remote devices and the basics of Leaf Services.

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More Stories By Steve Latham

Steve Latham, founder, and CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies, is an Internet of Things expert and strategic technology leader. He founded the company in 2013 to impact the world through technology and a deep commitment to social responsibility. He has a strong track record of leveraging cloud-based technologies to optimize and accelerate business strategy and is highly regarded by his peers for his deep industry knowledge in Retail, Entertainment, Healthcare, and Financial Services.

Latham has successfully led architecture, implementation and delivery for one of the largest self-service, retail exchange kiosk systems in the world. Earlier, he served as CTO for the Entertainment division of NCR, where he helped orchestrate a successful divestiture of the business to Redbox for $125M. Prior to NCR, he held various technology leadership positions at Harland Clarke and led the consolidation of their e-commerce platform to a unified product offering for its customers. Latham serves on the board of directors for various businesses and academic institutions providing technical leadership.