The Rugged device world to many people is viewed as difficult, awkward and a pain to manage. But the truth is that its relatively easy once you understand the mission critical nature of their use. When speaking to many clients about Rugged devices the number 1 requirement I hear is ‘control’, this im sure is surprising to many as most would have gone for security. Why ‘control’? Well like I said many Rugged devices are used in mission critical scenarios where 100% uptime is the goal and any device downtime can have a big impact. Imagine a delivery company that can’t deliver parcels, or a retailer that can’t scan barcodes in store. There have been many studies into the ROI and value of using a true Rugged device versus a more consumer grade device (with a Rugged case or skin), so I will leave that topic there. But in this blog I wanted to focus on the OS layer of Rugged devices, coupled with application deployment as these are the 2 big areas where control can be lost and risks to a business start to emerge.
Android is a fast evolving OS with a new major release every 12 months, this is very different to the days of the past with Windows Mobile and CE where the OS rarely changed over the entire lifecycle of the device. Along with the yearly major releases, monthly security patches are also created addressing any vulnerabilities discovered. Any change to the OS of a Rugged device comes with a level of risk but using VMWare Workspace One (WS1) we can start to reduce these risks to ensure successful upgrades which don’t impact these mission critical devices.
There are 2 main ways an OS upgrade happens, one is Over The Air (OTA) and very simply this is the device manufacture or carrier pushing down an upgrade from their central server to the devices, this is the common approach you see on consumer devices today. However, in the Rugged space we want to be far more controlled in our approach. Luckily OEMs like Zebra and Honeywell offer an alternative approach which is to use WS1 to deploy an upgrade to the device. This gives us the control we are looking for, we now have a solution which enables the administrator to test an upgrade to the OS in a silo without affecting live production devices. Testing application compatibility with a new OS version is a key way to ensure no issues or downtime happen to these mission critical devices.
Once successful testing has happened, and the administrator is satisfied there is no impact to the applications we can look at the next key area which is how to deploy this to the production devices. Timing is everything here, some devices are in use 24hours a day, some devices might have a 2hour window of a shift change, its important to evaluate what time an upgrade will have the least amount of disruption. With WS1 this change window can be scheduled in advanced making the administrators job much easier. There are also many other ‘Conditions’ we can monitor to ensure upgrades are successful such as battery level or even putting on-screen prompts to ensure a device is not in use.
One increasing challenge I am seeing is with network bandwidth. OS upgrades can be substantial in size, a TC51 upgrade from Nougat to Oreo is around 1Gb. Now think of a retailer with 100 devices in a store, that could be 100Gb of data to be download from the cloud. That kind of load will put a huge strain on most network infrastructure and could have a serious impact on other store operations. Thankfully WS1 has an answer for this with our relay technology. Simply put, they act as a local distribution node that can distribute the upgrade over the local WLAN. With this model, the 1Gb OS update would download just once from the WS1 Console to the relay server giving a massive reduction in the total downloaded size and number of device connections to the cloud. This model also greatly improves both the speed and reliability of the upgrade.
With all these challenges you need to have a platform that can handle this. I have created a video which talks through how quick and easy the OS Upgrade gets setup and configured in the WS1 console, the video shows a lifeguard OS upgrade on a Zebra TC51.
Hopefully this blog has provided you some insight into OS upgrades on Rugged devices and why this control is needed within a Mission Critical use case all powered by VMWare Workspace One.
shaun KnightFebruary 18, 2020
Hi, this is really useful. Although this method doesn’t seem to work when rolling back the firmware . Are there other requirements when doing a downgrade ?
HenchmanMay 7, 2021
Nice post! Your blog is informative for everyone. Henchman has been using rugged Durabook tablets on the Electronic Tool Control Cabinet of the HenchmanTRAK series ever since the first prototype was released.