By Rick Anderson
Most large US-based financial institutions claim they upgrade their Automated Teller Machines (ATM) about once a month with important security patches and other ATM software bug fixes. This is good news, as the Windows Operating System has a large number of security patches each month which really must be installed to keep these “cash vaults” safe and secure. Still, many of these companies are stuck in the stone-age when it comes to the methods used to upgrade these assets. For example, some reported sending a technician out to visit each ATM and do a complete system reload by feeding multiple operating system and then multiple ATM software DVDs into the machine. Besides the cost of the truck roll, this process takes lots of time (the ATM is unusable during this process) and it’s prone to operator error and mistakes.
The good news for the ATM industry is that other industries have already figured out new technologies which can improve the process. Conservative verticals like the oil and gas industry, and even the now rapidly changing automotive industry have or are moving up the food chain and deploying much better solutions. These new solutions have been proven over the years and really should be considered. Here are some for consideration.
- Some financial institutions and ATM manufactures are already deploying full image-based solution. With these, instead of feeding DVDs, the new software is provided as one or more files that are essentially copied over to the hard disk drive (HDD). This can be from DVD or USB thumb stick. The advantage of this approach is that it is much faster than an install program reading from a DVD and figuring out which files to copy over one at a time.
- Full image-based solutions do suffer from one big disadvantage – the typical ATM image is giga-bytes in size. To overcome this, let’s review a solution that has been deployed in the mobile phone industry for over a decade now – differential images. These updates only modify the parts of the original image which have changed instead of the entire image. The resulting images are much smaller, so they can be downloaded faster and copied to the HDD more quickly. There are multiple third-party solutions available here including Wind River’s Edge Sync technology. While this was developed for the auto industry, it’s finding good use in other industries as well and is considered an end-to-end lifecycle management solution.
- For those who continue to send technicians directly to the ATMs, there are many firmware over the air (FOTA) solutions available today. With these, software is sent via telephony, cellular, Wi-Fi or Ethernet to the device, unpacked, sanity checked and then installed autonomously. This saves significant cost and can reduce human mistakes. Many of today’s advanced orchestration solutions have FOTA Support. Reference the Wind River Titanium Cloud as an example platform.
- As we look to the future, it’s important to realize that the bandwidth of the various pipes that lead to ATMs continues to grow. In 2020, 5G technology will yield 50x faster connectivity, 10x improvement in latency, less power consumption and overall improved system capacity. This will increase the speed at which FOTA downloads get to the ATM, as well as upload of ATM measurements, logs and diagnostics.
- Another way to speed-up ATM software upgrades is to deploy physical HDD storage partitioning (creating multiple partitions) or to create multiple virtual machines on the drive. While these come at the cost of potentially doubling HDD storage, they would allow new software to be loaded in the background and side-by-side with old software, and then the two images are quickly swapped. Depending on the exact hardware/software architecture being used, ATM downtime can be limited to literally seconds instead of minutes or hours.
- HDD failures were noted as a troublesome area for ATM providers. There are three potential solutions here. First, ATM could easily be equipped with two duplicate hard drives with failover software. If one drive goes down, the second immediately takes over. Second, today’s Solid State Drives (SSDs) are faster, more durable and longer lasting then HDDs, as they have no moving parts and can withstand drops, shock, extreme temperature, magnetic fields and other attacks better than HDDs. Finally, there are software packages available which can detect when an HDD is starting to go bad and alert personnel that it should be changed out. These can be predictive maintenance software or other edge-based artificial intelligence software solutions.
None of these ideas are necessarily new to the computer industry and the ATM industry should take notice. While there might be additional hardware and software cost, the benefit might well be worth the investment.