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remote.it keeps Span users connected to their renewable energy source

Jun 02, 2021

Summary

Span (www.span.io) develops smart electrical panels to enable rapid adoption of renewable energy and to deliver an intuitive user interface for the home. The Span panels were developed by a group of engineers to replace the traditional, outdated electrical panel to become the center for connected power in residential homes. Span smart electrical panels are installed in consumer’s homes located in California, Hawaii, and a growing number of US  locations that are hundreds or thousands of miles from a Span office. The company needed a secure solution to monitor and access their installed panels that did not require a physical visit, and that would work over any kind of internet connection – especially cellular and wifi. Span selected remote.it to securely access and manage their smart electrical panels remotely without a physical visit.

Customer Challenge

Span’s smart panels might be installed anywhere, making them physically remote from Span’s San Francisco headquarters and with an unpredictable network environment ranging from home WiFi and ethernet to cellular connections. If one of Span’s smart electrical panels had a technical problem, it could cause a disruption to home energy supply and a Span technician could be hours or days away from a physical visit. In addition, since a panel would likely be in a consumer’s home, Span did not wish to expose customers to the security risks of open communication ports usually required for remote access. Span needed a secure remote access solution that would enable them to quickly access their smart panels for maintenance and troubleshooting that wouldn’t compromise customer security.

remote.it Solution Overview

Span selected remote.it to enable remote login, checking or debugging of logs and service of their panels, ensuring continuous smooth operation and connection to the power grid. remote.it gives Span administrators the secure private access they need to employ remote access tools such as Secure Shell (SSH), without open ports or public IP addresses that are vulnerable to attacks by hackers. In addition, with remote.it, Span administrators can monitor and manage remote devices installed in consumer’s homes, and can run scripts to update entire groups of devices quickly.

Stephen Lewchuck, Principal Software Engineer at Span, found remote.it to be a great solution for both scale-up and ongoing benefits: “remote.it has definitely saved us money. We have avoided needing to do local visits to customer sites and the factory to fix issues. On one occasion, we managed to kill the SSH daemon on a test panel, and we were able to use remote.it scripts to work instead, saving us a trip to physically restart the machine.”

remote.it Solution Benefits at a Glance

  • Efficient: Enables secure remote access and management of remote devices and resources
  • Flexible: Works over WiFi, ethernet and cellular networks, maximizing deployments
  • Secure: Doesn’t require a public IP address or open ports

Solution Deep Dive

Span selected remote.it before they had installed any of their new smart electrical panels outside of their factory. Span’s engineers understood that remote.it would enable private connections to Span panels using SSH that could not be detected and exploited by hackers, and that remote.it would work out of the box when installed on a Linux machine. They knew they could just install the remote.it package, use the CLI (command line interface), follow the prompts, and it would work.

“I’m generally not interested in desktop apps, so the fact that remote.it offers a mobile Android app where I can be less tethered to my laptop and manage our devices was very appealing,” said Stephen Lewchuk, Principal Software Engineer. “remote.it’s ability to connect remotely from our devices regardless of location or connectivity option was key to us selecting it to manage our deployed panels to ensure uninterrupted access to energy grids.”

Electrical panels are critical to any home’s infrastructure because they connect homes to the electricity that consumers rely on. Over the years, electrical panels haven’t evolved significantly and have become antiquated. Now they can be much more capable as smart devices. Instead of being passive current protection devices, electrical panels can be more of a multiplexer, an input/output controller for energy and data.

Located in San Francisco, Span’s smart electrical panels were created to tap the growing demand for solar and energy storage. Span’s panels are IoT connected devices that have full computing capabilities and are based on Linux. The panels stay connected to the Span Home app and platform over cellular networks, home WiFi or ethernet depending on what connectivity is available where they are installed. Since these panels connect homes to the power grid, they are considered to be part of their critical infrastructure. 

Since Span’s smart panels go into consumer’s homes, they can’t have open or forwarded ports that would expose the panels to any unauthorized access. The panels can be installed anywhere in the world, so they could be just a few miles to thousands of miles away from the Span team. remote.it enables Span to respond instantly and access the smart electronic panel to provide service immediately, removing the delay associated with deploying a physical technician.

Currently, Span uses remote.it in the following ways:

  1. To provide emergency access to panels in the field and for debugging when a customer reports an issue.
  2. To access lab-based panels as the Span team works remotely during the pandemic.
  3. To remotely access Span panels in the factory for updates, troubleshooting, and maintenance.

Span uses a variety of ways to access remote.it on a daily basis, including the remote.it web portal, the remote.it desktop application, and the remote.it mobile app. remote.it has been a powerful tool for monitoring the remote daemon software installed on the smart panels. remote.it also helps Span identify whether a Span panel is truly offline or if the system is experiencing a connection or service issue. 

Span also uses remote.it to enable remote work in their factories. Engineers regularly use remote.it to remotely access electrical panels as they are being set up in the factory, and to conduct development on new designs.

Adapting to a changing way of working

When the Covid pandemic lock-down went into effect, many companies were forced to work in a new way and Span was no different. In the same way that Span has devices distributed all over the United States, it now had a distributed workforce working in various locations. With that came the challenge of managing their developer’s access to their AWS infrastructure.

“We use remote.it every day for development since we’re all remote and we can’t all have Span panels in our homes, and we feel secure having remote.it to access customer panels when we need to access specific panel data for analysis,” said Josh Mustill, Energy Optimization Analyst. “We are dedicated to ensuring that our team can provide consumers with the continuous connectivity they need to manage their home energy. remote.it lets us support our customers regardless of where they are located from anywhere we work.”

remote.it greatly simplified the process of granting access to the AWS services needed by specific developers.  Span.io operates an Amazon VPC with RDA and Elasticsearch services.  With remote.it, Span was able to quickly add and delete users without having to set up individual AWS accounts for each user or on-board new users to a VPN connection.  Instead they can use their Google login.  This is especially important when granting contractors temporary access to their environment.  Overall, the user-based access feature of remote.it was a valuable improvement to productivity during a difficult time. 

Span also makes use of the customizable copy commands in remote.it to specify a full pathname and plug-in to browse Elasticsearch through a Kibana web interface.  Similarly, a pre-configured ‘psql’ command makes it easy to access their database in one click.

Span

Website: https://www.span.io/

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