New England Product Group Blog

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Building Security Systems Continuous Uptime

Moviegoers know the danger of a tiny interruption in a building security system. In Oceans 11—and other fictional heists—just a brief flicker on the security center’s video monitor tells the audience that thieves have infiltrated the system to execute their nefarious plan.

In reality, today’s building security is more sophisticated. Large central security systems collect data from devices located across facilities: video, access control, temperature alerts, and building management data. Software analyzes metadata to recognize faces, detect noise or temperature anomalies, and warn of unusual data patterns. The security system can even control elevators, fire doors, and building egress in real time.

So system uptime is more important than ever. Imagine if White House security systems were down when one of the recent fence-jumpers breached the grounds. A mere minute or two would be enough to create havoc, perhaps tragedy. For similar reasons, utilities, communications, and other infrastructure operations are now regulated by Homeland Security or other governmental interests.

In a recent webinar for Security Today and Security Magazine, with over 100 mostly security vendor registrants, we asked about their need for uptime. 80-100% of their customer projects require high availability for their security systems.

There are several ways to achieve high availability. The majority rely on redundancy. If one server fails, a second takes its place. In older redundant architectures, this happens by activating a physical or virtual standby server, then recreating the previous environment and resuming operations. Unfortunately, this method relies on a failure to trigger recovery; hence uptime is always lost. And because of the complexity of the setup, IT staff must regularly audit and update the failover process to ensure that it will continue to work when needed.

Newer, simpler solutions build redundancy “under the hood.” These systems are designed so that the system, storage, and application act like a single machine. But inside, everything is replicated seamlessly: CPU, memory, network interfaces, and so on. Now if any element fails, other components are already functioning live to continue operation without pause or panic.

There are two great virtues of the this approach. First, the design retains its utter simplicity: Windows, applications, network, and devices treat the system as a single standard server. This reduces IT intervention during system updates. Second, because the virtual servers can reside on any Intel-based commodity server, you can create and expand using cost-efficient components.

For building security system integrators, this level of uptime brings a tangible advantage to customers. Panic calls due to component failure are eliminated. A new tier of availability can be offered. Service contracts are fulfilled more efficiently for customer and provider alike. And ultimately customers are more satisfied with the high reliability of the system.

In real life, as in the movies, continuous uptime of building security is essential to both building security system providers and customers.

Originally published in the June 2017 issue of Eureka Design Engineering Magazine