Building Management

For Security Systems, 99% Availability May Be No Where Near Good Enough

When you think about the applications that your business needs to be continually available, most likely systems like transaction processing and, these days, even email come to mind. They are indeed critical, but no more so than one you may be overlooking: building security.

Now, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, even if my building security system goes down, it’s not necessarily a problem unless I’m having a security incident at the same time.” And I agree, that’s true. But the question is, can you really afford to take that risk? I would argue that you cannot, for a number of reasons.

First, building security systems are built on servers that collect data from various devices – alarms, cameras, card readers and the like. Should that server go down, you’d be unable to distribute information about a potential security issue, or react to one that may be in progress. Say there’s a fire and you need to override the access control system. If the server’s down, you can’t do it. Suddenly, lives are at risk. It’s not hard to think of other, similar disaster related scenarios.

Second, if your security system goes down, your liability goes up. Think about a power plant that loses control of its access control system, enabling unauthorized individuals to enter the facility. That could put the utility in violation of regulations around safety and security. Or maybe it’s a research facility, where a slight variation in temperature, humidity and such can skew scientific findings. In such cases, the sensors designed to detect such changes may well be intertwined with the security system, and failure could mean the loss of years’ worth of work, not to mention grant dollars.

Most importantly, your security systems need to be working in the case of a disaster, whether natural or man-made. We’ve all seen news stories about catastrophes that damage or destroy buildings and claim lives. To ensure your security system keeps working in such cases, you need a backup system in place in a different location to ensure you have the information you need to minimize the damage.

The next question, then, is how reliable do your security servers have to be? A basic method of backup, data replication and failover procedures provides 99% availability. That translates to more than 90 minutes of unplanned downtime in a standard workweek – not very good.

High availability clusters are another option, where servers are grouped together such that if one fails another can quickly recover for it. That typically gives you about 99.95% availability, or 52 minutes of downtime per year. Better, but not exactly bulletproof.

Continuous availability is a true, always-on solution achieved using specialized solutions that have redundancy built in. They will deliver the ultimate in reliability of 99.999% – or 5 9s, as it’s known. That translates to just 5 1/2 minutes of downtime per year – a risk that most companies can tolerate.

Hopefully you see the point. A solution that delivers 99 percent availability may sound good at first, but when you need security systems to be operating continuously, 99 percent is nowhere near good enough.

For more than 30 years my company, Stratus Technologies, has been building continuously available solutions with high reliability built in to deliver the kind of availability you need in a security system. And now we’re a Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Technology Partner, so you can get a Stratus solution that’s pre-integrated with the security applications and infrastructure you buy from Schneider Electric.


To learn more about the risks behind security system failures, and how to build one that mitigates those risks, download our white paper, “Why the threat of Downtime Should Be Keeping You Up at Night.”

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