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Keep your surveillance system healthy

Features related to the everyday operation of a video surveillance or an access control system are an integral part to getting your end user to sign off on a new system.


September 27, 2011
By Rob Colman


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Walk into any security system demo and the vast majority of the time is spent on showcasing the latest video streaming feature or the intuitiveness of cardholder management to name a few. But the story shouldn’t end there. Other features and functionalities related to system health, long-term maintenance, and software upgrades are often times trickier to demonstrate in a user meeting but can become key selling points when talking to your customers. Although not as eye catching, these features will typically drive down the long-term cost of a security system.

Traditionally, an upgrade to a newer version of your customer’s security software involves upgrading both client and server applications. This is because both client and server applications need to be at the same software version to be able to properly communicate. There are systems, however, that support true backward and forward compatibility between applications. In this case, you are only required to upgrade a portion of the system. You could have an older version of the monitoring client connected to a newer version of the host software. This becomes a powerful tool when the security system no longer dictates when and how your customer upgrades their software.

Rather than upgrade the entire system over the course of an evening or weekend, you can opt for a phased upgrade approach and upgrade the various components over a longer period of time and follow your own schedule.

If your customer has a smaller system, an upgrade will not be as complicated. Larger systems or systems spanning geographic areas, however, require careful planning. Your customer may have more than a handful of servers and possibly dozens or hundreds of client applications. Working with a vendor whose product supports components running on different versions can save your client time and money. Flexible software compatibility also gives you the option to upgrade part of a larger system, validate the new software, and then upgrade the rest of the system later — a more prudent approach on the whole compared to a full upgrade. In-service upgrades or the ability to update software components while the rest of the system is running also has many advantages including minimum downtime.
 
Another feature that can have a positive impact on long-term maintenance costs is health monitoring. A security system that is able to monitor the status of its overall health, as well as predict potential problems several days or weeks in advance has many advantages. For one, you or your customer can take corrective action before the system fails or even worse, shuts down. In the case of security software, failure is rarely an option as the consequences can be disastrous. Knowing there is an issue in advance also gives you the opportunity to lessen the impact of a failure. Another benefit is that your customer doesn’t feel like they’re in the dark. Health warnings and events give you an indication of the stability of your system. Taking it one step further, security systems should also be able to automatically take corrective action or at the very least offer some guidance to operators and administrators. Performance indicators and statistics can be easily logged and computed so it is not a stretch to expect more from vendors.
 
Uptime, downtime, mean time between failures (MTBF) are usually terms associated with hardware. It’s about time more software vendors take these terms to heart as well. Beyond the ability to calculate downtimes, security software should also be able to compute real-time statistics on system performance and health. Rather than rely on generic specifications or vendor-supplied performance numbers, health statistics generated by security software are specific to your customer’s system. So your customers get a very good idea of how their system is performing, and how healthy it is. Furthermore, running health statistics reports over time can provide end users with trending data. For example, is the system’s health getting worse over time or is the system downtime getting longer year over year?

Health monitoring along with backward and forward compatibility are just some of the features you could leverage when positioning a new product to a customer. It might be harder to demo but the value proposition is evident to any end user. Of course, software security vendors need to do their part and support these types of advanced features not typically seen in the security industry.

Jimmy Palatsoukas can be reached at jpalatsoukas@genetec.com


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