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What do I need to consider when going with federation?

Last month, we looked at the concept of federation within the world of security.

April 6, 2011  By  Rob Colman

Federation is essentially defined as the consolidation of remote and independent security systems into a single large virtual system. Your customers are then able to monitor and run reports on all their remote access control and video systems centrally, as if they were all part of the same system. Federation can be useful for campus-style, multi-site or multi-national organizations, as well as within a retail environment or for city-wide surveillance. Once your customers decide to adopt this type of architecture for their security infrastructure, the next question is what to look for in a solution.

In this second article, we will explore some of the key elements of a solution supporting federation that may affect your recommendation. These key elements can include whether the solution is client-based versus server-based, scalable, has a built-in failover mechanism; whether it is easy to configure, has the supported operator functionality; and finally whether it can unify access control and video.

A key question you need to ask is how the federation works underneath the hood. What you need to be aware of is that some solutions offer a “universal” or “global” client that can connect to several remote sites, which we can refer to as a client-based federation. Alternatively, there are other more powerful solutions that offer an actual server that connects to and manages the communications with remote systems under surveillance, which we can refer to as a server-based federation.

The difference here is that a server-based federation, unlike a client-based federation, reduces the load on the operator’s workstation. For very large federations consisting of dozens or hundreds of remote video or access control systems, this is crucial as the server handles the entire load while the operator’s workstation is simply used for monitoring or reporting. An additional benefit of a server-based approach is that one or more separate servers can be dedicated to supporting the federation, thereby allowing your system to scale quite handily. If you opt for a client-based federation and you add video viewing to the mix, the workstation resources may potentially be consumed quite rapidly and the degraded performance can impact your client’s overall experience and efficiency.


When using a federation to monitor their remote cameras or their access controlled doors, especially if they are monitoring centrally to reduce their operating costs, the survivability of the federation becomes a critical element for end users. If monitoring is fully centralized, end users will need their systems to be up and running at all times. So requiring that the federated system support some type of failover mechanism should be a key requirement, be it a hot standby solution or a cold standby solution.

If the security environment includes video, access control, and intrusion detection, among other systems, then take the time to find out if the solution you recommend supports a federation of all of the above. Typically, a video solution only supports remote video systems. Same goes for access control systems. As such, if your customers have already opted for a unified access and video solution, they will need at least as much from a federation. Otherwise, operators will have to monitor separate security systems depending on the application.

Unification of video and access control within the federation is a powerful tool as access control events or alarms in remote sites can be verified with video. Same holds true with intrusion events; video verification can save customers money as security personnel or local authorities are not dispatched unless there has been some type of visual validation of an alarm.

Setting up and configuring the federation can be a daunting task, especially if you are looking at hundreds of remote sites and thousands of cameras and doors. A solution with a high level of automation can speed things alone. Some of the more powerful systems will allow you to enter the address of the remote system and the login information, and automatically import all remote entities into the federation. You should always be on the lookout for this type of functionality.

Lastly, you will need to understand what functionalities are supported as this will also greatly influence your recommendation. Typical questions include: Can I view live and archived video or live video only? Can I control remote doors or simply view events? Can I view alarms from all my remote sites? Does the federation support both video and access control within the same design or is it one or the other? Can I add cardholders centrally and synchronize them to remote sites, and vice versa? Can I run video and/or access control searches across hundreds or thousands of sites?

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