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What is a federation of security systems and when should I consider it?

More often than not, security systems will grow as your organization grows.

March 2, 2011  By  Rob Colman

Once upon a time, your video cameras and access control readers were securing a single facility managed by one video system and one access control system. Over time, your organization has evolved and you have added a number of facilities and buildings, hundreds or thousands of employees, and along with it, your security system has grown tremendously. You may have asked yourself whether you should continue to expand your security operations while relying on a single security system or go with a Federation. In the security industry, the term Federation refers to end users setting up independent systems at each and every site and having all these remote sites tie back to a central server, also known as a Federation server, thereby creating one large virtual system from multiple independent systems.
In this first article on Federation, we’ll explore what Federation is, where it fits, and discuss its benefits. Next month, we’ll look at the technical factors to consider when selecting a solution with Federation in mind.

Deploying a Federation has as much to do with the size of the system as it has to do with the application itself and what you are trying to accomplish. In certain scenarios, Federation is the only fit. For example, in city-wide surveillance applications, you may have a number of independent institutions being monitored by a central authority like an emergency operations centre. In other cases, you may have a very large organization that spans over several regions, and although each site is run independently, you still want to be able to generate global reports. Let us take a closer look at both scenarios.

Within a single organization, Federation allows security departments to manage their facilities as independent systems and tie them all back to its headquarters for centralized event and video monitoring. These facilities can be located on the same campus as in the case of a university, or spread across several regions and countries in the case of larger corporations and multi-nationals. As such, each facility will likely have its own security team that is independently managing its security. This scenario is also one that applies to large retailers since they generally have hundreds if not thousands of retail locations or stores spread out geographically.

One clear advantage of the Federation model for security is that the central server is not overloaded as would be the case with a single security system managing all facilities. Simply put, a large part of the burden is pushed to the remote independent sites, while the central server is used exclusively for monitoring and reporting purposes. An additional benefit with Federation is that it allows you to centrally monitor all your sites from a single location as if it were a single system, which could lead to significant savings by not requiring security personnel at each site during off-peak hours, for example. Another benefit is the ability to generate centralized video and access control reports across several buildings and facilities, rather than having to run individual reports for each. Consolidation of information simplifies the investigation process in addition to allowing you to find patterns and generate statistics more effectively.


Another scenario that taps into the power of Federation is that of centrally monitoring multiple independent organizations by a third-party entity such as a central monitoring station. Customers own their own security system which they manage daily, all the while linking it back to a central monitoring station for off-hours monitoring or alarm monitoring. In the case of city-wide video surveillance, various government institutions (public sector) and companies (private sector) may be monitored by an emergency operations center (e.g., 911 centre). The emergency operations center will only tap into the remote sites when an emergency arises, such as in the case of a disaster or a terrorist attack.

The reason why Federation makes sense here is that each remote institution or organization wants full control of their security system and to keep certain cameras private. At the same time, they allow limited access to an emergency operations center to monitor their sites. In the middle of managing a city-wide crisis, having access to cameras around the city can prove very useful.

Now that we’ve seen what a Federation is and some of its associated benefits, join me next time as I provide you with some tips on what to look for when selecting a security system that supports Federation.

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