The topic of central station redundancy and its significance is always a popular subject. This is especially so in the wake of Hurricane Irene's wrath along the East Coast.
I spearheaded one of the original, if not the first, redundant and nationwide wholesale central stations in the mid-1990s. It was at a time when we had no real historic information or precedence in which to compare our vision for the capabilities of the facility.
Looking back now, I realize we did a really good job of accomplishing all of our goals, especially when considering the limited technology that was available in comparison to today.
Well enough on my past; I want to discuss what central station redundancy means and why it's essential to take a hard look at the details when considering redundancy.
Defining What Is True Redundancy
As we all know a central station is the composition of three major elements: human resources (the operators), computer automation (monitoring software and computers) and telecommunications (telephone lines and other communications). It is my belief that when a central station claims to have redundancy, the redundancy must take into consideration each of these three major elements.
Let's begin with what may be considered the central station redundancy "premium." This would be a structure large enough and with enough subscriber scale to maintain two or more hot redundant central stations in various parts of the country.
Maintaining the facilities in different time zones also lends some additional value to this proposition. The central stations would be built and structured with identical systems (although the sizes could vary). Most importantly, the automation and telecommunications for each monitoring center would be structured so that the redundant network would work off the same systems and be self-sensing and self-healing.
What I mean by this is that at any given time if the systems or communications are in trouble or are in failure, the traffic would automatically be redirected to the backup systems or telecommunications path in an alternative location. This should be seamless and would still allow the operators to process from any of the locations. This ultimate structure offers redundancy on a variety of the levels mentioned. In a worst-case scenario, such as during a hurricane or earthquake, signal processing and operator interaction is redirected without the loss of any signals.
In other cases where complete redundancy is not structured, some central stations configure offsite redundancy of essential servers and sometimes backup central station receivers. Although this does not offer all the redundancy of complete backup, it does allow for the preservation of data and sometimes processing.
This structure may not allow for offsite operators, although it should allow for remote operators to process from a remote location. This structure is beneficial when the main central station loses telephone service or some other local catastrophe. Some automation developers are starting to offer their central station clients this option. Certain developers have assembled catastrophe, backup and network operation centers for their clients to utilize in the event when monitoring operations are compromised.
This is a valuable service for central stations that otherwise can't justify constructing their own backup center or redundant operation because they may not be large enough to absorb the financial commitment.
Keep in mind while UL does require internal redundancy, offsite redundancy is not mandatory to maintain a UL Listing. It is important that you ask specific questions regarding your central station redundancy capabilities. Most central stations that offer true redundancy are proud to explain the specifics of what they offer. Not only are these specifics imperative to monitoring operators, they are also important to subscribers. This should be a part of your presentation when you are marketing and selling security systems to your clients.
Peter Giacalone is President of Giacalone Associates, an independent security consulting firm.