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Seamless Multi-Site Integration

by Benchmark

Over the years, multiple-site integrated solutions have become something of a buzzword. In demos, at roadshows and exhibitions, and during site visits, manufacturers love nothing more than showing a degree of control over a site on the other side of the world! Emerging technologies now make such integration a simpler task.

The very existence of intelligent integrated systems should, in theory, make the job of creating a seamless solution a lot simpler, but the definition of exactly what integration means changes all the time as new technologies emerge. However, with new advancements comes the need to learn; adapting to a software-biased model and exploiting potential interoperability has pushed multi-site integration up the agenda, but what are the major benefits it can offer?

The options for integration can be endless, so it’s hardly feasible for installers and integrators, or even the end users, to be aware of every single option open to them. It is therefore wise to consider integrated offerings on a case-by-case basis, working towards achieving a set of goals set out by the customer. Whilst individuals will inevitably have their preferred suppliers, the moment integration is approached in a formulaic way, there is a possibility that opportunities will be missed.

A comprehensive, open platform system is typically at the core of a flexible, scalable (and therefore future-proof) integrated system, and should be able to interoperate with third-party devices. There are two main options here.

The first is to look for a standalone open protocol control system, which will then require bespoke code via SDKs to integrate with a wide range of options. Such an approach might, on the surface, seem to offer more potential, but the use of a wide range of third party elements increases the chance of problems with compatibility and future upgrades.

The second approach is to seek out a solution which provides the majority of the required functionality, which can then be supplemented by other devices which the manufacturer has tested. This is less of a case of sourcing all devices required independently, and more one of selecting from those products that the core system manufacturer can guarantee will interoperate. Additional functionality can then be added using options like macros or additional compatible modules.

In reality, both options work well, and both have benefits. Much will naturally depend on the needs of the specific application. One thing that both will inevitably require is a software-based control element.

Defined control

Within the security industry, integration has evolved as available technologies and their applications have developed. As a result, the term ‘integration’ is often used to describe various different applications and systems.

Traditionally, integration referred to the process of creating hardware-to-hardware solutions, such as hardwired outputs from one system being integrated to inputs of another. As technology has developed, software level integration has come to the fore. Open standards such as ONVIF, PSIA, Bacnet and others have enabled the creation of truly integrated systems. Additionally, networked technology has removed the geographical barriers that burdened hardware-based integrations of the past.

Today, end users have an expectation that their systems can control and manage one another. One example of how this can be achieved is evident from the rise of PSIM systems. These solutions act as the overriding control system. The core software does not replace any of the traditional systems, but brings them all together into a single GUI, independent of the technologies used or the location of the solutions!

Once in place, PSIM software effectively brings the diverse elements together, in effect creating a unified singular entity that can manage numerous technologies, irregardless of the protocols used of the specific location of elements of the total solution.

Focus on flexibility

In regard to multi-site integration, it is important that manufacturers of solutions take steps to introduce as much flexibility as possible into their systems, allowing a degree of performance continuity on sites with widely divergent infrastructures.

Historically, integration brought together separate systems, such as access control and video. The result was typically an access control system that displayed some video, or a video system that could switch access control devices. Rather than being truly integrated, the systems used separate configurations and separate control elements, delivering little consistency between the two technologies. This inevitably resulted in inefficiencies, which the end user had to bear the brunt of.

Unified platforms can alleviate these issues, improving the efficiency of a system, and providing a higher level of security. A unified platform goes beyond the sharing of certain control elements.

With a unified security platform, a single user interface is utilised to configure and monitor the entire system, as opposed to several user applications. The same database is used to store the configuration and to log video, access control events and alarm incidents.

Basically, a unified user interface connected to a single platform not only monitors the entire security infrastructure but also allows users to configure and manage it, no matter whether it is one large campus, or several distributed sites. To the system – and to the operator – it remains a single entity, no matter how many actual sites it spans.

Does size matter?

It’s a common misconception that integration of multiple sites is only cost effective or practical when deployed in large applications. Many of the features and benefits of an integrated system are very attractive propositions to purchasers of small- to medium-sized solutions.

The key to a good integrated product is scalability. Integration solutions scale from simple single controller-based applications with 16 intruder zones and 2 doors through to thousands of intruder zones, 250 plus access controlled doors, multiple keypads and extensive third party integration just by adding additional door and zone expansion modules.

Expansion and additions are very cost effective. Networking of multiple panels can help achieve larger, campus style integrations. A scalable solution offers cost savings and resource rationalisation to both the installer and the end user.

All the elements can then be presented and controlled from a single and simple desktop application. The flexible system architecture means that adding an extra door or device is extremely easy and cost effective.

In summary

The key to successful integration is simple: seek out solutions that are both flexible and scalable. Most will use a software-based control GUI, and will be networked to exploit a wide range of potential transmission options. It is also vital that this technology is not limited to use on large campus-type applications. To think about integrated solutions in a restricted way is to actually restrict the possible benefits it can deliver!

Integration has never been more flexible; it would be foolhardy to miss out on the potential offerings!

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