1% downtime is too high for compliance: The benefits of continuous availability in access control

One reason for significant growth over recent years in the deployment of enterprise-level access control systems is that advances in technology have delivered benefits over and above access control itself. As a result, in addition to security managers being responsible for the security of people, property and assets, a number of other stakeholders are often now involved in the decision to justify and fund installation of an access control system. These could include, but are not limited to, health and safety, operations and HR management.

Compliance Compliance is a word often on the lips of these stakeholders. Failure to comply with government regulations or local laws could have serious consequences for organisations with a duty of care to the general public. An inspector s visit to a food processing plant, for example, could prove costly and may even result in temporary closure unless it can be verified that everyone working at the plant has undertaken appropriate training and has a valid hygiene certification. The same smart access control cards which facilitate staff access through a building entrance can also be configured through integration of various systems to produce a report of all those whose hygiene certificates are due for renewal. Even a well-designed and maintained system is still vulnerable to downtime as server manufacturers cannot provide a 100% guarantee that there won t be a component failure at some point The weak link In this and many other scenarios, the hardware and software elements of an access control system need to function effectively 24/7/365. The weak link will most likely be the server that various software applications are operating on. Unfortunately, even a well-designed and maintained system is still vulnerable to downtime as server manufacturers cannot provide a 100% guarantee that there won t be a component failure at some point. And we shouldn t forget the potential impact of a cyber-attack on associated software applications too. Knowing your options Data backups and restores : Having basic backup, data-replication and failover procedures in place is perhaps the most basic approach to server availability.

This will help speed restoration of an application and help preserve data following a server failure. However, if backups are only occurring daily, significant data can still be lost. At best, this approach delivers approximately 99% availability. That sounds pretty good, but consider that it equates to an average of 87.5 hours of downtime per year, or more than 90 minutes of unplanned downtime per week. High availability (HA): HA includes both hardware-based and software-based approaches to reducing downtime. HA clusters are systems combining two or more servers running with an identical configuration, using software to keep application data synchronised on all servers. When one fails, another server in the cluster takes over, ideally with little or no disruption. However, HA clusters can be complex to deploy and manage, and you need to license software on all cluster servers, increasing costs. HA software, on the other hand, is designed to detect evolving problems proactively and prevent downtime.

It uses predictive analytics to automatically identify, report and handle faults before they cause an outage. The continuous monitoring this software offers is an advantage over the cluster approach, which only responds after a failure has occurred. Moreover, as a software-based solution, it runs on low-cost commodity hardware. HA generally provides between 99.9% and 99.99% uptime. On average, this means from 52 minutes to 4.5 hours of downtime per year significantly better than basic backup strategies. Maximum uptime Continuous availability solutions can deliver 99.999% uptime equivalent to just five minutes of downtime per year. Supported by specialist continuous availability software, two servers are linked and continuously synchronised via a virtualisation platform that pairs protected virtual machines to create a single operating environment. If one physical machine fails, the application or software platform will continue to run on the other physical machine without interruptions. In-progress alarms and access control events, as well as data in memory and cache, are preserved.

Continuous availability means that no single point of failure can stop a security software platform from running. And unlike high availability, back-up and clustering solutions, there is no failover or reboot required and therefore minimal downtime. In a business environment where non-compliance can have serious consequences, adding a continuous availability solution to support an existing or new access control system would seem to be one of the easiest decisions to make.


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