Access Control Goes Online

Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Michael Fickes

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Access control used to be so much trouble. You had to install all those intelligent boards — one for every eight or 12 readers — plus cables from the readers to the boards and then from the boards to the security station.

Nowadays, access control increasingly is going online, a development that promises to transform the technology by simplifying installations, easing integration challenges, improving flexibility and reducing costs.

Nowadays, access control increasingly is going online, a development that promises to transform the technology by simplifying installations, easing integration challenges, improving flexibility and reducing costs.

“IP-based access control leverages the investment in the IT infrastructure much more than traditional architectures,” says Thomas Heiser, vice president, market strategies for HID Global, Irvine, Calif. “Because of this, it is now being included in the planning of new sites. This is an important indicator that access control is not being viewed as a separate system, but a more integral part of the enterprise environment.”

HID Global, a unit of Stockholm-based ASSA ABLOY AB, is among the early access control companies to weigh in with network-compatible devices. The company announced its Edge family of Internet Protocol- (IP) based access control devices in March 2007.

The heart of the Edge concept — and other similar products — is an access control reader that connects directly to an IT network with a single Cat-5 cable. The system eliminates the expensive, bulky intelligent controller that conventional systems require to be installed in equipment closets. Instead, the controller is housed inside the reader — one reader, one controller. And performance is not compromised: The Edge controller can store up to 44,000 credentials supplied by the host system.

By making access control decisions at the door instead of in an equipment closet, Edge readers eliminate the possibility of taking eight or more doors off-line if the intelligent controller wired to those doors were to go down for some reason.

Also, the one-reader-one-controller concept eliminates the need to buy more intelligent board capacity than is needed. (In the case of intelligent boards that support eight readers, for example, two panels would be needed to cover nine doors.)

Power is also more convenient in the new wave of IP access control devices from a number of manufacturers. Generally, network access control equipment draws power through Cat-5 Internet cable connections through a feature dubbed PoE or Power-over-Ethernet. The Edge PoE system runs everything at the door: the reader, strike, status monitor and intrusion sensors. The point: IP access control devices do not require separate power supplies.

The Edge system includes an OPIN application programming interface (API). Developed by HID, it is an open architecture interface that enables Edge devices to work with virtually any host software in virtually any custom configuration. The API will also adapt to work with most new host software applications that will come online in the future.

For companies with a couple of doors and no host software application, Edge has a Solo option, in which a user can manage individual doors by visiting their Internet addresses with a browser. HID's specifications say that this option can manage up to 500 cardholders and two to three doors.

The basic HID Edge reader functions at any interior door. For doors leading out of the building — perimeter doors — IT managers warn against using a basic edge reader, which would require a network connection on the outside of the facility. HID's solution to this problem is EdgePlus, a full-featured reader designed to sit outside a facility and to communicate with the basic Edge reader on the secure inside of the door.

Finally, for companies that want to install Edge systems in new facilities, the HID system can convert legacy systems at existing doors with readers connected to intelligent controllers. The procedure involves converting existing control boards to VertX processors, which will enable the board to connect to the network. The processors feature HID's OPIN API, making it possible to manage all access control devices, in old and new facilities, with a single host application.

Outsourcing access control over the network

IP access control opens a number of new possibilities. By connecting access control devices to the company network, for instance, a user can push access control data through the network and onto the Internet. An advantage of doing so is that it would allow one to subscribe to online access control systems instead of buying a system.

For instance, Bethesda, Md.-based Brivo Systems LLC offers access control services over the Web. “We run the applications at our data center,” says Steven Van Till, Brivo's president and CEO. “You don't have to pay for the electricity or hire the IT staff to manage the system.”

You do have to buy and install IP readers, continues Van Till. What is different is that Brivo runs the applications at their data center. Security officers can enroll employees, assign permissions and monitor the system by pointing an Internet browser at Brivo.

There are a number of advantages. When the access control software needs updating, for example, Brivo handles it. When something happens, the system alerts the security director by e-mail, over a browser, by telephone or through a combination of communication technologies. It is analogous to online alarm monitoring services like ADT, which, in fact resells Brivo's online services.

More than one way to hop on the network

A handful of companies have introduced IP-based access control systems, but not all follow the HID Edge model.

ISONAS Security Systems Inc. in Boulder, Colo., makes IP-enabled readers with built in controller technology. But unlike HID, however, the ISONAS system comes bundled with a Crystal Matrix access control software application. In contrast, HID uses an API to integrate its readers with software produced by others.

ISONAS readers can integrate with other software systems, too. ISONAS recently announced an agreement with Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc. “They are integrating their P2000 enterprise security system at the device level,” says Charles E. Crenshaw, CEO of ISONAS. “They are going right to our reader controller and not using our access control system.”

“But the important contrast that I would emphasize is not so much the difference between IP access control products, but rather the difference between IP access control systems and intelligent panel systems.”

In other words, the big news about IP access control is the elimination of intelligent boards and associated costs for cabling and labor as well as the operational convenience of being able to manage doors, readers and cards from any computer connected to the Internet.

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