Access Control Goes Online

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

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Another IP access control question involves available network connection points. Think about a 100,000-square-foot discount store built 15 years ago. Such a store might have a dozen doors that need protecting at night. The store's network connects the cash registers and back office computers to the chain's network. But 15 years ago, no one thought it was important to run Cat-5 wire out to the doors. “Running cable from the wiring closet in the middle of the administrative area to a single door can cost thousands of dollars in labor, switches and other devices,” says Ray Shilling, vice president of sales and marketing with Mountain View, Calif.-based AvaLAN Wireless, which makes wireless connectivity products.

AvaLAN's wireless devices cost about $300. They can be wired to an IP access control reader at a door and can make a wireless connection to the in-house network, thus saving thousands of dollars in parts and labor.

Unified access control and video surveillance

If IP configurations reduce the cost of access control, while making it easier to manage, think what IP access control and IP video might do together.

“We have been integrating our video surveillance products with various access control products for years,” says Ed Thompson, chief technology officer with DVTel Inc. in Ridgefield Park, N.J. “These integrations work well, but there are challenges. Technology companies are always putting out updates, for instance. We do it. Our partners do it. And we don't talk to each other about it. When we have integrated our system and an access control system, one or another update — from either company — can upset the integration.”

Recently, DVTel introduced what it calls a unified system, a term that Thompson defines as something different than the integration of video and access control products from different companies. Instead of two unlike systems linked by some kind of middleware, DVTel's unified video and access control systems share infrastructures and auto-configure.

DVTel's unified product is called the intelligent Security Operations Center (iSOC) V5. It includes IP access control, network video management and video analytics designed to open standards. A single intuitive graphical user interface reaches across the network — or the Internet for that matter — to manage all of the system's functions: access control, video, alarm and trend analysis.

The network connection not only makes operations more effective, it also smoothes out maintenance. “With IP, you have good troubleshooting ability,” Thompson says. “You can update databases and make software revisions much more easily. In the old days, you have to physically go to each wiring closet and replace a chip. Today, if an IP reader manufacturer comes out with a new card format, we can update the panels over the network.”

Additional functionality is clearly in the future of IP technology as it relates to access control. “I think future generations of IP-based access control will incorporate more capabilities when it comes to sharing data over the network,” says Heiser of HID Global. “Historically, access controllers communicated to a single host application using proprietary protocols and messaging schemas. I think incorporation of standards-based messaging will allow access control hardware to share data with other non-access control applications on a real-time basis, allowing for more levels of integration with other enterprise systems than we have seen in the past.”

Adding value to the corporation

“We have been excited about IP access control and have been expecting a fairly rapid uptake,” says Brivo's Van Till. “IP equipment is only just starting to get UL approvals. A lot of installers won't touch a product until it is UL-approved.”

In other words, IP security is an available but largely untapped cost reduction resource for security managers. “The security department in conjunction with the IT department can cut costs by re-using the corporate infrastructure,” says John Moss, president of Framingham, Mass.-based S2 Security, which makes IP-based systems that integrate access control, alarm monitoring, video surveillance and temperature monitoring. “And by moving to third-generation network technology, they can drive down the total cost of ownership for security systems.”

In the IT world, first-generation network technology were host-based systems that included software installed in a computer, like the old Wang word processing systems. Software House, a company founded by Moss and now owned by Tyco, delivered its first generation C-Cure 1 Plus access control software to customers already installed in a minicomputer.

Second-generation network systems are widely used today. Think of your corporate network. Chances are, you have software installed in your desktop or laptop, with data stored on a network server. When a new version of software comes out, the IT department shows up at your office door and installs the upgrade.

Around 2000, IT managers began to rethink that system, Moss says. It took too much time to install software upgrades in every computer across a large corporation. The industry developed a new approach that replaced the installation of software in all desktops and laptops with Web browsers. In this kind of system, a user points a browser at a server where the software is installed and uses the application through the browser.

“This requires a different kind of programming on the part of developers, but the payoff is that it is a lot easier and less costly to manage,” Moss continues. “To upgrade software or to add an application, all I have to do is upgrade or add to the server.”

Tomorrow's security department, along with every other department in a corporation, will likely be using third-generation network technology. Security directors will use browsers to manage access control and video systems through applications installed on servers in another room, building, city, state or country. They will receive alarms by e-mail, VOIP-based voicemail, instant messaging systems and other communications technologies enabled by networks. All told, the systems will last longer and cost less to maintain than today's systems. Information will flow more efficiently to those with a need to know.

Anyone getting pressure to add something of value to the corporation, putting access control, video, alarms and other security systems on the network might be worth exploring.

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