Next Revolution of IP in Security

Next Revolution of IP in Security

Top three myths of IP-based physical access control technology

Next Revolution of IP in SecurityIt is no exaggeration to say that network video technology has revolutionized the video surveillance market, and the access control industry is on the verge of a similar revolution.

Today, network video solutions offer drastically better image quality, scalability, functionality, intelligence and remote accessibility benefits that cannot be provided by analog video surveillance technology. These IP benefits are very familiar to IT professionals and are common reasons for leveraging the network as the lynchpin for essentially all business applications.

Once again, it is the transition from analog to IP-based, digital systems and the mounting adoption of open standards that will stimulate market growth and provide new access control opportunities for the entire channel—from the hardware and software manufacturers, to the distributor, to the integrator and the endcustomer.

Yet, just like in the early days of IP video, VoIP and the Internet revolution, there are a number of common misconceptions as the physical access control industry transitions its technology from analog to IP. Here are the top three myths about IP-based access control perpetuated today.

Myth #1 - It’s not worth upgrading existing analog systems to IP-based technology.

A typical analog access control system is dependent on having each device—the card reader, handle, door lock, door position switch and so on—hard wired with RS-485 cable into one central unit or central server. On top of this installation method, creating a proprietary system that confines the end-customer to one single provider of hardware and software, these solutions often tend to be very complex and require expert staff to handle installation and configuration.

So, like with IP video systems, integrators and end customers must look at the total cost of ownership over the life of the system which, in addition to the initial investment, should include long-term maintenance and upkeep, as well as future system needs and growth.

When expanding analog access control systems today, the process is complicated. Users must consider that a typical central controller is built to accommodate a certain maximum number of doors, normally four, eight, 16 or 32. These are similar DVR installation increments that currently limit analog CCTV users. Not only does this limitation make the system inflexible, but it also makes it difficult for the end customer to match specific system requirements with available products, such as a need for access control at nine or 17 doors. This lack of flexibility brings high marginal costs that can make the addition of one extra door unjustifiably expensive.

Upgrading an analog access control system to IP-based technology allows for more flexibility while lowering costs as the system needs to be expanded to include additional doors.

Furthermore, IP networks can be used for more than one application. This way, different security systems can use the same infrastructure and can be more easily integrated with each other, similar to how VoIP systems can integrate with larger unified communication platforms. In the physical security world, remote monitoring and management of security systems is often a key requirement. This can be easily implemented with IP-based solutions that feature web-based console access.

Myth #2 - Access control systems are only for large installations.

Analog access control products and systems are normally designed and optimized by manufacturers for large installations with a lot of doors and possibly thousands of credentials, such as cardholders. Unfortunately, the actual market looks very different, with only a small percentage of today’s installations having more than 10 doors.

Chances are that in a smaller access control installation, the system might be managed by the business owner or IT department. The smaller the company, the less likely it is to have a physical security or operations department, so using an intuitive and familiar IP interface while leveraging the business’ existing networking infrastructure will be more manageable.

Additionally, by eliminating the need for hard wiring to a central control unit or central server common in analog installations, IP-based access control systems enable much more flexibility and scalability. This means not only a more versatile solution, but also a more cost efficient one. Freed from the constraints of enlarging the system in certain multiples, a network-based solution can be enlarged by one door and one reader at a time.

Lastly, IP-based technology enables “edge” solutions with one controller for each door. This controller is connected to a local Ethernet port through a regular network switch without the need for a central server for management. Since IP networks now are ubiquitous in offices, stores, factory plants and similar facilities, the cost of adding an IP-based door controller would be minimal, as opposed to multiple serial connections wired back to a central server needed in a traditional installation.

Cabling work can be even further facilitated in these smallto mid-sized systems by employing a PoE-supported controller at each door. The need for a separate power cable is eliminated thereby reducing cabling even further and, in turn, the total installation cost and time compared to that of an analog access control solution.

Myth #3 - Access control systems are proprietary solutions that can’t be integrated with other security systems.

Similar to other markets that have moved to network-based technologies, the shift from analog to IP-based solutions in the access control industry will cause a transition from proprietary systems to open platforms. And, if we follow a similar migration path, these solutions will most likely be based on international industry standards.

Open solutions and standardized interfaces are a prerequisite in any industry that wants to establish its own equivalent of “plug-and-play.” There are many gains from such a development in access control as it will allow end users to freely pick and choose between components—reader, door controller and software— that best satisfy their needs and preferences.

This freedom of choice makes the system future-proof and means the end user no longer has to rely on a single brand or supplier. Equally important, it can enable integration with other security-related systems and third-party applications without the need for costly hardware boxes to provide the “bridge” between the different systems.

For example, a common request is to integrate physical access control with video surveillance. People entering a building will automatically trigger a camera, and then the live images can be used for investigation of incidents or identity control within a building.

In the network security systems market, there is already a clear trend to develop open or standardized application platform interfaces (APIs) that can be used by all competing market participants on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. Naturally, this will increase supply, promote competition and bring a new level of innovation to the industry while simultaneously making it even easier for end users, system integrators, consultants and others to take advantage of the different possibilities offered by IP-based solutions.

For example, the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF), a global and open industry standards body with the goal to facilitate the development and use of IP-based security products, announced in 2010 an extension of the organization’s scope of standardization to cover physical access control. Ideally, access control devices from manufacturers that comply with ONVIF standards will in the near future interoperate effortlessly and seamlessly with each other, as well as with other video surveillance products and other systems conformant with the standard.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Security Today.

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