IP Technology and Security: Addressing the Challenges and Reaping the Benefits
By Stuart Fuller
May 22, 2013
There is little question that the future of access control and CCTV has its roots firmly implanted in IP technology. The advantages of networked security are manifold with flexibility, cost savings and ease of installation taking the podium as top benefits. But the second two of these three benefits have a conditional clause: they are dependent on the system being installed on an existing network.
Integrating IP access control and CCTV into an existing network will of course curtail costs with dramatically less cabling and reduced installation time. But this is where many discussions will come to a halt with the IT department. Because unless a network has been specifically built with the intention of bolting on security applications, and let’s face it, in smaller businesses and operations this will rarely be the case, IT will be nervous of system challenges arising.
But there are huge benefits to be had with IP access control and IP CCTV. So how can network challenges be addressed, are they in fact bona fide issues, and are there alternatives?
The Benefits of IP Networked Security Systems
Let’s talk about the benefits first. Networked security systems offer central control over multiple sites. Typically the system runs from a controlling PC on the network which is loaded with personnel details and individual permissions of various levels. This PC can be located anywhere and is totally portable, so complete flexibility is offered.
Unmanned sites can be remotely monitored and controlled via a valid network connection. Data transmission speeds are enhanced so updates from the control equipment are received far more efficiently. Wireless networks provide greater latitude for freedom of control and reporting so for example in case of a fire alert, a tablet device can be used to conduct a roll call.
Integration, Flexibility & Choice
There’s great scope for integrating a host of security applications too. Intruder alarms, surveillance systems and fire alarms can run on the same network. Barriers and gates are at the disposal of hands free technology and there’s a choice of different types of keypads, readers and biometric entry systems. Control as many access points as you wish, set unique permissions for thousands or even tens of thousands of staff members and keep on top of who’s in and who’s out with attendance reporting.
IP CCTV can run on Power over Ethernet (PoE): another great cost saving and boost to flexibility, eliminating the need for power supplies at each camera and maintaining continuity in the event of a power outage. IP cameras have come on in leaps and bounds when it comes to quality of images and are now industry leaders. Three plus megapixel cameras allow for greater image clarity and high definition zooming into specified zones. Multiple images can be viewed in an array of formats from any device: PC, tablet or smartphone.
Images and video are converted to data and transmitted to a central location for recording, viewing and storing. Only one system is needed to record on multiple sites which means larger systems are far more easily managed. And for smaller systems, simplicity reigns: take one camera, connect it to a network and view via any web browser. Extensions are equally simple, non-disruptive and quick to install.
So what could possibly put IT off such a cost effective, flexible system? Well in reality, there are a few practical issues that they’ll be quick to query when presented with the suggestion of adding IP security applications to an existing network.
The added drain on bandwidth will cause concern for the IT department who will fear everything being brought to a standstill. And of course it’s them who’ll get the flack. But in practice, IP access control doesn’t actually put too much strain on a network due to its alphanumeric data format. And whilst a bandwidth consumption spike can be expected during morning check-in, lunchtime and going home time, in reality the workforce won’t be heavily reliant on the network at this time because quite simply, they won’t be at their workstations. Furthermore, unless real time updates are required, it is possible to relay information from readers to the control unit in batches, or schedule data to be sent during periods of low network usage.
A security system reliant on a fully functioning network may prove a concern for some. What happens when the network goes down? But the truth is, many IP access control systems can still function during network outage because they are built around ‘distributed intelligence’. This means that as well as data (personnel details, permissions, etc.) being stored in the central database, it’s also stored locally in the controllers. So if the network is offline, the system can still function using this locally stored information, with activity details being sent to the main control database once the network connection is back up and running. It is this distributed intelligence that allows scheduled data transfers between the control unit and the readers, for example during premises shut down, so as to reduce the impact on the network.
As we’ve mentioned, networks generally won’t have been built with the intention of adding security applications to them. In practice, it can be difficult to assess the capabilities and capacity of a network, and of course every network is uniquely customised and configured, so there can be no hard and fast rules. There is a murmur that there is a lack of information from the product manufacturers, and that better training in installation and integration would be beneficial. So consulting with a security expert who has made it their business to understand the intricacies involved in networked security integration will prove advantageous as will, we firmly believe, working together as a team with IT, facilities or in-house security personnel, plus an external security consultant with specific expertise in IP technology, all involved in planning and implementation. As long as everyone involved understands the requirements and the benefits, it should be a smooth ride.
The Alternative: a Dedicated Security Network
There is an alternative to integrating IP security applications into an existing network, and that is to use a dedicated network. This way, different types of network traffic would not need to compete for resources. There are some who champion the use of dedicated security networks. Jack Fernandes, President and CEO of American Fibertek, believes that the security industry has “unique needs”, saying: “The security mission requires fail-safe systems that operate dependably over long periods of time, as well as those that are ready to respond when needed. Security systems also must be scalable, flexible and able to adapt to a company’s changing protection needs, and should not have to compete for network resources with the growing number of other applications and users on the enterprise network.” *
The benefits of IP access control, CCTV and other networked security systems depend on the unique needs of an organisation. But we believe most businesses can make the most of this technology, providing all the details are fully considered and everyone involved in the set up and operation work together. Considerations will include whether an existing network can support the additional bandwidth requirements or whether a dedicated network needs to be installed, and if there are any security requirements, such as a virtual LAN. At Barry Bros Security, we organise an initial consultation involving network administrators, the IT department, facilities or security managers to work out the best course of action and ensure that everyone fully understands every aspect of the installation.
The use of IP technology based security is becoming more commonplace, as manufacturers continue to make improvements. And with increasing cloud based systems, the need for installed software and therefore costly software upgrades is becoming a thing of the past. Cloud based systems will always deliver the most up to date version of any application. We believe that IP based security will continue developing, and will soon completely replace the traditional wired systems.