The Infrastructure Backbone

Even with the ongoing buzz surrounding the migration to IP-based network systems, most organizations are still operating security and access control systems on analog technology or are in the process of transferring to an IP-based system. In many enterprises, security and access control departments have been separate entities for so long that some security professionals find it a challenge to move from an analog-based system to an IP-based one that integrates with multiple departments and systems within an organization. Network administrators also struggle to find ways to deal with yet another system on their network. Controversies arise over which department has control and jurisdiction over the system—IT or security? Who manages and maintains the system? Which system is given highest priority?

Systems integrators and dealers must educate the end-users on how their system interacts with other systems on the network. They must also identify internal and external stakeholders and connect them with the decision makers in security and IT departments, all while helping end-users balance cost and future-proofing. Identifying these elements and pushing them to work together can provide the end-user with a security system that will truly meet their immediate and future needs.

Evaluate the end-users technology readiness level

Part of communicating the big picture to end-users is helping them evaluate their organizational readiness level for new security technology. Organizations that are ready for the latest technology understand the role an infrastructure system plays in the support of today's security technology. This is especially critical for enterprises that want to implement mobile technology to manage their security system.

In the past few years, network systems became more complex and organizations had to adjust their perception of the function and capabilities of their infrastructure to keep pace. If not properly designed and installed, an end-user's infrastructure can cause widespread disruptions affecting the daily operations of an organization. End-users who view their infrastructure system as a legitimate building system will provide the resources necessary to support the infrastructure. For instance, has the organization created proper pathways and allocated ample space to house the infrastructure system? Are the cables capable of handling a growing amount of data transfers? Without these resources, all systems on the network will be impaired, including the security system.

Once end-users understand how the security system operates on the network, it is important to examine how the system interacts and affects other systems on the same network. This is critical because security and access control systems are not the only technologies utilizing the network infrastructure. In today's buildings, nearly all systems—from ventilation, lighting, power systems, fire systems to communication and data technologies—depend on a single network infrastructure. Although the building systems operate independently, the overall impact of each system on the network is significant. For instance, predicting network bandwidth can be tricky without in-depth knowledge of each system running on the network. Bandwidth measures are based on burst traffic, which is defined as a continuous transfer of data without interruption from one device to another, not average daily use, which is significantly less. Even though the network may be able to handle bursts in data transmission, the system is not designed to support such high levels of data transmission on a regular basis. If video and data from the security department consistently push these limits, the IT department will likely see this as a threat to the network and may discontinue their access to the network.

Identify the stakeholders

Due to the shift toward whole-building automation, security systems are no longer built in isolation. With multiple building systems operating on a single network, systems integrators and dealers must fulfill the role of consultant and liaison for security professionals to connect them with other stakeholders and departments within an organization, especially the IT department. Without a direct connection to the IT department, the security department remains isolated and its technology roadmap may never align with the overall organizational technology roadmap.

The IT department serves as the central hub for all systems on the network and it is critical that all areas of an enterprise respect and communicate their goals to this central department. By identifying and connecting internal stakeholders, IT executives can clarify which department has control and jurisdiction over what system from the very beginning of every project. This means the security department must work with the IT department, HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning), communications and all stakeholders who interact with the system's network. Through this collaborative approach, systems integrators, dealers and end-users become aware of what other systems are running on a network, as well as the capacity and capabilities of the network, prior to any installation. In turn, all other departments are also aware of the functions and limitations of the network, which prevents network bottlenecks.

In addition to facilitating communication between internal stakeholders, systems integrators and dealers can also help end-users save time and money by bringing external contractors into the conversation early. Without this early communication, each contractor will work independently on a small section within a larger project without realizing how other areas of the project might be affected. Pieces of the project might be put in place that will later have to be changed, which can cost the end-user down the road. For instance, if the electrical engineer does not size pathways with an eye on future growth, it may affect the end-user's ability to add services in the future.

As with all other building systems, it is critical all codes and regulations are strictly followed. A security professional who is unfamiliar with the standards and codes of the cabling industry should work closely with a cabling expert to ensure that all national and local requirements are met. A cavalier approach to codes and regulations could result in an unwanted disruption in business if a fire marshal or other regulator deems the building unsafe.

Balancing cost and future-proofing

As more demand is put on infrastructure systems due to high-bandwidth data transfers and convergence trends, the need for more bandwidth and higher download speeds is inevitable. We can also anticipate that mobile access for security systems and high-definition video will continue to increase the demand on infrastructure systems as well. When planning an infrastructure system to support security and access control and other systems on the network, help the end-user plan for the future without overspending on technology that may become obsolete. Technology changes so rapidly that it is impossible to predict an organization's needs 15 or 20 years down the road, but it is possible to meet immediate needs while incorporating three-to-five years of growth. The key to future-proofing is building a flexible infrastructure system instead of using rip-and-replace methodology.

The good news for end-users is all structured cabling manufactures must comply with cabling standards from Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek Group (ETL) and the National Electrical Code (NEC), as well as the design and engineering standards of the EIA/TIA Commercial Building Wiring Standards, which means organizations are free to choose any brand of cable and components as long as they meet the industry standards. Unfortunately, due to aggressive marketing techniques, many organizations continue to be bound by a narrow, internal company standard that restricts purchases to one specific brand. Your end-user's IT department may have a designated "standard" for a specific high-cost brand of cable when another brand of cable of the same quality that meets the same standards may cost significantly less. Instead of brand comparisons, end-users should evaluate cabling products based on features and performance.

End-to-end solutions, which are systems developed using only components made by a specific manufacturer, have also been heavily promoted as superior to "open systems," which operate using products from multiple vendors. However, manufacturers develop cabling technologies to be used in interoperable, open systems. The TIA's Commercial Building Wiring Standard (TIA-568) was established to encourage interoperability by allowing diverse manufacturers the opportunity to build equipment and components that will interoperate. An interoperable system can go a long way in helping your end-user save money. In addition to installing open infrastructure systems, end-users can also cut costs by buying infrastructure cabling directly from the manufacturers, instead of going through the traditional supply chain, which follows a multi-tiered distribution channel with various levels of markups.

Installing high performance cables instead of standard cables is another way to help end-users create a flexible system while balancing cost and future-proofing. Lower performing cabling has been shown to cost significantly more over the entire life cycle of the product than high performance cabling. In addition, high performance cabling has a longer lifespan than standard performance cabling, which means fewer standard performance cables will be abandoned in the future. Abandoned cables not only mean excessive waste, but if left in conduits, they block airflow, resulting in increased cooling costs.

Fiber optic cables, which transmit larger amounts of data at higher speeds over greater distances using fewer cables, provide yet another option to help end-users balance the increasing need for speed and high-volume data transfer with the cost of technology. Fiber optic cables also help reduce power consumption, which in turn can lower overall energy costs.

There are many elements of an end-users system infrastructure that must be examined before they adapt to the latest technology or make any additions to their current network. Dealers and systems integrators can work with the end-user and educate them on the best infrastructure design for their business, based on their capabilities and requirements now and into the future.

Writer bio:

John Persuitte, a Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) since 2006, is a project manager at Automated Systems Design (ASD), Alpharetta, Ga. Persuitte has more than 15 years of experience in the telecommunications industry and is currently in charge of managing all project aspects from design and consultation to construction and completion at ASD.

Pull quotes

The key to future-proofing is building a flexible infrastructure system instead of using rip-and-replace methodology.

Instead of brand comparisons, end-users should evaluate cabling products based on features and performance.

Due to the shift toward whole-building automation, security systems are no longer built in isolation.