Upgrading and Updating Access Control Systems

Every access system eventually needs a little technology pick-me-up. Here are some tips on how to handle your next improvement.


Upgrading a working access control system, while on the surface a somewhat mediocre task, has many hidden traps that can spoil your day. It is to a very slight degree like open heart surgery. Once you start the operation, there is no going back, so you’d better have a good game plan.

The first step is to have a clear understanding of what is installed and working. If you have been there for some time, this task should not be too challenging. If you are new, you had better get writing, because there is a lot of work to do.

  1. Make a detailed inventory of what is installed at your facility.
  2. Speak to the IT staff and make sure you understand what their policies are in respect to upgrades and updates. These things change.
  3. Advise IT of what you are contemplating. They can be your strongest ally in getting things done in a timely manner.
  4. Speak to your security vendor to see which of your as-builts are up to date and which aren’t.
  5. Note the other systems that are connected to the access control system (video, intercom, etc.).
  6. Find out from your security vendor what updates are current, who has used them (references) and how much they cost.

These steps will help you determine whether you need an upgrade or an update, and how extensive your changes should be.

If you plan simply to bring the current access control system up to date, it may be as simple as installing a new Service Pack on Windows. Updates are usually benign changes—low cost and low risk—and they are very often covered by the vendor’s or system integrator’s maintenance agreement.

Upgrading, on the other hand, takes an existing access control system to the next level. This could include replacement of the PC, field controller, readers or cards. An upgrade could be initiated by a variety of factors, such as PC failure, access control equipment reaching the end of its life, the absence of available spares, new security requirements or a merger with another company. The cost and risk of an upgrade depends on the extent of the work involved.

Once you’ve analyzed your situation and come to understand your needs, you can begin to plan your system improvements.

Keeping Software Current
Jay Vaitkus, product and market manager for Stanley Security Solutions, said that one of the most important aspects of an access control PC is that in most cases it runs on a Windows™ operating system. That means if it’s connected to a LAN, the security system PC can receive all the viruses and other attacks to which Windows-based systems are subject. Viruses are the biggest concern, and the system needs to be fully tested for them. The following should be considered the minimum protection:

  • •Virus protection should run all the time and be checked daily. McAffee, Norton and Trend Micro are all good brands.
  • Check regularly to see if any DLL files have been corrupted, since these files are used by the access control software and damage to them could impede system performance.
  • Windows updates should be installed weekly, or more frequently if required, to keep the operating system current.
  • Full software operating system upgrades should be implemented twice a year to keep the system in peak running order, but check with your security vendor first to see if the latest operating system update is supported by the factory.

Avoiding Obsolescence
Some security companies, like Brivo Systems, offer their customers the opportunity to avoid dealing with software or computer upgrades. Brivo operates an ASP-based remote hosted system, where the entire computer aspect of the system is remote. They can connect to the field panels via dial-up, DSL, T1, or cellular wireless connection. Data can be accessed through a secure Web account using a standard browser. The big selling point for this service, according to Christie Walters, director of business development for Brivo Systems, “is the elimination of technology obsolescence, as Brivo users are not dependant on updates or upgrades.”

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