Network monitoring up to the challenge

Central stations dig deep into IT space

The concept of networking continues to evolve at every turn, especially within the realm of integrated systems. With everything moving to the network or browser-based, the space is changing up and down the channel and especially for those offering central station monitoring services.

As data moves virtual, the security of the network and communications remain paramount. Signals have to get through in a reliable and timely fashion—and the information that’s sent must be intact and secured against threats from viruses or hackers. Redundancy, backup servers and power, firewalls, password protection and updated software are critical to network monitoring.

“These systems that ride on the network—it’s all becoming one bigger system,” said Cliff Dice, president and CEO of DICE Corp., Bay City, Mich. “We’re in transition but eventually everything will go from hardwired to wireless networks,” he said.

DICE Corp., which provides automation, accounting, service, alarm dispatch and other turnkey central monitoring station software solutions to some of the industry’s most well-known and successful alarm companies and central stations, also offers disaster recovery services at its 25,000-square-foot central monitoring center in Bay City. DICE is also an Application Service Provider (ASP), offering remote hosting of all its software products, including asset tracking. This service allows central station owners to run their business without a costly overhead infrastructure and IT staff. As an ASP, DICE manages and distributes software-based services and solutions to clients across a wide area network (WAN) or Virtual Private Network (VPN) from the central data center.

“Every single client central station is a satellite office,” said Dice. “All the data from our clients come to us every night and we back up two million accounts. Alarms span more than signaling today. Even alarm technicians carry wireless Web-enabled products and applications and those have to be backed up. The networks are all talking and that includes the wireless.”

Having IT personnel on staff has become the rule rather than the exception. SentryNet, based in Pensacola, Fla., offers IP monitoring and has two UL FM Disaster Ready Hot Redundant Central Monitoring Stations.

“We have Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA®) IT personnel on staff to work on the network and manage the Internet for us,” said Michael Joseph, vice president of Operations for SentryNet. “We have IT managers, technicians and staff in both our central stations,” he added. CCNA technicians are versed on both networking as well as mitigating security threats.
SentryNet also offers the Web-based NetConnect 3.0, a secure and encrypted site, to its dealer customers, which allows them to access their customer data via any Internet browser. SentryNet plans to roll out new features to NetConnect which will allow alarm dealer’s customers access to some of their account data, with safeguards, passwords and other levels of security in place.

Balancing act for security

“With security on the network the challenge is maintaining a balance between allowing access and monitoring the security of the network,” Joseph continued. “How much do we open the firewalls for new technology and how much does that expose us?’”

Achieving and maintaining the balance between openness and security gets trickier every day. Morgan Hertel, director of Central Station Operations for Mace CSSS in Anaheim, Calif., said systems integrators are counting on their monitoring facilities to provide secure communications.

“I can tell you from my experience that most dealers are ill-equipped to understand most of the issues with regards to safeguarding networks and look to us and other vendors for help and guidance,” Hertel said. “Gone are the days when a central station can do without a very competent IT staff.”

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