Edge Devices on the Network

The top 10 reasons to ditch proprietary communications


It has been close to two decades since security systems started to use networks to connect field devices — and yet as an industry, we always seem to be hesitant to take that next step forward. Why is it that we still think it is better to be using coax, RS-485 and wiegand? I ask that question a lot and the answers I get often reveal a deep misunderstanding of why networking makes sense for almost any device. Let’s look at the top 10 reasons why taking the network out to the edge of your security system makes a lot of sense.

1. Proprietary wiring costs more.
Let’s take an access control example first. Using a conventional reader, door contact, REX button and strike at a door will take 13 wires between the field panel and the door. Typically, that will be four separate cables. Because this wire is special and made in lower volumes than network wiring, the cost of the wire alone for a 100-foot run is close to $100 plus the labor to pull four cables. Now, if we move the intelligent field panel out close to the door, and we replace that special cable with a single standard CAT-5e network cable — the cost is less than $10 for the CAT-5e, plus install labor for a single cable. In video, the story is not much different. A conventional PTZ dome takes three cables with anywhere from six to eight conductors — all of which can be replaced by a single network cable.

Worse than the cost of the cable is the cost of terminations. With proprietary wiring, each panel and device has its own “pin out” or required connections; each wire must go to a certain connector and each device gets wired in its own way. If you change to a new reader or upgrade a panel or camera, every connection must typically be redone — that’s hours and hours of labor. Contrast that with the network world, where each cable is the same: same connector and same “pin out.” This leads to some real efficiencies. In the network world, an installer does not need to know what device is going to be connected. They even have standard testers that check and certify each cable is connected and installed properly. The cost savings are massive and almost always make up for any increased cost from buying network-ready devices.

2. The network is already paid for.
In most companies these days, the network hardware is purchased with extra capacity to allow for the rapid increase in network PCs and phones. Most installations have the extra ports needed to plug in the edge devices for a security system. If that is true for your network, it is good for your security project because the needed infrastructure is already paid for. It is also good for the network because it helps to justify the expense that someone in the company approved to install that network as a utility.

If, on the other hand, it turns out that your network does not have the ports available that would be needed for a security project, it is highly likely that the backbone of the network is fine and all that is needed is a few extra switches. Those switches will still be less expensive than installing a proprietary system.

3. Security is better on a network.
It is easy to understand why people think a network is insecure — hackers, viruses and a host of bad press have convinced most people that networks are not to be trusted. While it is true that the Internet has a certain Wild West flavor to it, there is a huge difference between the Internet and the secure environment found in a corporate network. Our networks in any medium or large company are heavily managed; networks only allow known devices to operate and then only allow access to certain other devices. If you are not allowed to “talk to” a camera on the network, for example, you will never be able to even see any traffic from that camera, much less hack into it. Attempts to go where you do not belong are monitored. There is a policeman on every corner.

The technology that it takes to do this control and monitoring is amazing, which brings us to a slightly different point. There is no way that any individual company developing a proprietary communications scheme of its own could ever come close to offering its customers this type of protection; they could never afford to develop it.

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