3 reasons to bring legacy command and control systems onto the network

For the security industry, getting the right information to the right locations and people is mission-critical. If you're using legacy command and control systems, whether they're alarm contacts from cameras or panic buttons in secure locations, bringing them into the networked environment can help save time and money and make you more efficient.

As the industry increasingly moves to a network-centric model, it is easy to find yourself stuck with non-network legacy devices that just don’t match up with the current environment. Operating these legacy systems can be cumbersome, inefficient and a drain on company resources. By bringing them into the network, you can increase efficiency and productivity, among other benefits. If you haven’t yet considered bringing legacy systems onto the network, here are three good reasons to do so now.

1. Get information to where you need it

Legacy systems typically have discrete alarm points that must be collected and transmitted to a central point. Often times, these alarm points are in remote locations and require collection and transmission over dedicated links. As these links are expensive, it would be much better to collect all the alarm points from disparate points in one building or campus and transmit them over standard IP networks either for collection by a management facility, or regenerated into new discrete alarms wherever they are needed. 

This simple transport of contact closures over the network allows for multiple inputs to be summarized as one output, or enables a single alarm point to appear in multiple locations as a contact closure wherever it is needed. This technique has been used successfully in applications ranging from redundant gate monitoring stations, to combining motion detection alarms to a single point, to door monitoring systems.

Other legacy systems use serial data to report status and alarms. These can also be captured and either converted to network protocols or you can use a proxy to convert the data to standard network management (i.e. SNMP) messages for integration into standard monitoring schemes.

Using network protocols for discrete alarm transport also results in a more resilient infrastructure.  TCP/IP includes error checking, and additional supervisory messaging can be included to comply with UL864, UL S2424 and other requirements.  

2. Process information smarter

The proprietary protocols and data formats of legacy systems limit the ability to integrate multiple systems into a cohesive monitoring and response system. Each silo of information is independent of all others and needs to be collected, stored and evaluated separately. There is limited, if any, means to see the “big picture” and understand how all these systems interact. 

In the network management world, the advent of a standard means of monitoring and measuring a wide variety of vendor offerings has enabled a much more cohesive and proactive approach to coordinating and optimizing the network. Now that many security products also support Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), it is even easier to bring disparate systems together to a unified collection, analysis and action plan. 

Getting legacy systems into this standard can be accomplished in a number of ways. Many vendors offer an intermediary device (SNMP Proxy Agent) to convert proprietary data streams, analog and digital sensors. These range from very simple two-input devices up to complex systems that support an unlimited number of collection points.

Integrating discrete alarms into the network management arena allows a variety of techniques to leverage the power of the data center to manage complex events. For example, real-time analysis can help ignore anomalous or repetitive events that would otherwise trigger false positive alarms. Conversely, time of day analysis can help pinpoint trouble spots, while data analysis can be used to predict problems before they reveal themselves in a failure alarm. 

Bringing legacy systems to the network also means alarm information can be distributed to more people, faster, and with more detail; complex escalation policies can be easily implemented and sending out email, text message, or information on remote digital display devices is easier to implement and manage. All of these benefits enable you to manage your network and business more effectively.

3. Reduce staff requirements

As any IT or network manager knows, managing a suite of disparate systems is an inefficient use of critical staff resources. Older legacy systems require special skills that draw from an ever-smaller talent pool of technicians, who were trained when these systems were current and who have likely not passed this knowledge down to newer staff. It is reminiscent of the Y2K issue that brought all the Cobol programmers out of retirement to stave off the potential crisis. Different systems require teams with different skill sets to operate, support and maintain them, and if those specialized technicians are unavailable, downtime can occur. Unnecessary site visits are the number one cause of downtime costs, so anything that minimizes the duration of downtime is best for long-term success. 

Combining legacy systems into industry standard protocols makes it much easier to find – and cultivate – a talent pool that comes pre-loaded with the skills needed for the tasks at hand. Cross training is simplified and scheduling is much easier if all technicians read from the same playbook. Likewise, system management is more simple, effective and budget-friendly when all systems operate under the same umbrella. 

Once you’ve decided to integrate legacy systems with the network, the next logical question is, how? Upgrading everything to be compatible with the network would be great, but there are several reasons why that might not be possible.

Legacy systems that are purpose-built are embedded in the infrastructure of the facility or campus, such as environmental systems, generators and telephony. In these cases, a forklift replacement is simply too costly or disruptive to the mission of the organization to be feasible. Additionally, sometimes these legacy systems are older with discrete contact closure alarms that are inconvenient to access, located in a basement or distributed throughout a campus with only a few points at each location.

The good news is that these legacy systems can be brought into the network area easily and at a much lower cost than a total replacement. By leveraging a standard network management tool along with proxies to convert legacy data and I/O into that standard, you can easily integrate systems into the networked environment, and in the short term begin saving time and money and operating more efficiently.

About the Author: David Weiss is president and CEO of Dataprobe, a provider of power and network solutions designed to help reduce the threat of downtime to organizations. With over 20 years of experience in product management and business development, Weiss is an expert in the remote site management technology industry. Prior to becoming president of the company, Weiss held various roles in technical support, engineering and sales. He also helped develop a custom capabilities platform that enabled products to be designed and manufactured to a customer’s precise specifications, elevating the company as an industry leader and trusted OEM partner. 

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