Access Control: Why PACS Are Moving to the Edge

How IP technology provides new ways to save money and improve security

It used to be that stringing miles of cable was the only way to install a Physical Access Control System (PACS). That industry paradigm is starting to shift. New technologies with IP access control are bringing intelligence to the doors and making environments smarter, safer and more secure places to work and live.

In his article, The Case for IP Access Control (SD&I, Feb. 2014:, Scott Dunn outlined a number of benefits to transitioning from analog to an IP-based PACS. Among the strategies he suggested for embracing a fully network-based system was to move control to the edge. But what does an “edge” strategy mean in a PACS environment? And what benefits does edge bring to the end-user?

In a PACS context, an edge solution means giving every door its own controller. Within each of these controllers — i.e. the edge devices — is the intelligence to analyze access parameters and grant entry. Like all schema employing network-attached devices, IP-based controllers are part of a fully scalable solution that provides the integrator and customer with a fixed price per door whether adding one or dozens of doors to the system.


A Closed World vs. Open IP-Based PACS

Pushing PACS control to the edge solves a lot of installation headaches and expense. In my years of selling traditional PACS for a security integrator, a major part of risk assessment and designing access control systems included demonstrating to security and facility managers how the new technology would enable them to manage their facilities efficiently. The real challenge came when I had to base the PACS solution on the availability of places to house the controllers. In a lot of cases, the electrical or communication closets available were a distance away from the access-controlled doors. This necessitated long cable runs from the doors to the closets; and some of the closets had limited space for housing more equipment. Even if there was room available, IT was sometimes reluctant to share it with security. If we couldn’t negotiate a compromise, security was forced to face additional costs for the project.

Finding space to house the controllers was only half the battle — next, we had to establish a communication path to the server/PC where the access management software was located. In a traditional PACS world, that could mean a long run of expensive Plenum-rated, shielded cabling to the controllers or, if available, an Ethernet connection. In other words, we could spend countless days and dollars pulling and bundling cable.

Nowadays, however, many facilities already have the network infrastructure in place to support IP-based PACS technology, including network drops adjacent to every entrance/exit to the building. This is where edge devices really pay off.

With a Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) edge controller, an integrator can install all the PACS components — reader, lock hardware, egress device(s) and door monitor switch — right at the door being secured. The controller itself then connects to the network via a PoE switch. The short cable that runs between the network and the controller serves double duty: it not only delivers power to all the door devices but also transmits an activity log to security. This leads to significant savings in the overall installation cost and time of the project.

In addition to reducing the amount of cabling needed for the project and the associated cost of labor to pull those cables, PoE also eliminates the necessity for electrical outlets to provide power to the controllers. This means you can also avoid the associated cost of hiring an electrician to install outlets.

For environments with network drops in close proximity to controllers, you can realize even greater project savings. In this instance you could eliminate the cost of a cable run to connect the controller to a PoE switch in the IT closet.


What about System Security?

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