And Now Cisco's Camera

It's been just over a year since Cisco announced that it had acquired SyPixx. That event may have been one of the biggest "buzz" moves of security that this industry has seen in recent years, because during a time when many security vendors were touting "IP" and "network connected" devices, you could see an immediate entrance of a company that had already become a de facto choice in routers and switches for much of the IT infrastructure at enterprise businesses.

Now, a year later at ISC West 2007, in booth 24055 at the Sands Convention Center, Cisco is finally showing how deep a play they are making in the physical security industry. Look up while you're at that booth and you're going to notice cameras. Most of those have the familiar color scheme of Panasonic cameras (indeed, the two companies have partnered, with Cisco joining the Panasonic Solution Developer Network as a founding partner), but if you look closely, you'll noticed that one of those cameras is a unique fixed, network connected IP camera exclusive to Cisco. What does this mean for the security industry?

I asked that very question to Cisco's Steve Collen, who well understands the Cisco vision in the security marketplace. Collen points out that this camera, billed as the "Cisco Video Surveillance Camera, Standard Definition", is the first in the industry to have embedded network and security functions. From encryption (with options of AES, DES, DDDES) to issues like managing bandwidth, this camera has functions in it that are more like what you'd expected on a Cisco switch or router. Simply put, this is one of the first IP cameras in our industry which isn't just a source point for slugging more data onto the IP network, but which is built with the understanding that it has to have the same embedded network security functionality that you'd expect from any business device placed on today's enterprise class networks. An IP camera after all, says Collen, can't just be a camera that forwards an image stream onto a business network; rather it has to be able to work with the network parameters and management that IT leaders have already put in place.

As a side demonstration, Collen noted that the surveillance network set up in Cisco's booth was running a software called Cisco Stream Manager (version 5 is now available), which also places network management controls over IP surveillance systems. The Stream Manager allows users to define QoS (quality of service) parameters and to control issues like the question of what priority should network video data be given as it is moved across the business network.

In the area of storage, Cisco's video surveillance platform helps drive networked attached storage, allowing system designers to connect to a variety of third-party data/video storage solutions.

Turn around the corner and you run into video analytics, where Cisco has designed a system that can perform functions such as abandoned object detection, people counting, and a facial image capture program.

And while video surveillance seems to always get the buzz, I'm going to admit that I think another system Cisco was showcasing in the booth had just as much potential. As the events of 9-11 demonstrated, and as was demonstrated again among the responder community after Hurricane Katrina, our voice communications systems are all too often siloed. Your UHF radios aren't talking to the VHF signals. The cell phones can't communicate with either, and IP telephony systems and POTS systems are likewise trapped in their own communication channel - just when you need all responders able to communicate to aid operational needs. Thus enters Cisco's IPICS system, an ingenious communications solutions package that can be set up in the field or in a corporate security environment so that disparate legacy communications systems can be shared. The mayor can have his IP phone talk to the police chief on a VHF radio, who can talk to the fire chief on UHF. Smartly, this system was designed such that policy management is easily enabled.

Finally, the Cisco 3200 series wireless router doesn't have the sexiness of a new entrance to the IP camera market or a platform that can solve the first responders' challenge of interoperable communication, but this router has quietly become the workhorse mobile video surveillance solutions. Integrators such as IBM have used this wireless router in transportation projects, city networks and other such applications where the traditional router-in-an-electrical-closet model wasn't a possibility.

What you should know:

While not all of the technologies mentioned here are available today (some will be arriving in late summer), Cisco is clearly showing that it wants to provide a depth of solutions to the industry. Cisco admits that it is already busy working on more and more surveillance cameras, analytics options and tools to help better manage video on the business network.