Thinking Through IP and Access Control

Oct. 27, 2008

Q: What role does IP play in access control?

A: Card Access, building automation, security and video surveillance are all converging and are generally referred to as an integrated system. In some cases the various system elements are connected via an Ethernet. Sometimes a separate network is installed to avoid territorial issues with a company’s IT department, to eliminate fears of network overloading, and also to provide a more secure infrastructure for crucial security system elements.

Card reader systems alone really do not pose bandwidth issues to the typical network (unlike video).
Being able to tie remote sites together to consolidate system administration, response strategies and report generation are features which have become necessities rather than options, although many users do not fully comprehend what they actually mean when they request an ‘integrated system.’ System integration functions which are typically integrated can include, but are not limited to:

•           Door controls
•           Card access
•           Video
•           Associating cardholder data to cardhold-
            er image
•           Associating alarm or system event to
•           Report generation
•           Enterprise-wide resource sharing

Q: Do I need to hire a network engineer if I’m going to be installing integrated systems?

A: Readers of this magazine own or work for companies whose size and system integration involvement spans the entire industry spectrum. The access control industry has undergone a major revolution in the 20-plus years I’ve been involved in it.

With respect to reliance on IP and IT, today’s electronic access control can be divided into four market/technology segments:
•           Legacy, standalone and proprietary net-
            worked systems
•           Land line copper and fiber Ethernet infra-
•           Wireless infrastructures
•           Hybrid systems which use any or all of the
            above and then bridge over to the Internet
            for remote functionality

The firm I am currently associated with is pretty much typical. We have systems which connect disparate sites over a dedicated IT backbone and utilize the company’s network. We have systems which use the RS485 infrastructure, but allow management using IP applications. We also have sites where anything wireless is forbidden for security reasons (so are cameras).
We are involved in hybrid systems that combine analog and digital devices over different networks. We can combine standalones with wired component systems as the situation requires. We bid out single camera driveway cameras and 200 camera integrated school district turnkey projects.

We do not have a network engineer, but our vendors do. And our customers do. And we aren’t dummies either.

I’d say that no company is going to let you start plugging your black boxes into their network without putting you and your system through the wringer. And so they should. A lack of network expertise should not be a reason to avoid this exciting field of technology, but rather should be a reason to wake up each morning determined to learn as much as you can. Partnerships and teamwork are essential in today’s security environment.

And that’s one of the reasons Security Dealer magazine has changed its name to Security Dealer & Integrator. In today’s security marketplace, there is a new occupational title: Systems Integrator. Different players are entering the arena from different directions, so position yourself as the expert.

Tim O’Leary is a 35-year veteran of the security industry. He has been a security consultant since 1986 and an independent security company owner/operator and product researcher.