Testing Your IP IQ

Oct. 27, 2008
Some misconceptions about IP networks and what dealers should be learning if they haven't already

IP-based physical security solutions were a much tougher sell five years ago than they are today. As the quality of IP products and networks have continued to progress, more and more customers are seeing the benefits of IP solutions in access control, burglar alarms, video surveillance and more. These benefits range from improved functionality to increased cost-efficiency as well as the ability to smoothly scale a project incrementally up or down in size.

Misconceptions and a general lack of education further muddies the picture as security dealers try to decipher what role IP networks are playing now and into the future. For dealers who are still on the fence about offering total network-based security solutions, here's a look at some of the current misconceptions about IP, some realistic limitations, and how to start becoming more educated about the topic.

Tackling the Misconceptions

Regarding IP-based security solutions, some of the biggest misconceptions are that they are more expensive than traditional solutions, highly difficult to learn, and suffer from poor performance due to network bandwidth issues. While all three of these accusations might have been based in part on truth five years ago, this is simply not the case today.

When asked to give some common misconceptions about IP networks, Peter DeAngelis, president and CEO, IQinVision, states, “They are difficult to learn, manage, and maintain.” He then explains, “Now my argument would be that they are different to learn, manage, and maintain, but not necessarily more difficult.”

Keith Ridings, national sales manager, Panasonic Security Systems, says something similar. “The biggest misconception would have to be that IP networks are complex to install and maintain. On the contrary, not only are the systems easy and convenient to install, there is a wealth of support available with programs such as P-Tech, Panasonic Security Training University , to help dealers learn the ropes.”

Speaking with regard to IP video surveillance systems, Fredrik Nilsson, general manager, Axis Communications, says that many people are surprised that an IP system can cost less to install. “A couple years ago when IP was newer and costs were higher, that was a limitation, and that was also one of the obstacles for people moving into the technology,” he continues.

But as the technology has improved, and not only on the network camera side, but even more so on the networking side of the storage side, cost today is lower if you look at a system beyond 40 cameras, Nilsson says. He goes on to admit, however, that IP cameras individually are more expensive than analog cameras, but the total network cost must also figure cabling, storage, and monitoring. “These factors can result in a lower total cost per channel, which at the end of the day is the only thing that's really interesting,” adds Nilsson.

“By moving to a pure IP-based solution, you get to leverage the existing IT infrastructure,” says Thomas Heiser, vice president, Networked Access Solutions, HID Global, who also notes that people tend to be surprised when they learn that enough power can be run through a Cat 5/6 cable to handle most types of interior locks sets.

“The IT department has already invested in storage, switches, and Power over Ethernet hardware,,” Heiser comments, “so it makes sense to leverage this investment rather than have the security department buy the same hardware only to be used for the access control system. Cost savings can also be realized in the installation. Traditional access control systems used closed wiring and fixed purpose cabling. Going to IP-based systems means you use traditional IT wiring; the same Cat 5/6 that is used everywhere else, can now be used for the access control systems as well.”

“Some people are overly concerned with bandwidth, thinking that the more components plugged in the slower the response rate will be due to the traffic on the network,” says Michael Radicella, CEO, ISONAS Security Systems. “Typically this is unfounded because many IP devices are much quieter on the network than the legacy components—not to mention that today IP networks have a tremendous throughput.”

Paul Smith, COO, DVTel, has heard the objections before, such as, “I don't want all that bandwidth on my network.” However, in his view, bandwidth isn't an issue anymore. “Most of the time cameras are brought over a ‘dedicated' portion of the network anyway; and most of today's networks have phenomenal capacity.”

“Like DVRs, people tend to be afraid of IP cameras until they actually install and use them,” says Gary Perlin, VP, video products, Speco Technologies. “The opportunities for increased business and more efficient installations then quickly become obvious.”

The incentives of learning IP

So it's one thing to be aware of the misconceptions that exist, but it's a completely different thing to actually start learning about IP networks and how to utilize them to the benefit of your security installation business.

“Education is the serious issue,” states HID's Heiser. “Power over Ethernet, for example, can have a huge positive impact on the cost of a project, if done properly. For security dealers getting into IP-based systems, they really have to understand the workings of a network: Static versus DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol), firewalls, ports, and DNS (Domain Name System).”

Rueben Orr, director of business development, Brivo, emphasizes the importance of security dealers having a solid knowledge of IP, rather than totally relying on their customer's IT department for their networking expertise. “More and more devices are being designed for IP connectivity, so it's imperative that security dealers increase their own knowledge of IP networks in order to really partner up with their customers for the deployment of network-based security devices.”

Orr goes on to warn about the possibility of a security dealer and IT manager working together to install an access control system on an IP network, thinking that they're on the same page, only to find out later that they are not. Such a situation can happen when the IT manager lacks proper knowledge in physical security and the security dealer lacks proper knowledge about IP networks. An example could be if the IT department goes ahead and runs Cat 5 cable to every place in the building that will have a card reader when in reality they should have only run it to the controller. “That's a point where somebody has already gone through some additional expenses unnecessarily… as opposed to the security dealer coming in and saying, ‘These are the devices that are going to go on the network and here's how they're going to communicate.'”

DVTel's Smith agrees that it's ideal to have the IP skill set on your own staff. “You want to be able to communicate well with your end customers,” he states. “If you're installing these systems on their networks you're going to be meeting with IT directors for the end customer. They're going to speak a language which is a different language. It's not better, it's not richer, it's just a different language; and you need people in your staff to be able to speak that same language. Why? Because it builds a level of confidence, but also the end user knows that they can rely on this integrator, this dealer, to be able to assist them with the installation.”

Of course, just because you're IP savvy doesn't mean you can tell the IT department what to do. “Security dealers should engage the customer's IT department during the bidding process,” says Heiser. “The IT department will have a great deal of knowledge about the facility and will also have certain guidelines that have to be followed. The system won't run without the network, so having IT on your side is important.”

If you choose to hire an IP expert for your staff, it could cost somewhere in the range of $60,000 to $80,000 annually, according to Smith. If you can't afford that or would only need that type of help 10% of the time, then he suggests partnering instead. “But you've got to have the skillset beside you,” he says. “My belief is that in the end, who's going to win this is he who has both skills—both the security and the CCTV and access control skills and also the networking and the IT skills.”

Have realistic expectations

With any man-made technology, there will be certain limitations or tradeoffs. In this regard, IP networks are no different. At the very least, certain aspects of IP networking require careful planning in order to avoid major problems. For example, even though bandwidth shouldn't be a limiting factor, it can be without the proper network system design. Furthermore, the very nature of IP networks is to be open and flexible, thus increasing the ability for end users to manage them remotely (from various places on site or even off site). However, again, if the network's security is not correctly implemented or maintained, then the system can be susceptible to hackers.

“Most of the networks will have some type of Internet connection, and this of course will require additional layers in security in order to protect the network from outside attacks, hackers, anyone who could cause influence over that system,” says Brivo's Orr. “You really have to make sure that you are working within the confines of the security that's put in place to protect the system. You have to understand which ports are going to be opened, and which ones are allowing the proper traffic back and forth between the Internet and the local network.”

“Typically when you had an old CCTV system it was just what it was, a closed circuit TV system—basically not hackable,” notes IQinVision's DeAngelis. “Now that you've got an IP-based system, by definition, it's kind of an OCTV system—an open circuit TV system. Meaning you can in fact access it from the outside world which means it would be hackable, however, I don't believe it would be more hackable than any other system out there and if you want to talk about the technology that's fully mature right now, it's the technology associated with network security. So if you're a security company and you want to run your security system over an IP-based network, you have a host of tools and other elements available to you to make sure that your network is secure.”

Learning IP: Where do I start?

So let's say you have yet to get serious about learning IP networking. How can you get started? Well, there are a number of ways.

One option would be to participate in some of the many educational initiatives currently available in the security industry, says Fredrik Nilsson, general manager, Axis Communications. “One is the IP Institute that is being run in conjunction with the ISC shows.”

Another option is to take advantage of the manufacturer specific training that is being provided by a number of companies. While such training will usually have some focus on that particular manufacturer's products (often using their own as examples), it can still be a great way to learn the basics of IP networks.

Vicon Industries is one such manufacturer offering free half day seminars to help dealers, end users, and sales reps across the nation learn some basics of IP camera surveillance systems. At a recent stop in Indianapolis , Guy Arazi, digital product manager at Vicon who helps teach their seminars, noted that one of the most important slides in his presentation is the one which compares the frames per second difference between an IP camera system and a standard DVR system. In his example, a 16-channel DVR with 120 fps will have a total of 120 fps to be shared regardless of whether 4, 5, or even 16 cameras are connected to it. However, with the IP network camera system he shows, the maximum fps per camera is always 30 fps, meaning that 16 cameras would have a combined 480 fps.

“It's smart for any dealer to try and get educated on this,” says Nilsson, whose company has its own 2-day IP network training, called Axis Academy . “Even if they don't want to promote it, it's good for them to know what they're going to meet in competition.”

For more information visit: www.isceducationonline.com/ipinstitute and www.ipusergroupusa.com