Eight Myths About Intelligent Doors

Oct. 27, 2008
Demystifying the IP-based technology

There are a lot of people out there who claim to be able to predict where the security industry is going. I can say with 100-percent certainty that these clairvoyants do not have a clue. But, it is equally true that there are a number of people who think that nothing needs to change — and that view is just as flawed.

This brings me to access control and the use of intelligent doors. An amazing number of people are wandering around spouting reasons why they believe the concept of moving the intelligence in an access system to the “edge” is flawed and things should stay just the way they are. Not to say that some of the first-generation products we are seeing in this space don’t have issues, but the concept is spot on. And it’s about time something new came along. In a world where our phones play movies, our cars obey our spoken words, and our surveillance cameras recognize threats in high-definition, it is a little embarrassing that our access systems are based on the same architecture that companies were installing in the 1970s.
So what do we hear from the grumblers? Here are the eight myths that surface most often:

1. IP-based systems are more expensive.
In fact, the truth is just the opposite. The wiring is standard, cheaper and there is less of it. There are significantly fewer terminations. Special power supplies and UPS hardware can be replaced by standard network power that IT often already owns. “We are seeing a 10-15 percent savings on an access system built around edge devices,” says Clark Harbaugh, account manager for Systems Group Inc., a Dallas-based integrator. “That assumes our Dallas labor rates. In some parts of the country, the savings would be a lot greater.”
Many times, people will tell you that IP access devices are only cheaper if you ignore the cost of the network. “We have found that most networks have the spare ports we need,” Harbaugh says. That is capacity the company has already invested in and there is no business case for refusing to use it.

We also often hear that it is just common sense that a 16-reader field panel in a closet would have to be cheaper than 16 individual units at each door. Well how’s this for common sense: In the electronics manufacturing business, volume is highly correlated to cost. So in the long run, which will be cheaper; high-volume, standardized door controllers, or low-volume, proprietary field panels? Which path would your company be better off investing in?

And here is another thought about those big field panels — what is the cost of the 17th reader? “What we are really starting to see are enterprise customers using our DirecDoor controller to add a door or two to an area” says George Martinez, director of Product Management for GE Security.

2. Who would want to take the network outside the building?
Well no one, actually. It could be done, but the costs to protect it are high. That’s why most vendors of intelligent door hardware have a solution that allows the controller to be mounted inside the protected space near the door, while the reader goes outside. For most interior doors, the issue is moot, as networks are widely available throughout even the unprotected areas of the building. If you can get to a telephone or a copy machine, odds are you can plug into the network. “We agree there are cases where putting the controller on the protected side makes sense, and that is why we have our Edge Plus,” says Tom Heiser, vice president of Market Strategies for HID Global. “But we also believe that when a customer thinks through the real risks for an interior door, they will see a place for a simpler solution.”

3. There is no advantage to having IT that deeply involved.
IT provides real value in a number of ways. Remember that by using the network you have “hired” IT to provide and maintain the infrastructure for your system. They have the tools to monitor the network and the devices that are attached to it. Most importantly, they become your new first call for support. “If there is a problem, we most often find out about it after the problem has been resolved,” Harbaugh says. “As soon as it goes down, IT knows about it and starts investigating. They call us to say, ‘hey by the way, this went down, and you are going to see it on your weekly report.’ 85 percent of the time, we find IT fixes the problem without us having to roll a truck — that is going to have a significant impact on maintenance costs.”

Also recall that in most companies, IT will be involved at some level on a major system purchase regardless of the system architecture. If you are trying to get management approval for a major system upgrade, it helps to have IT on your side. Moving the intelligence to the door can really help there because it just looks like a system that IT is comfortable with and used to seeing. “It just makes sense to IT,” Heiser says. “It’s simple, it’s PoE, and it’s a device at the end of one of their standard wires. They are already doing VoIP telephones, and they are doing IP cameras — this is an extension of what they are familiar with.”

4. My system already does everything that I need it to.
Perhaps today it does, but there are a whole host of things coming that require a high-speed connection to the door in order to be practical. For example, readers can have displays or audio messages. Biometric devices can provide the ability to send templates to the door controller (if the templates are not stored on the card).
The ability to write to the card can open up many new applications, such as the ability to revalidate the card each day. New applications can be embedded in the same hardware, such as time-and-attendance or building management.

The federal government’s new cards are clearly headed in a direction of authenticating a person by checking the certificates their badge contains before opening the door. IP cameras or intercoms can be built into the reader or the reader can control IP video capture.

Finally, by using the network all the way to the door, it becomes easy to encrypt the communications in a standard and secure way, as well as supervise the function of the door controller and reader to ensure they are functioning and have not been tampered with. “When designing our Door Control Appliance, we immediately saw that one of the key advantages that having Ethernet at the door could bring us was an economical way to support card-based access control, biometrics, video and intercom all in one platform,” says Bill Nuffer, president of Deister Electronics USA.

Of course, you could deploy any of these applications with a proprietary technology of one sort or another. It might be a custom solution and you might have to pull a few dozen wires to each door, but it could be done. But the industry has been crying for open architecture now for years; in fact, on my list of top ten security directors’ complaints about access control manufacturers, getting locked into a single vendor has to be No. 1. Given that, and the fact that there is nothing more open than an Ethernet LAN, this type of solution should be a home run.

5. I don’t want a system that is completely dependent on the network.
Well first, it’s not completely dependent on the network. Each door is an island. Unlike a conventional system where you may lose 8 or 16 doors at a time if the controller goes down, in an intelligent door system, a single hardware failure only disables one door. Remember, these are intelligent doors — each has its own database and makes its own decisions. It uses the network only to update that database and report events.

6. Powering door strikes using “Power over Ethernet” doesn’t work.
Really? It works for cameras right? Odds are the telephone that is on your desk is a PoE device and there are millions of them in service. But strikes take a lot more power, you say. Well, the new generation of strikes and maglocks take about 4-5 watts of energy. The PoE standard allows for supplying up to 13 watts after the wiring losses, and new PoE standards are coming that will provide significantly more power. That is not to say that you can ignore the manufacturer’s recommendations, but clearly it should be possible to use PoE for all but the most power-hungry door hardware. “It’s a big cost advantage to not have to pull a 110 volt circuit to the door or wiring closet” says Joe Hiett, vice president of Marketing for Matrix Systems, an access control manufacturer.

7. My installer isn’t ready for IP-based products.
I suspect they may be more ready than you think. There are very few integrators out there today that don’t want to work with IP-based products. Many have already developed strong IT relationships and most are more than capable of working with IT to get this kind of installation done, since all of the network labor will likely be coming from IT or one of their vendors. What is true is that is that there is a degree of unfamiliarity out there that may cause an integrator to not suggest this solution as their first choice. In fairness, they may also be trying to protect you from being a pioneer (you know, the ones with arrows in their backs). With the price of copper being what it is today, it’s hard not to be ready to save money on wiring.

8. Of course I want open architecture, but what’s that got to do with intelligent doors?
Simple really. If you depend on field panels in the closet to make the decisions about opening doors, your options for host software will be limited. More often than not, you will need to buy the host from the vendor that makes the panel. In a few cases, you will have a choice of a small number of vendors. The manufactures of most of the intelligent door controllers are coming from a different place. HID Global, for example, is pushing hard to sign a significant number of development partners to interface to its Edge Reader, and the company’s early success is impressive. Deister is taking a slightly different approach with its Door Control Appliance by encouraging their partners to use it as a platform to write their own firmware application. In either case, the result is an increase in the long-term choices of host software for the end-user that has invested in access control infrastructure. “We provide an open platform with a well-understood and portable language like JAVA and the utility infrastructure to handle the nasty details — such as encryption, SIP Video/Audio or card field dissection,” Nuffer adds. “The developer or the customer themselves can take the product and application as is, or can adapt it their specific needs.”

Are You Ready?
As an industry, the answer is a clear yes. On an individual basis, however, we are still in a transition phase. Not all of the benefits that are on the horizon are available today. Still for many companies, especially those outfitting a new site, there is more than enough reason to consider moving away from the old field panels. Here is one case where we can see what the future holds.

Rich Anderson is the president of Phare Consulting, a firm providing technology and growth strategies for the security industry. A 25-year veteran of high tech electronics, Mr. Anderson previously served as the VP of Marketing for GE Security and the VP of Engineering for CASI-RUSCO. He can be reached at [email protected].