Calling all Ethernet experts

Sunday, February 1, 2009

There are a number of reasons why running a security network on Ethernet makes sense - and why it’s becoming more common.

Putting traditional data signals over an Ethernet infrastructure lets you make use of cable that is already there, in most cases, for the IT network. Installing on that infrastructure is arguably less expensive and easier than traditional copper and coax, said Rob Gallagher, vice president of engineering at ComNet, a Danbury, Conn.-based manufacturer of fiber optic transmission and networking equipment. And, said Gallagher, it’s a network that’s much easier to scale for future use, or “futureproof,” as he put it. “The complexities of an Ethernet network are greater because of the ability to scale, (to use) different flavors,” said Gallagher. “Those complexities are greatly offset by economies of scale when you do look to upgrade.”

Jerry Moore, head of IT services for Cam-Dex Security Corp. in Kansas City, Mo., agreed. From the customers’ standpoint, said Moore, they’re never going to stop putting in Ethernet networks. Noted Pete Jankowski, chief technology officer of Cisco’s physical security business unit, “All new facilities are being wired with Ethernet; very few are pulling coax.”

And the shift to Ethernet is made possible by the proliferation of IP security devices, from panels to cameras. But that may also be the hindrance.“[Total convergence has] really been slower than I expected. I would have predicted by this time, the traditional point-to-point stuff would have been long gone,” said Frank “Skip” Haight, ComNet’s vice president of marketing. “I don’t know what the hesitancy has been.”

“The thing about the security industry is it doesn’t move as fast as the typical computer industry, but the fact is everybody has bought into ‘this is the way it’s going to be,’” said Jankowski.Customers have certainly bought into the concept of running IP devices over their existing Ethernet, said Cam-Dex’s Moore.“It seems to be the end users [who] have picked up on this and want it to be way past where it is now,” said Moore.  But from his perspective, big manufacturers’ hesitancy to roll out open-source, plug-and-play IP devices has created a bit of a bottleneck in the transition to Ethernet networks.

Customers tell them they want more, and “every chance we get, we tell manufacturers that,” said Moore. But the heavy recent consolidation in the industry makes it harder to get that message to the right people, said Moore. “I don’t know if it ever gets to the right departments,” he said.

Moore said he sees the reluctance coming from an unwillingness to cede some proprietary knowledge to the world of open source.Jankowski saw a few ongoing trends that would help prod the migration along.

“Interoperability and standards really helps grow the industry and helps customers pick between products. Open standards and computer networks helps them pick and choose,” he said.

And when manufacturers get the plug-and-play feature for devices down, Ethernet will be that much more attractive, he said. “When somebody starts really getting it right for auto-provisioning, auto-discovery, making it easier for people to just plug it in and go - then it’ll be easier than analog,” said Jankowski. “It’s already better than analog.”

A lot of greenfield developments are running power over Ethernet (POE) networks, Jankowski said. Most IP cameras can run on POE. In the next few years, POE-plus will be rolled out, he said, putting a lot more power out over the Ethernet. So what do integrators need if they’re going to work on and install these “futureproof” Ethernet networks? In a word: expertise.

“A point-to-point guy who runs cameras and puts up stuff doesn’t translate to this well,” said Haight, of ComNet.To play in this part of the business, an integrator needs a clear understanding of Ethernet networks, he said.

“It’s not something you can go to a seminar for … ‘Ethernet for Dummies,’” said Gallagher. “It takes years of experience.”