Warning: Third generation integrated systems are here now

Monday, November 1, 2004

Evolution happens. Technology from the IT world eventually makes its way into the physical security world. Visitors to the recent ASIS International trade show exhibits were treated to the introduction of a new class of integrated systems and components coming straight out of the information technology industry, the third generation architected systems.

Coming behind the first generation host-based systems in which all wiring was proprietary, and the second generation of client/server-based systems that use networks for interconnection of workstation clients to central servers, this new, third generation follows the trend in mainstream computing that connects almost all processing to the network and manages it through a web browser. This evolution can be seen in the increasing number of IP video cameras, networked video recorders, control panels and web browser-enabled software.

Declaring independence

Third generation systems offer several compelling advantages because of their network connectedness. While networked systems clearly offer cost savings because of greatly reduced proprietary wiring, their biggest advantages are in the standards they employ and the geographic independence they provide.

Because networking standards originate in a much larger consumer market than that for physical security, there is ready availability of inexpensive components required to connect equipment and move data. Whether a 3G system employs wired or wireless connectivity, for example, is a decision now in the hands of the installer, not the manufacturer. For that matter, with Internet connectivity, whether a 3G system component is in the next room or the next state is no longer up to the manufacturer.

Web browsers are to 3G systems what Microsoft Windows was to second generation systems: they offer a rich and familiar user interface, but they do so without the expense of having to install and maintain client software on the user’s computer. By breaking the bond between a user and a particular computer, web browser-enabled products also cheat the limits of geography- deriving enormous productivity gains as a result. Third generation systems can be used, configured and maintained from anywhere the network can reach, and by bridging local networks to the Internet, that is a very long reach, indeed.

Over the coming years it only gets better. Support for standards that offer higher data rates will increase bandwidth, enabling more and better audio and video transmission. Web access from devices such as PDAs and cell phones will enhance productivity further. As more security manufacturers create 3G-architected products, the number of them that interoperate will vastly increase.

Just a minute…

Alas, the promise of universal connectivity that can access anything from anywhere comes with a few caveats.

There is a question of legacy. The alarm industry, for example, currently faces the question of what to do when the legacy analog telephone lines they rely on become IP networked lines. Data security is also an issue. Huge value rides on the corporate networks that security systems will share, and 3G systems require advanced processors to keep communication secure. Whereas the old proprietary wiring schemes might be inefficient in the face of new network technology, at least they were secure.

The biggest caveat, though, is that this new breed of system requires some retraining of the security systems installation force. Within the next five years, network-connected systems will dominate the market and you’ll work with IP video, audio, access control, alarms, building management, and so on. Fortunately, information on networking and related training are readily available.

The future in our industry belongs to those who evolve.
John Moss is president and chief executive officer of S2 Security Corp. He can be reached via email at jmoss@s2securitycorp.com.