Convergence is now

November 2012 Integrated Solutions, Financial (Industry)

Hi-Tech Security Solutions held a round-table in which we invited a few industry experts to talk about the move to converged systems.

The topic of convergence is one that we have covered extensively, and will continue to cover as the security industry continues its move into the IP world. To many, the primary definition of convergence means the move from analogue to IP-based surveillance technology and the benefits associated with it.

Others see IP as only part of the convergence concept and include the move to IP of all security technology, from surveillance to alarms, perimeter and so forth – a move our round-table panel says has not only begun, but is in full swing. Still others include the integration of various components of security technology as an integrated solution as part of the drive to convergence.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions held a round-table in which we invited a few industry experts to talk about the move to converged systems. The round-table primarily looked at convergence with respect to the move to IP, but touched on some of the other topics. Convergence is not merely about a new networking protocol, although IP is what drives it, the process involves many other aspects too many security installers and integrators have not mastered, such as the importance of being able to talk IT and having the right IT skills on board.

The participants

The following people took part in the round-table, giving us the benefit of their experience in the security and specifically in the convergence game.

Jan De Lange
Jan De Lange

Jan De Lange, CEO of Reditron (recently renamed after the management buyout of Norbain SA), a value-added security distributor, says it is important to note that convergence is not only inevitable, it is already happening if one looks at growth globally, now at an average of 20% to 25% per annum for IP versus analogue. Analysts expect 2013 is the year that IP outsells analogue for the first time globally and he expects a big IP push to come from the traditional IT channel. In the future, he expects to see corporate CIOs providing a platform for the security manager to run his infrastructure on.

“If you look at the PLC industry, they run across the IP network and IT provides that platform to do it. The problem is that IT does not always understand the volume of data that needs to go across the network, and bandwidth is something that has always been very sacred in the IT industry. I think that is where we are going to end up with some issues around the convergence platform.”

Ingo Mutinelli
Ingo Mutinelli

Ingo Mutinelli is the national sales manager for Elvey Security Technologies, also a distributor of security products. “We are clearly seeing convergence in all facets of security from intruder-side convergence into video where you have now got intruder systems with built-in cameras sending video through a converged platform.”

In terms of analogue and IP, he does not think analogue will vanish completely. “If you look at when two-way radios were being replaced by cellphones, people were saying two-way radios are obsolete, but now the suppliers are manufacturing record numbers of radios. So I am not so sure analogue is going to fall away completely. I do see more networking companies coming into our industry, however, and even the likes of office automation firms looking to get a piece of the security pie.”

Gordon Moore
Gordon Moore

Gordon Moore is ADI Global Distribution’s product manager for CCTV and access control. He breaks down the industry into three categories of convergence: technological convergence, organisational convergence and industrial convergence.

Technology convergence is in full swing and we see it with analogue changing to IP and other technologies, like access control, being brought onto the same platform. “You are starting to see CCTV manufacturers crossing that bridge or converging into other sectors and including other facilities in their offerings.”

On the organisational side, we see the convergence of physical security and the logical security, and that is starting to happen on the access control side. Industrial convergence poses the biggest concern as it will see the two industries (the security industry and the IT industry) converging. The biggest threat for the security industry is the knowledge base of the IT industry.

Hein Oelofse
Hein Oelofse

Hein Oelofse is from Risk Consultancy Network, a company specialising in security consulting for financial institutions. What he finds in the financial industry is that when it comes to the upgrades, it becomes very costly to move from an analogue to an IP system. Some of his clients do upgrade to IP, but where RCN sees more convergence is in companies integrating their security systems into their IT systems and networks. “We are also seeing a greater reliance on hybrid systems as people only upgrade specific cameras when needed.”

Gus Brecher
Gus Brecher

Gus Brecher from Cathexis Technologies says there is no doubt that the ball is rolling towards IP. “It is just a matter of how fast it is growing and I think Gordon hit the nail on the head, there are different areas of convergence, the one is obviously the convergence of IT and security and the skills are a major issue there. The traditional security guys do not have IT skills and the IT guys do not have security skills. Another area of convergence is the convergence of different technologies onto a single platform. I think there are many challenges ahead as to how this convergence happens.”

Kobus Le Roux
Kobus Le Roux

Kobus Le Roux, national sales and marketing executive for Jasco Security Solutions (previously Multivid), an installer, sees about a 50/50 split between analogue and IP systems at the moment, but while there is a drive to IP, it is not necessarily always cost effective and many companies are still buying analogue and he does not see that changing soon.

The hybrid option

In a survey Hi-Tech Security Solutions did of larger corporations, we found 24% of the companies said their security systems were IP based, 29% said they were analogue and the majority, about 46%, said they were using hybrid systems. This is a clear indication that convergence is not a rip-and-replace project, but that most companies will move to IP in stages. They seem to be replacing old analogue systems in segments, either when the existing systems fail or to gain specific benefits that IP can deliver.

The panel warns that backward compatibility is the cornerstone of hybrid installations. Customers need to ensure they buy technology with a guaranteed future. In other words, their vendor must be able to show a history of backward compatibility so that old technology can easily be integrated with newer solutions. This allows for phased upgrades as and when needed as opposed to forced upgrades when new technology does not work with existing solutions – and this is irrelevant of whether the old technology is analogue or IP.

Brecher gives the example of a mining client with over 3000 cameras. The company had standardised on analogue systems, but now wants to start taking advantage of the benefits IP offers in strategic areas. “You cannot tell them to throw all their old equipment out, it just does not work like that. So you have got to be able to offer them some form of hybrid solution that will offer them both solutions and the ability to use the existing equipment where possible and incorporate the new technology at the same time. That is going to be a challenge for a lot of the new kids on the block who can only offer an IP solution and for the less professional CCTV suppliers who cannot offer that backward compatibility.”

Le Roux, however, points out that while the costs are in favour of a hybrid solution, his experience is that companies opting for this approach often look back after two or three years and note they would have preferred to go with a full IP solution at that point in time. “So I understand that from a cost perspective it does make sense, however, I ask if it is not more of a short term solution.”

Mutinelli adds that one of the advantages hybrid does offer is bandwidth related. With intelligent IP systems, you only have to send the video that is important – such as when movement is detected, for example – so it does provide a little bit of flexibility that analogue does not, especially when using a wide-area network (WAN).

The IT and skills effect

As more IP security systems are installed, it would seem natural to get the corporate IT department involved since the IP skills are already there. In addition, if security is going to use the corporate network for data transmission, someone who knows how to manage an IP network must control it – the alternative is to see the network overloaded with video streams and users up in arms about a non-responsive network.

While solutions today often use a separate network for video surveillance to ensure that corporate data is not hindered in any way, De Lange says it will not be long before this changes. When IT realises it has saturated cabling in its buildings or campuses, enough bandwidth, the capacity in its intelligent switches and enough storage or the ability to expand arrays as required, plus it knows how to manage the data on the network effectively, why not manage video data as well. Who is better qualified to manage the flow of important data?

Oelofse says that he sees more cooperation from IT departments when the solution is to use their network, while Le Roux adds that the IT department often specifies its preferred network devices such as switches and so forth, and lets security get on with the job.

When you add the cloud technology into the equation, it is even more imperative that IT takes the lead when it comes to networking. However, this can also be seen as a threat to the security department as IT wants to (and is well qualified to) control some of its turf.

The problem, says Moore, is that there is no knowledge transfer between the IT and security people and there is often a political game of protecting one’s turf that takes precedence over the best option for the company. That said, the lack of IT or networking skills in the security industry is giving the IT players a fantastic opportunity to establish themselves as highly qualified players in the security market. And looking at the costs involved, it is far cheaper and easier for an IT company to hire someone (or buy a company) with good security skills than it is for security companies to find and afford good IT skills. Already Le Roux says Jasco is on the lookout for people with networking skills more than physical security skills.

Mutinelli says we are already seeing an influx of IT companies into the security market from a distribution, integration and services perspective and we can expect more to see security as a lucrative add-on to their business as the economy tightens. These companies already have control of the corporate network, so why not add another function onto it?

“These guys know the infrastructure better than anyone else while the security industry has been very secluded in the past,” adds De Lange. “Ask your security provider about the cloud and you will probably get a blank look. The IT market has a history of incorporating new technologies from other areas into its sphere. Additionally, the large IT service providers own most of the networks in the country, while on the CCTV and security side, it is smaller players that own 80% of the networks, this is an attractive market for large companies and we have already seen IT players buying their way into it.”

Le Roux adds that already he is finding that IT players are using Jasco and other security integrators to install security systems and make them work.

IP, a closed open system

One of the issues with IP systems everyone has to face at some stage is that of interoperability between supposedly open systems from different vendors. More than one customer has found that IP does not mean open when trying to use cameras from different vendors on the same network. In some cases, even cameras from the same vendor do not work together from one generation to the next.

The two standards bodies in the IP video field, ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) and PSIA (Physical Security Interoperability Alliance) were launched with the purpose of creating IP standards of interoperability. The problem is the lack of enforceability of these standards.

Cathexis has produced a video management system (VMS) that is able to receive images from multiple cameras, but Brecher says that while some cameras produce good images, beneath the surface there seems to be no consistency in the software, even in cameras from the same manufacturer.

Part of the problem is that it is easy to put an ONVIF or PSIA sticker on your camera, but there are no hard and fast rules that ensure it will be compliant. Another problem is that ONVIF is a very basic set of standards that have been agreed upon and it does not cater for the development of features on the camera that allow vendors to differentiate themselves in the market.

Brecher agrees that the differentiators today primarily fall outside of the standards specifications. Everyone can do megapixel cameras and H.264 compression, but it is the added intelligence and functionality that users gain that are the only real differentiators in the market today.

A benefit of a VMS is that the developer of the system does all the hard work of integrating cameras, simplifying the work required to add a camera onto the system – as long as it is a camera supported by the VMS developer. This makes it simpler to install and use the camera of the customer’s choice, but paying for a VMS can be costly.

Cathexis is focused on developing wizards to ease the installation of any camera into its VMS, freeing the user from having to struggle with configuring the camera and setting up the IP address and so forth. The facts at the moment are, according to Oelofse, that it is difficult to get the type of installation flexibility that is available in analogue cameras from IP vendors at the moment.

Moore notes this is changing, using the Axis Camera Companion (free software for small installations of up to 16 cameras) as an example of one management application that is also focused on ease of setup. “The system has been designed for simplicity,” says Moore. “They have designed it in such a way that your receptionist can take four cameras, plug it into a switch and get it up and running.”

But is using different cameras always the best option? Mutinelli says companies like Bosch are inclined to prefer it when users use their systems only as they know that the end solution will deliver the goods. When one mixes and matches and something goes wrong, who do you blame? It could be the camera at fault, or the VMS or the installation process itself.

Out in the real world, Le Roux says some companies have specific brands they want to stay with, while others are not willing to risk putting their eggs into one basket and prefer to have a range of preferred brands. It is up to the installer or integrator to ensure the full functionality of the cameras is available in any installation.

HD analogue to go big?

Another question in the convergence game is the potential disruptive capacity of HDcctv or HD SDI, which promises to transport HD video over existing analogue infrastructure. Will this fairly new technology stop the expansion of IP systems? Most agree that it will not as its implementation at the moment is limited to a few specific installations, and it is not featuring in any major way in South Africa.

Moore says ADI has brought products in and made it available to its channel, but has not seen any demand for it. He believes this is because while the global 'crossover' to IP will be in 2013, South Africa is ahead of the curve and already sells more IP than analogue systems. Analogue HD systems may find more success in the more established markets, like the UK, where there is a broad rollout of analogue systems, but its success remains to be seen, as it is not simply a case of changing the camera and streaming HD.

Physical and logical convergence

The final point raised in the round-table was that of the convergence of physical and logical security. Most people view this as the convergence between physical and logical access control, but the concept goes much further.

De Lange says not only will it happen, this convergence is already underway and you can see this from access control solutions through to building management systems and factory management systems. These are all moving off proprietary networks and onto IP.

Brecher again brings up the question of standards, noting that open, accessible standards are the name of the game if convergence is to work. Many alarm companies, for instance, do not publish their application protocols as a way to try to force people to buy their systems and software. These companies have been able to lock people in for many years, says Le Roux, but as customers become more educated and understand the benefits of openness, these businesses will hit a brick wall.

Moore adds that almost every decent product on the market has been developed to an IP base, whether it is an alarm, camera, fire panel or access control system. Even those systems with proprietary protocols, such as locks, are going wireless and linking to the nearest IP controller. “So I think it is not a case of is it going to happen, I think it is done and dusted.”

It is here now so deal with it

No longer is convergence something to prepare for in the future, it is already here in all its forms. In the case of technological convergence, skills are the key. Not only do security providers need security skills to be able to recommend and install systems that meet the client’s needs, but they need IP (or IT) skills to be able to compete with the IT industry as more companies look to profit from the healthy margins in the security world.

Organisational convergence is also a fact, perhaps a little less advanced than technical convergence, but it is only a matter of time before physical and logical systems are integrated on an IP platform. And as for industrial convergence, perhaps it is time to ask why Microsoft is involved in the city surveillance solution in New York, or why Cisco keeps trying to make an impact in the security market with cameras and platforms that make installing, configuring and managing systems easy for large corporates? And the list goes on, with many South African IT companies buying or growing their own physical/logical security divisions.

The bottom line is that the days of the security industry operating in an isolation chamber are over. Technical advances mean customers have more options to gain more benefits, and more ways to educate themselves as to what is available, which means the security industry has to adapt if it is to thrive. The competition is only going to increase and, just like the IT market, the smaller players will be under increasing pressure. The solution is education and skills enhancement, and, if we may be so bold, perhaps a good dose of consolidation.


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