Cisco can teach the old school a trick or two

July 2013 Integrated Solutions, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

Hi-Tech Security Solutions has mentioned Cisco’s physical security portfolio in the past and it does not seem to have ruffled too many feathers among vendors in our security market. Maybe it is time it should.

Many companies talk about integration and making it easier to install security devices and for products to work together in different scenarios. Cisco’s PSIM (Physical Security Information Manager), called the Cisco PSOM (Physical Security Operations Manager), now integrates surveillance, analytics and access control, as well as Cisco’s IPICS (IP Interoperability and Collaboration System).

In June, Cisco’s South African physical security guru, Edward Agostinho, took Hi-Tech Security Solutions on a tour of the company’s latest physical security product portfolio in its Customer Experience Centre, and we were impressed.

Making CCTV easy

It is common knowledge that Cisco is the dominant networking player in the enterprise space, so it makes sense that the company would capitalise on its network infrastructure to include surveillance solutions as another device on the network. However, Agostinho says a survey the company did showed it took, on average, 45 minutes to commission an IP camera of any brand. Cisco has come up with a solution to reduce this to a few seconds.

If a company has a Cisco infrastructure, the networking vendor can simplify the installation of IP cameras through its Medianet protocol. With Medianet installed on a switch, a Medianet-capable camera is automatically detected as soon as it is plugged into the network. More than simply detecting it, it will change its configuration settings to whatever template the administrators have configured, and even assign an IP address and ensure its video is streamed over a VPN (virtual private network), as well as ensure the correct QoS (quality of service) is delivered.

These settings are predetermined by administrators and will be enforced even if the camera is unplugged and moved. It allows companies to get their cameras working in seconds as opposed to 45 minutes or more.

Cisco also includes storage solutions in its portfolio, such as network video recorder (NVR) cards and modules, up to full storage devices that can be scaled to almost any sized solution. This includes virtualised data centre solutions for government or enterprise-level solutions. The B series chassis, for example, supports up to 8000 cameras each transmitting a stream of about 1 Mbps.

Megapixel is it

As far as cameras are concerned, Cisco has decided to focus on IP megapixel (MP) cameras going forward (it supports analogue through encoders). It currently has a range of cameras consisting of 1, 2 and 5 MP dome, outdoor and PTZ cameras, including IR illuminators on some. All are PoE (Power over Ethernet) as well as Medianet enabled.

The company also supports video analytics on the edge (i.e. in the camera) and has software that will determine direction, objects left behind, tripwire management, asset management, loitering and people counting. Cisco uses ObjectVideo as its embedded analytics engine, but will also be providing an SDK (software development kit) that will allow other vendors to write software for Cisco cameras.

The idea, says Agostinho, is to be as open as possible because Cisco wants eco-partners to expand the implementation by adding their applications to the solution, thereby adding value to customers.

Medianet is not restricted to Cisco cameras. Other vendors can include it in their camera software so that their devices can be automatically detected and configured as soon as they are plugged into the network (Panasonic and Hikvision have Medianet in some cameras now, and additional vendors are planning to make announcements in this regard later this year). Moreover, Cisco’s video management system (VMS) is currently ONVIF compliant and its IP cameras will be by time this article is published.

Another new 'surveillance' product for Cisco houses is a new IP phone. To make surveillance simpler, Cisco will release an IP phone that can display the video stream of any camera connected to Cisco’s VMS. This will, for example, suit receptionists who need to see who is at the door before buzzing them in.

Access control

When it comes to access control, Cisco uses its physical access gateway to connect all the peripherals on the door to the gateway, once again making use of the existing Ethernet network to take it all to a central server. Companies can daisy chain these gateways to cater for as many doors and peripherals as necessary – up to 250 000 credentials on each gateway. The data is also stored locally in case of a network failure.

Agostinho says the gateway handles any Wiegand interface from any third-party provider, with the possibility of wireless options coming in the near future. The gateway may be powered via PoE and delivers sufficient power for the reader. Cisco also offers UPoE (Universal PoE) technology which delivers more than the usual 15,4 W per port, delivering between 15,4 W and 60 W per port, which could power magnetic locks too.

Moreover, Cisco can integrate access control with Microsoft’s Active Directory (MAD). This allows administrators to pull people’s details to the Physical Access Manager. Similarly, if someone resigns and they are removed from MAD, the system automatically disables the user’s access from the physical access manager.

Cisco’s access and surveillance systems are integrated, allowing users to capture a video of each person using a door, or only when an entry is denied for some reason. Companies can customise the integration to do whatever they require.

Communicating to the right people

Agostinho describes Cisco’s IPICS (IP Interoperability and Collaboration System) as the glue that enables communications between people and any devices in organisations of all sizes. It allows people to collaborate, even if they are using incompatible devices such as cellphones and radios. By transferring all communications over an IP network, it also allows communications over long distances.

For example, when an alarm is raised, administrators using IPICS will be able to patch a CEO at home using a landline, cellphone or VoIP phone through to a guard on a radio. Cisco has made mobile apps for Android and iPhones available that automatically allows users to collaborate. Furthermore, being integrated with everything else, a video feed of the event can be tailored to different requirements and shared between anyone with a video capable device.

As IPICS has a built-in incident management system, it can also be used to upload videos or audio recordings with each event to provide a clear record of everything that transpired. People on the scene can also use their mobiles to upload videos or make notes etc.

Putting it all together

The Cisco PSOM (Physical Security Operations Manager) is where it all happens. PSOM allows companies to manage and automate multiple business processes from multiple security clients and multiple sites from a single console. It provides for centralised monitoring of the enterprise’s physical security operation and is vendor agnostic – the system contains connectors to many manufacturers’ products.

Agostinho says an example of the processes that can be automated are such as when a fire alarm is raised and cameras in the area are automatically focused on the event while all the doors are opened to allow for easy exit. At the same time, preset messages can be sent via phone, SMS, e-mail or radio to the fire department as well as the appropriate staff. The system can even consolidate information from different VMS, access control, fire, analytics and building management providers.

Other features of PSOM include the EZ Track module that automatically tracks people over multiple cameras as they move around, for example, an airport. It also includes full reporting capabilities, and reports can be generated easily for different people and events.

Even though the security system is integrated, companies will still face problems keeping everything running at optimal capacity. Cisco assists in this with its Remote Monitoring Service (RMS), which monitors the health of the security infrastructure, from cameras, switches, storage, CPU utilisation and other functionality. These services are monitored 24x7 by four centres around the world.

When using this service, the monitoring centres are able to inform customers of a failure before it becomes a catastrophe. In some cases, it can alert users to potential failures before they become apparent to the people on site. Customers can also opt to include asset, change and content management services.

Certification required

As is usual for Cisco, the company appoints partners to do its installations in the physical security field. However, before partners can do physical security installations, they need to be certified by Cisco. Currently there are seven certified partners in South Africa: AE Soft, Business Connexion, Bytes, Dimension Data, Johnson Controls and Sizwe. Sentronics is busy certifying its staff for Cisco’s physical security products at the moment.

Agostinho says Cisco has spent the past year focusing on the scalability, flexibility and reliability of its physical security products. The result is that customers can now have thousands of cameras as well as access control devices running on one solution. In the coming year, the company is going to focus on differentiating itself through apps (applications). The idea is to allow users to download apps for specific tasks and load them onto cameras as they are needed.

Cisco has been in the physical security market for some time, with some major enterprise and government customers to its credit. With its new, integrated focus, the company is making its physical security offering a no brainer for organisations that have already committed to a Cisco networking infrastructure. And while Cisco is not competing on the lower end of the market, many existing physical security players aiming for the enterprise prize are going to have their work cut out for them in competing with a system designed to deliver an integrated, easy-to-use solution from a highly respected brand.


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