Access Test: Modular Access Systems (Part 2)
In recent years, modular access control solutions have enabled an ever wider range of applications to enjoy the benefits of the technology. By adding doors as and when needed, networked solutions have brought advanced control of people and premises to the mainstream market, and claimed ease of installation has seen popularity in the available systems soar. Benchmark looked at some of the options to see whether they deliver what is required. In this concluding part of the test, Benchmark looks at products from Vanderbilt and Tyco Security Products.
For many installers and integrators, access control historically fell into one of two camps. Systems for users with a small number of doors were usually basic with low levels of functionality. Certain functions such as user management and reporting were limited, capacity was often restrictive and scalability was limited by both the number of supported readers and users. Such restrictions were often due to the degree of difficulty in managing credentials.
If a system which did more than open doors was required, the installer or integrator often had to take on an access control option designed for campus-type applications, which might have been way beyond the capacity required for a site. These solutions also carried a higher price and an increased level of installation complexity.
Today, modular access control solutions have changed that. With the ability to support multiple controllers, the systems can be expanded as and when a user’s needs change. However, whether the system is being installed to support a single door, a site with 10 doors or even one with thousands of doors, the features and functions are the same.
Users can scale up their solutions based upon risk and available budget, and they have no need to change the core system as this evolution takes place. Installers and integrators can work with a trusted solution across a wide range of applications.
This test looks at network-connected access control solutions. All options included in the test support between one and four doors, but all are scalable as they are modular in design.
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Tyco Kantech KT1
The KT-1 is a single door IP controller which supports two readers, allowing an in and out configuration to be implemented. Features include single button enrolment onto the access system and support for Power over Ethernet. Linked with Entrapass software, the controllers are scalable, allowing the creation of a modular system.
There is a bold claim made about the KT1. The manufacturer states, ‘Simply provide an IP connection, push a touch-sensitive button and you’re done. With its single button enrolment, Ethernet port and Power over Ethernet capabilities, the KT-1 controller is up and running in minutes.’
To be fair, the claim relates to the controller, so you have to factor in connection time and the software licensing, which isn’t at all straightforward.
The system is made up of a KT1 controller, compatible readers (in our test we used Kantech ioProx readers which combine proximity with an integral keypad), PoE injector or midspan and credentials. The KT1 modular system then needs to be connected to the Entrapass software.
Connecting a reader to the controller is straightforward. The only issue is that Kantech uses colour-coded designations, but the reader has no flylead. Power and other attributes are simple, and for the record the reader connections are Green for D0 and White for D1. That would have saved a few minutes if it was on the wiring diagram.
With other peripherals attached and PoE applied, the system comes to life. The front of the KT1 includes a number of status LEDs, plus what Kantech refers to as the ‘One Button’. This is a touch-sensitive key indicated by an illuminated Kantech shield.
Initially the KT1 can either be configured for network use via a browser, or a utility called KT Finder is available. The latter is installed as a part of the Entrapass software suite, and in order to use it you need to stop the Entrapass services (Server, Gateway and Smartlink) from running. The next step is to ensure that the reader is in Factory Default DHCP mode. This entails removing the cover from the KT1 controller to access a reset button.
There is a process to start configuration, select mode and then end configuration. A series of bleeps and LED flashes guide you through the process. These do take a little bit of getting used to, but once you’ve get the hang of things the process is quite straightforward. While the cover is removed, make a note of the MAC address from the PCB label as you’ll need it later.
We tried using the KT Finder a few times, checking and rechecking configs, but to no avail. We switched to using the web browser configuration method, which does require the KT1 be set into Forced Default Static mode, again using the reset mechanism. This process worked as expected and allowed us to configure the network setting of the unit.
The next stage is to gain access to the unit via the Kantech software. This is where the frustrations begin. The first thing we did was to look for the documentation on the CD. There is a folder for documentation. This includes instructions on how to register the product, plus a folder entitled Manuals. Unfortunately the folder is empty.
Downloading manuals or registering the product can be done via the Kantech website. This requires that you register as a user before you can access the relevant area.
Once registered, we were met with a message that stated we did not have authority to register a product. Unfortunately, unless the domain from which you register is ‘known’ to Kantech, they won’t allow you to register the software, which is an essential task if you want to use it.
An on-screen message informed us we should contact the site administrator, which we did requesting permission to register the software. An automatic response told us we’d receive a reply in 48 hours.
That in itself was irritating enough. However, we never received any response, and it required a chase via our contacts at the company to finally get some action taken.
While setting up the KT1 is simple and fast, trying to expand its capabilities is a slow and frustrating experience. Sadly, it detracts from the overall appeal of the product.
With regard to access control capabilities, the KT1 delivers what you’d expect. There is a huge amount of flexibility with regard to access levels and user rights, and benefits include badge creation, audit trail generation and complex reporting.
Indeed, the depth of functionality on offer does make it more than annoying that the documentation is not supplied. At times it feels like the manufacturer doesn’t want you to realise the benefits on offer, of which there are many.
There is also a depth of integration opportunities. The software features integration with DSC intruder alarm systems and the Exacqvision VMS, but that is beyond the scope of this test.
Tyco has a decent product in the KT1, but someone needs to take a long hard look at how the installation and configuration process compares to the competition.
Vanderbilt: Lite Blue
Many installers and integrators will be aware of the Bright Blue web-based access control solution from Vanderbilt Industries. In the past the system lifted a Benchmark Innovation Award.
Vanderbilt also offers Lite Blue, a two door controller which is based on the design principles of the Bright Blue system. It can be expanded to support up to eight doors. The system is capable of managing 5,000 users.
It includes functionality such as door status monitoring, lock-down (a function that is sadly increasingly in demand in many applications), scheduling, anti-passback and event notifications via email. There is also the ability to integrate video with the solution.
Because the system is web-based, there is no need to install software and no requirement for a dedicated PC. Any device which runs a compatible web browser can be used to interface with the system.
One final point worth mentioning is the functionality on offer from Lite Blue is anything but ‘lite’, a term which usually indicates the item in question is stripped down and missing something (think ‘lite’ beer, or ‘lite’ cheese, for example).
Looking over the specs the first question one of the test raised is why someone might opt for a system with a good degree of functionality but which is limited in door count. The beauty of Lite Blue is that if the user wants to expand beyond the eight door limit of the system, it can be upgraded to a Bright Blue system.
Our test set-up made use of Vanderbilt’s VP-300 proximity card readers. We also used a VBB-3APS supervised power supply with battery back-up.
The Lite Blue controller is supplied with a CD including full documentation. The installation guide is well written, and whilst it goes into great detail, including how to change the IP address on a PC for a static IP browser connection, we can’t complain that it misses any information out! While much of it will be familiar territory for installers and integrators, it’s better there than not for anyone new to browser-based systems.
The first task is to connect readers, door relays and any other peripheral devices to the access controller. The connections are also included inside the lid of the casing, so there are plenty of reference points. The task is quick and straightforward. There is a platic tag to be removed from the unit’s internal battery, and then you can power up.
The PCB has a number of status LEDs, and connected readers will beep and flash the LEDs (this is obviously dependent upon the readers used).
One note of caution; we were supplied with a 24V PSU from Vanderbilt. However, we also tried a few other PSUs and found that the unit is a bit sniffy about power! If you’re not using the Vanderbilt unit, ensure the PSU you do use is correctly specified.
With the relevant connections made and power applied, the first task is to connect to the unit. It has a static IP address, and we’d recommend that this is used for initial connection. When you log in to the device you’ll receive a warning screen about the device certificate. This is also highlighted in the manual. Simply clear that down and proceed and you’ll reach the unit’s log-in screen.
Once logged in you can reset the static IP address in the Utilities menu, and once the unit has restarted it can be accessed via your chosen IP address across your network.
Configurations are straightforward. Once the time and date is set, users are created. When the first Administrator account is saved the default account is deleted. Users can be administrators, managers or operators; each has differing privileges.
The manuals, as we’ve already said, take you step-by-step through every eventuality; you can simply skip the parts that are not relevant. However, the user copy – which addresses the day-to-day operation of the system – does include an early chapter that we’d like to see in more manuals.
The chapter, entitled Quick Start, is just that. It guides you through the basic settings required to have Lite Blue up and running as an operational access control system. It covers the set-up of doors, users, access levels and rights, adding credentials, setting time zones, etc.. The end result is a functioning system in a very short time.
Lite Blue does have a few idiosyncracies. For example, when adding doors, they don’t immediately work. We checked the door status screen, and whilst the door showed up in the list it was marked as Not Installed. We thought there might be a process to be carried out at the reader to activate it, but instead there is an Installed checkbox that needs to be ticked in the Advance Settings menu for the designated door.
The interface does lack the modern minimalistic design that some competitors boast, but the truth is it works well, and being browser-based many of the screens include links to allow settings changes to related information. It delivers a very intuitive experience, which is what you’d expect from a browser-based system!
One point to note is that the housing of the unit is, understandably given its name, blue. While this does differentiate it from the crowd, it also means that any marks or scratches do show up. Despite being well packaged and cocooned in bubble wrap, our unit arrived with a scratch which stood out because of the finish.
Flexibility is high. Alongside all of the access control functions you expect, individual users can be given the ability to toggle doors. This is simply carried out by presenting the credential three times.
Users can also have a card designated for automatic facility lockdown; this can also be achieved through the browser interface. Once a credential is designated as a lockdown card it cannot be used for everyday access. However, it does allow a swift reaction should an incident occur.
Throughout testing, Lite Blue was stable and consistent. Performance was accurate, and for a ‘lite’ access control option, it packs a significant punch.
Tyco: Kantech KT1
The KT-1 is frustrating, because it offers a lot of potential for installers and integrators. The power of Entrapass can cope with a wide range of applications, and the hardware is simple and fast to add to the system. Integration possibilities are immense and the functionality on offer is significant.
There is a major ‘but’ coming along here. The licensing system is flawed and very biased against the installer or integrator. The lack of documentation is also an issue. Installers and integrators should not be inconvenienced because of any manufacturers’ approach to licensing and distribution of documentation.
In the commercial software world, such an approach would see a product fail very quickly. The issues could be resolved very quickly, and until they are we cannot recommend the system.
Vanderbilt Industries: Lite Blue
If the moniker Lite Blue makes you assume that this product will be lacking in features and functions, then think again. The only element of it that’s lite is the number of supported doors. The base spec is two, but that can be expanded up to eight. However, the system can be upgraded to a Bright Blue system if more doors are needed.
The interface is a bit quirky, but that’s easy to forgive as installation and configuration is simple, the flexibility on offer is more than enough for most sites, and its intuitive nature shines through.
Performance-wise, Lite Blue does everything you’d expect from a modular system, and bit more. Features like anti-passback, facility lockdown and integration with other systems including video are underpinned by flexible scheduling, advanced personnel management and a very simple deployment.
One point to note is that selecting a Best Buy for modular access control systems did cause a number of arguments in the test team. Opinion was split between Lite Blue and Paxton’s Net2 plus (tested in part 1). In the end we couldn’t decide as both have very valid claims, so both take that honour!