As the use of Cloud-based services becomes more prevalent in a range of business sectors, so its wider adoption in security systems is inevitable. Many end users will use such services for core elements of their business, and as a result expectations are that advanced solutions, such as security, should be able to offer remote connectivity, ease of use and an on-line interface that delivers flexibility. To meet such goals, Vanderbilt offers ACT365.
If you ask a dozen people for an opinion on the use of Cloud services in security applications, you are likely to receive a dozen very different points of view. It is also highly likely that a fair few opinions will be negative. Whilst the Cloud has proved to be a success in many different fields, it didn’t get off to the best start in the world of security systems.
The Cloud offers a wide range of benefits starting from basic file sharing, off-machine storage and remote access to data, through to more advanced uses such as Software-as-a-Service and distributed system management. However, it must be recognised that there are certain performance criteria that the Cloud falls short on.
Servers used to deliver Cloud services may well be robust, resilient and high-performance models, but often the weakness lies on the transmission path between the Cloud server and the user. Even with the rapid advances in communications technology, most businesses and organisations still have limited bandwidth available. Often the biggest hurdle with regard to bandwidth is upload speed. Therefore it stands to reason that any Cloud service will struggle if it involves the upload of significant amounts of data.
When the Cloud first arrived in the security market, it was offered as an alternative solution to video storage and management. Whilst many claims were made about the resilient nature of the Cloud services, the reality was that those offering such services had no control over the infrastructure between their servers and the users’ sites. As a result, many of the early Cloud offerings in the security market fell short of expectations.
This is a shame, as the Cloud does offer a range of benefits when used with lighter data loads, such as alphanumeric data, snapshots and reports. It also allows simple remote control from any location with an Internet connection. Today’s security market is seen the emergence of Cloud-based products and services, and many of these use the technology in a positive and beneficial way. One example of the new breed of Cloud-based systems is ACT365 from Vanderbilt Industries.
ACT365 is a Cloud-based access control and video management system. It allows multiple sites to be managed via a single interface. This can include a range of sites for a single client, or sites from multiple clients. Installers and integrators can use the web-based interface for remote management of sites, diagnostics and general housekeeping duties.
For the user, the web-based interface allows day-to-day management of the system, including adding and deleting users, checking transactions and other reports, viewing video footage associated with access-based events and for video verification of authorised users.
The web-based interface can be viewed via a browser (IE10, Chrome or Firefox), and smartphone apps are available for both iOS or Android devices. Because the management software is hosted in the Cloud, there is no need for local software. This reduces installation time, and also simplifies upgrades.
One of the benefits for installers and integrators heavily promoted by Vanderbilt is the ease of installation. Theoretically, once an account has been generated, the installer or integrator simply connects relevant devices to the ACT365 ACU (reader, door contacts, RTE button, lock, plus any additional monitoring devices), powers the device up and connects via the web-based interface. We did state that this was the case theoretically, because it wasn’t the experience we had: more of that later.
At the heart of the ACT365 system is the ACU. This is a single door IP-based controller. It can support an entry and an exit reader if required. The ACU can be set to use DHCP or a static IP address. An unlimited number of ACUs can be added to the system; each unit contains two RJ45 connections allowing multiple controllers to be linked. Each ACU is capable of supporting up to 10,000 users, with 250 cardholder groups and 250 door groups. Up to 50 different time zones can also be added.
The ACU includes an integral power supply. Power to the unit is 12V DC. The controller is specified for indoor use only.
Other features include break glass monitoring, voltage monitoring, anti-passback and interlocking. During configuration the ACU has status LEDs to assist with the process. The ACU is compatible with a number of readers including ACT RFID readers, ACTpro Mifare readers and ACTpro Desfire EV1 readers.
The other element of an ACT365 system is the AVU. This is a video controller. As this Benchmark test was focused on access control capabilities, we did not receive any AVU units and so cannot comment on the video capabilities of the system.
In order to use ACT365 you will need an on-line account; you will need to contact the manufacturer in order for this to be set up. The process is straightforward and you will be sent a link which allows you to initialise the accounts and set log-in credentials. Once this is done, you can create a Customer, and then add Sites for that client. The process is relatively straightforward, and once the Customer has been established, the system automatically sends an email to the address of the Customer contact which allows them to create a Customer log-in.
Making the connections to the ACU is very straightforward. Vanderbilt provides a hard-copy manual which includes most of the information you will need. It is also possible to view Support videos via the Cloud-based interface which covers most installation processes.
The wiring diagrams in the manual are clear and easy to follow, and the use of colour coding simplifies the relevant tasks. The main PCB also includes two RJ45 ports: the first is for connection to the LAN, whilst the second can be used to cascade ACUs if required. Dependent upon the network topology, installers and integrators can either have a single connection to each ACU direct from the LAN, or can have a single LAN connection to the first unit, with additional units linked in a chain.
The only hardware-based adjustment is a set of two DIP switches. One of these specifies whether the ACU will operate with DHCP enabled or make use of a static IP address. The second is used to return the ACU to a default setting.
With the ACU connected and powered up, we created a Customer and a Site for testing. Adding and ACU is relatively simple. The process requires the CUID (controller unique identifier) number two be entered.
This is found on a label on the PCB, and a spare label is also included. Following this the site of the ACU is selected and the device is also named. There is a tick box to allow local connectivity, and the details are then saved. We completed this process but the on-line interface showed that there was no connection between the ACU and the Cloud service.
The test made use of two ACUs and both had the same issue. We viewed some of the on-line Support videos, and these showed the same process, so we knew that there wasn’t any discrepancy between our actions and the set-up procedure.
The manual does include a number of troubleshooting steps that can be taken should the ACU not communicate with the Cloud service. This includes fairly obvious issues such as the RJ45 plug not being inserted or the Internet switch being turned off. The next stage is to ping the device. Interestingly we found that if the ACU used the static IP address, it could be pinged, but this was not the case using DHCP. Also, the ACU can be pinged via its NetBIOS, and this also failed.
There is also an option to log into the web page of the ACU to carry out diagnostics. We followed this process and the diagnostics returned the correct server IP and showed that the relevant ports were open and operating successfully. This completed all of the troubleshooting steps, but both of the ACUs still would not connect to the Cloud service.
While we were connected to the ACUs’ web pages we had a look at the device settings pages to see if there was anything obvious that might be causing an issue. We noticed that with both devices the CUID was not correct. However, this was locked and could not be altered.
The only active setting in the device configuration was the serial number and in both cases this was set to 0. On entering the correct serial number for each device, the CUID automatically changed to the correct value, and the serial number became locked and was no longer editable.
This resolved the issue and the ACUs could then connect with the Cloud service. We did contact Vanderbilt technical support regarding this issue and were told it was a known issue that had been corrected via a firmware upgrade. Obviously the ACUs we were testing had the older firmware loaded.
Whilst new firmware has solved the issue, any installers or integrators with devices still on the older firmware would benefit if a technical bulletin was made available by the manufacturer.
Once connected to the Cloud service, the interface identified that the firmware on each ACU was not the latest version, and via the portal both units could be upgraded. Of course, prior to the serial number fix being applied, the upgrade was not possible.
Connecting the ACT365 ACU is simple in either DHCP or static IP mode. Once connected, the installer or integrator can carry out a range of tasks such as removing the hardware from the site, updating firmware, switching the ACU to another site, replacing the ACU or carrying out a full download from the hardware.
With the ACU established, the configuration of each door can be carried out. To do this you simply select the door in question and open the Access Control menu from the sidebar. This reveals several sub- menus: Cardholders, Cardholder Groups, Doors, Door Groups, Time Zones and Holidays.
Establishing cardholders is very straightforward. Is merely a case of entering their details, setting a PIN if required and adding a credential. This is done by typing in the credential number. We did try a few different things to see whether a specific reader could be used to enrol cards but this does not seem to be possible. Credentials are either added individually or can be bulk inserted.
With the cardholder’s details entered and the credential added, is then possible to assign the user to a cardholder group, set various validity rules for the use of the credential and also add a photograph of the authorised user. Credentials can be assigned to different sites, doors and time zones, and can also have periods of validity specified. This latter element allows the creation of temporary cards for visitors or contractors.
The various configurations, including groups, time zones and holidays, are simple to set up and the interface is certainly intuitive.
For the user, there are also a number of Reports that can be displayed. These include Log Events, Live Events, Audit Events, Muster Reports, Absentee Reports, Inactive Cardholders, Card Expiry Reports and Attendance Reports.
From a user’s point of view, the flexibility and ease of access to ACT365 will be a benefit. Management of the sites and doors is simplified, and the depth of viewable reports will cover the vast majority of access control needs. For installers and integrators, the ability to assess the status of the system remotely and carry out relevant diagnostics does enhance the appeal of the system.
Access control is a technology that either works or does not work. As such, in terms of everyday performance, ACT365 works! It performs within all expectations of such a system, and remains fully operational when the link to the Cloud is down. When the connection is re-established, the transactional data is automatically uploaded.
During the period of the test we did not experience any issues with connectivity to the Cloud, and all access control transactions were accurate and consistent. Report updates were fast and no events were missed.
During the test process, the ACT365 ACUs and the Cloud-based service performed well. Both were robust and resilient, and offered a simple-to-use access control solution. We did demonstrate the system to a few end-users, and they were impressed with its flexibility and ease-of-use. They also saw benefits in the Cloud-based architecture which fitted with the way their businesses worked.
Our issue with the installation process was due to outdated firmware and is a known issue that Vanderbilt has since resolved. Whilst problems do inevitably arise with complex systems, something as simple as a technical bulletin on the manufacturer’s website would have helped resolve the issue very quickly and without any delays.
That aside, ACT365 is easy to install, simple to use and its flexibility meets end users’ demands in today’s evolving security marketplace.
As such, it achieves Recommended status in Benchmark testing.