System Integration Options

The term ‘integration’ has been over-used in the security sector for many years. In the past, systems which were merely interconnected were often sold as being at the cutting edge of integration. However, as the industry moves ever more towards the use of networked technologies, so the possibilities for true integration are increasing. This allows installers and integrators to create bespoke solutions, and in turn these deliver more benefits – and the all important return on investment – to end users.

The Right Connections
Tim Northwood, Inner Range General Manager
Todays integrated solutions are a world away from the ‘interconnected’ systems of the past. Integrated systems will often use a common user interface, share data at a high level, and the transfer of data will be bi-directional.

As a result, many installers will have to become integrators and make some educated choices as to the types of connectivity best suited to each individual integrated solution. An integrated solution could well include all or any of the following: intruder detection, access control, video surveillance, lift control, intercom and communications, visitor management, building management, automation systems, third party databases and an increasing number of other systems.

Getting the connectivity right is obviously going to be predominantly dependent upon the products selected, the system requirements and whether or not the project involves a new installation or a retrofit where connectivity options maybe be already in situ.

If you consider a new installation where the integrator must choose the connectivity option, what are the major considerations? The size of the installation must be addressed, especially the distances that may need to be cabled, as well as interconnectivity with other sites either regionally, nationally or globally. The amount of data (bandwidth) any one of the integrated system parts may require across the network – and the speed of transfer required for this data – are also vital. So what are the options? For many the main three choices are RS485, TCP/IP and Fibre.

RS485 communications are similar to RS232, but RS485 provides better noise immunity and is suited to cable distances of up to approximately 1,200 metres; in some cases a distance of 2,000 metres is achievable. Many manufactures of integrated products provide LAN isolation devices which may allow the integrator to extend the RS-485 LAN up to 3,000 metres.

The ability of RS485 to have multiple devices attached to the same LAN reduces wiring and allows for a very flexible wiring topology, so an integrator can wire systems in daisy chain, multi-drop or even star configuration as long as the distance rules are adhered to. RS485 is an efficient and flexible connectivity option for the devices in an integrated system that bring together intruder alarm, access control, BMS and other systems that transmit and receive data in relatively small packets, quickly and reliably.

RS485 should be delivered using twisted pair cable, CAT5 or better.

There are some considerations when utilising RS485. As multiple devices will share a common communication LAN, care should be taken in selecting the communications properties of devices. The devices should be capable of following a set of communications rules to prevent data collision. Failure to use products that are able to implement a robust set of communication rules might lead to degradation in system performance.

RS485 may also be transposed over TCP/IP; most integrated product manufactures make devices to allow this.
TCP/IP is the basic communication protocol of the Internet. It can also be used as a communications protocol in a private network, so is a good potential connectivity option in an integrated solution environment.

TCP/IP is a two-layer program. The higher layer, Transmission Control Protocol, manages the assembling of a message into smaller packets that are transmitted over the network and received by a TCP layer that reassembles the packets into the original message. The lower layer, Internet Protocol, handles the address part of each packet so that it gets to the right destination. TCP/IP uses client/server communication in which a user (client) requests and is provided a service by another device (server) on the network.

TCP/IP communication is primarily point-to-point, meaning each communication is from one point (or host computer) in the network to another point or host computer. This method of connectively is used between servers hosting system software and databases and real-time system controllers at the control level. These system controllers may well then run an RS485 LAN to the security, access control or BMS devices within the system.
Many system modules have TCP/IP connectivity on board as well as RS485.

Integration of CCTV into the system would generally be done by the system server requesting data directly from the CCTV system’s management or recording devices.

TCP/IP offers great flexibility when multiple sites are integrated into a national or global system, or in the provision of remote access via the internet into a secure VPN.

As video in an integrated solution will be transmitted via TCP/IP, it is advisable not to use a single network to host both the integrated solution and the client’s own networked resources. The disadvantages of a single network include a higher risk of misuse and a higher degree of unpredictability in network speed; when transmitting large data files average network speeds can drop considerably.

It is possible to overcome some issues by segmenting the existing network. Each segment has a separate application and only information that needs to be transmitted from one segment to another is sent via routers. This may also help overcome some of the limitations of distance for CAT5/6 cabling. A disadvantage here is the cost of providing routers or switches with back-up power supplies for system continuity.

Optical fibre systems use transmitters and receivers. The transmitter converts electrical signals into optical signals. A simple glass fibre allows reliable transmission over long distances. The receiver converts the optical signals back into electrical signals. The modules are available in various performance and power variants.

Optical fibre transmission can offer some interesting advantages. It is less sensitive to electromagnetic interferences and achieves high transmission speeds. It can also be routed through areas that are intrinsically safe environments.

Optical Fibre has an extremely large bandwidth capacity, so is ideal for network backbone or inter building/site transmissions of data. It should certainly be considered when looking at video applications for integrated solutions where there are geographical challenges.

Most integrated security manufactures product their own fibre modem modules designed to work with their own suite of hardware and LAN protocols. These can often offer LAN distances of up to 13km between modems, depending on system configuration.

There are, of course going to be some areas of disadvantage as specialist knowledge is required to calculate and configure a system.

The choice for connectivity is wide and varied, even beyond these three options, and the old adage of ‘horses for courses’ applies.

There is a lot to think about when designing an integrated solution, and it often makes more sense to decide on what product you’re going to use before even thinking about connectivity options.

A Need for Total Solutions
Jean-Paul Frenett, ACT Marketing Executive
Projects that grow an installer’s business, the jobs worth winning, are those that seek an integrated solution provider. The traditional roles of the access control installer, alarm installer, fire alarm installer and even locksmith are becoming merged as customers expect all systems to work seamlessly together. The days of standalone, unconnected systems are quickly becoming a thing of the past as the worlds of IT and traditional security hardware move closer together.

In 2014, the domestic market leapfrogged larger systems with regards to interconnectivity, with the emergence of ‘off-the-shelf’ smart home systems. Smart thermostats, cameras, locks and lights have become the centre of the domestic ‘internet of things’. The user’s smart phone has become the centre of this connected world.

Traditional domestic security manufacturers must feel the fast-paced world of silicon-valley start-ups hot on their heels, and security installers are being forced to adapt to follow suit. However, the commercial security world is more anchored down when it comes to adopting new technologies. Each project, company or site will have special requirements and several legacy systems. Even a simple change of access card technology may take large scale planning and implementation across multiple sites.

This lack of mobility forces the end user to request that any new systems will do the heavy lifting of integration with their legacy systems, and the role of the security installer quickly becomes that of the security systems integrator.

With closer cooperation between technologies, any security company that neglects to expand its knowledge and ability to deliver other systems may see itself losing out on projects that might have previously been easily won.

In order to integrate products and systems, the security installer has to not only think of what access control system is best, or what video system is best, but must also take note of how that system will work with other existing (or future) solutions. The ability to take this step back and view the customer’s system as a whole is essential for effective installation and maintenance. For example, an access control system that prints a fire list may be essential for site safety. If this list doesn’t integrate with a visitor management system, then the list will be missing key people, perhaps the people most at risk of becoming lost or disoriented in a time of emergency.

A customer’s needs for unified systems also stem from convenience. In a site with access control, time and attendance and a payment card technology system, asking each employee to carry multiple cards is both time consuming and an administrative nightmare.

Security installers should seek out integrated systems, or systems from the same manufacturer, offering a single card solution.

For security staff , being forced to switch between multiple systems to verify the identity of someone on camera, or manually associating footage with a door being forced open is both time consuming and unreliable. The security integrator must focus on systems that work seamlessly together, and become an expert in all disciplines.

Whilst the standalone keypad or fire alarm won’t go away overnight, an expectation of completely integrated systems is being pushed by domestic technology. With the same expectations now emerging from commercial customers, the security installer must look for total security systems, and become a true solutions integrator in order to keep up.

The Role of PSIM
Stephen Smith, ISM Managing Director
Whatever the size of a company, from small single site businesses through to multiple site and even international organisations, if they have a desire to monitor, verify and control events, whether these are threats to life and property and/or building maintenance requirements, a PSIM system should be considered.

PSIM is a scalable solution which is valid for single sites or multiple sites, irrespective of location. The ability to integrate products from multiple manufacturers into one holistic platform allows a control room to efficiently manage all events from video surveillance, intruder, fire and access control, reducing man guarding costs.

Additional modules can include building management and lighting control, thus allowing a positive return on investment from what otherwise could be considered a ‘grudge purchase’.

Intruder Developments
Clym Brown, Texecom Marketing Director
Intruder alarm systems are always on and always monitoring, regardless of the state of the system, and can therefore provide a wealth of real-time information for building management systems.

Essentially, intruder alarm systems are self-contained state-machines with a number of inputs (sensors, keypads, etc.) being monitored, and predetermined outputs (sirens, communication messages, etc.) being triggered as a result. Information that is not pertinent to the principle security requirement is often ignored or discarded.
However, at the individual component and device level, the information available that can be gathered will often provide benefits for a host of alternative systems and operations.

Before considering how this information can be accessed and used, it is important to recognise that the integrity and security of the alarm system is paramount and cannot be compromised. A fundamental philosophy contained within the suite of EN standards for alarm systems is that any non-EN graded equipment must not be able to interfere with the integrity of the alarm system installed.

The design architecture of an IP-based system must clearly separate the ‘core’ (i.e. EN graded) security functions from the ‘enhanced performance and building intelligence’ integration. It must be noted that IP connectivity is not the only method of achieving integration, and other forms of connectivity may be more suitable for particular applications. However, using IP connectivity can provide a neat solution to this issue, so long as any IP integration is on a separate, dedicated, network. There are difficulties associated with security and non-security devices connecting and communicating across the same LAN or WAN, as it could be the case that the incorrect operation (or deliberate sabotage) of a non-graded device might compromise security of the network in question. A protocol-driven IP-based communication on a dedicated network is a solution that clearly distinguishes the ‘separation of powers’ in any integration, without limiting the information provided.

Once a level of information exchange has been established, a plethora of integration and business intelligence functions becomes available. Common integration solutions include access control, smart building connectivity and CCTV event triggering.

With access to data from all the linked components of a security system, building intelligence features such as people counting, energy management and other dynamic intelligent services become possible.

With the convergence of network-based products in the commercial property sector, combined with the ‘Internet of Things’ beginning to make a real impact in mass-market residential products and services, network-enabled security alarms are rapidly becoming a mainstream necessity.

BENCHMARK
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