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WAN and Why You Need Networkability

September 20, 2001
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Most security experts agree that systems integration is quickly becoming security's best tool in the fight against crime. This is because it effectively harnesses the capabilities and features of all security subsystems by placing them under one, unified, streamlined operating platform. This puts more information at security's fingertips in a shorter period of time than ordinarily would be possible using individual control centers and a disjointed series of interfaces.

When that common operating platform happens to be a wide area network (WAN), and the mission includes multiple remote sites, security personnel are better able to exercise control. It also places more data in the hands of operators, which makes the job of command and control more efficient and exacting. This also makes it possible for security managers to make better-informed decisions.

Integtrating a system on a WAN puts more information at security's fingertips in a shorter period of time than ordinarily would be possible using individual control centers and a disjointed series of interfaces.

Taking the Leap

This strategy was recently put to the test at Northern States Power (NSP), Minneapolis, where a massive retrofit job was installed that involved video imaging access control, ID badging, graphical user interfaces (GUIs), and security and temperature monitoring.

The retrofit involves the replacement and installation of nearly 450 card readers, the local head-end operating system (OS) at 75 corporate sites, and the installation of addressable IP nodes at nearly every location on a corporate WAN that currently spans five states and soon will reach 12 states from Minnesota to Texas.

NSP's normal procedure is to run a full-scale cost analysis before making a major purchase. After careful consideration, they decided that the money necessary to bring the old system up-to-date was far in excess of what they wanted to spend.

Because the entire system NSP job will not be completed until later this year, there were still remote sites that employed the old operating platforms. The nature of this project is such that changes must take place seamlessly, without any disruption of service. Another factor to be considered was that some of the facilities are multi-tenant and some of the tenants were reluctant to change.

From an operations standpoint, the original security system employed individual, disjointed head-end operating systems that did not use the corporation's existing WAN for reporting and other functions. Instead, data communication occurred with the central monitoring station over 40 leased lines and several dial-up connections, according to Scott McCoy, security specialist, NSP.

Not only did this hodgepodge approach make daily operations a nightmare to orchestrate and implement, it also was expensive to operate. NSP was paying between $70 and $100 a month per leased line. Based on an average of $85 per line, that equates to an annual cost of $41,000. In addition, the accumulative, yearly costs associated with maintaining the old system was in excess of $300,000.

The existing card base was Wiegand and the client wanted proximity for two reasons: First, the use of proximity would enable NSP to install active prox transmitters in vehicles. Because the outdoor readers that NSP selected provide a read range of up to 2 1/2 ft., this would enable drivers to access the parking lots in a hands-free fashion.

"The prox cards were a nice change from the encrypted Wiegand swipe readers. For outside gate applications, which we have many, the new system has a read range of up to 16 in. for regular prox cards and 30 in. for vehicle tags. This makes access a lot more convenient in foul weather," says McCoy.

Second, NSP wanted to piggyback ID badging onto the same cards, and proximity seemed like a good choice. NSP selected readers from HID Corp., Irvine, Calif.

"Having the ability to direct-print to a badge is a benefit and it was definitely a factor in our final decision," says McCoy.

According to McCoy, 98 percent of NSP's remote sites have a WAN connection. In NSP's network, data transport takes place over a T1 connection or better. Only the smaller, unmanned sites will will use a dial-up connection.

Final Objectives

The goal of utilizing the corporation's WAN was worth the effort and initial expense for several reasons. Primarily, integration over a WAN provides centralized control, which means the client is able to employ a single, common user interface. In this case, NSP decided a GUI.

Using a WAN, NSP is able to instantly monitor the status of every door and troubleshoot problems without waiting for information to trickle into the monitoring facility. Using the GUI, an operator is quickly able to look up a remote panel to see if a particular door is shut or open, locked or unlocked.

The WAN also enables security to monitor users as they come and go at each remote site. This includes the use of video imaging where security is able to compare real-time facial images with those stored in memory. Using the corporate WAN also allows personnel to monitor all security functions at any of NSP's facilities.

"One of the benefits of continuous monitoring is to make people on the corporate campus aware that someone is monitoring activity," McCoy says.

The data transfer rate using a WAN versus a leased line is a factor to consider when contemplating a major retrofit. Where data typically moves over leased lines at 1,200 to 9,600 baud, over a WAN connection it will travel at speeds upward to 19,000 baud and higher.

Systems integration using the WAN is quickly changing how the security industry monitors and manages its clients' facilities. In terms of time and efficiency, it can take up to 8 hours to download a remote 9,000-user panel, where the same task using a WAN connection can take as little as 30 minutes.

Most IT departments frown on sharing their valued bandwidth with security; but, there are ways in which to do the job that even the most strict IT departments will accept. One way is to program the WAN to act like a dial-up. In this way, the remote panel will only contact the monitoring facility when a change in status or specific decision becomes necessary. This conserves bandwidth while providing immediate access to remote sites.

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