Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, the board of an electric utility, upon reviewing the draft financials for the annual report, was shocked to see that profits had taken another hit. Upon investigation, they found the sources of the problem: several industrial accident lawsuits, wide-spread copper theft at hundreds of sites, and a rather substantial fine levied against the utility for non-compliance with NERC CIP regulations. After an emergency meeting, top executives immediately jumped into action, creating a working group consisting of cross-functional teams from IT and Security, to address the problem.

Multiple aspects of physical, logical and procedural security were reviewed by the working group. It was no longer simply enough to record incidents, they decided. A more proactive approach was necessary. For instance, if there was an unauthorized access attempt at a NERC CIP site, they needed to know that immediately, and handle the breach in accordance with their CIP-compliant incident response plan. If someone scaled a fence to steal copper, they needed to be alerted to that automatically, since it was impossible to monitor each and every camera all of the time.

As they set about the tasks of fixing the problems, the working group analyzed the contributing factors. They quickly reached consensus on the ‘Why.” But as they started to devise specific solutions, some disagreement set in. While Security focused more on ‘What’ would be needed, IT gravitated toward the logistics of ‘How’ and ‘How Much.’

A Security member of the working group identified the utility’s analog video cameras and DVR-based video surveillance infrastructure, with its poor video quality, low frame rate, and lack of analytics, as obvious culprits. “Why not replace our existing analog cameras with IP, and upgrade our DVRs to an IP-based network video surveillance solution?” he questioned. At first, the IT contingent dismissed this idea out of hand because the existing cameras worked fine; they were already installed, and it seemed a waste of time and money to rip them out. And, they didn’t want to consume their precious resource – network bandwidth – unnecessarily.

After much discussion and debate, the team finally elected to move forward. Multi-channel encoders would replace the DVRs. High definition IP cameras would be used for the new cameras; and IP video surveillance would be deployed to bring them all together to improve security and performance. The Security group defined the ‘How Many’ and ‘Where’ while IT spec'ed out the network requirements – (dealing with the technical questions like, can it be multicast-enabled for scalability?; and can we leverage, possibly augment, our already overloaded network to accommodate the new system?)

Of course, IT had preferred brands and substantial buying power. One manufacturer’s video surveillance solution was pure software, but IT’s opinion was that turnkey solutions leveraging standard IT equipment might be more suitable for some remote locations. One vendor’s network video recorder had internal RAID storage for simplicity, and the software came pre-installed to save time and money. IT thought this solution was a good one, but had another requirement. They wanted to reuse an existing state-of-the-art Storage Area Network, located at the utility’s head office, as a central means of storing all the video recordings for the head office. The remote sites were a different matter; IT knew they couldn’t afford the bandwidth to record those centrally too.

“Since this is coming out of our budget, what does the OPEX look like?” IT then asked the manufacturers.  (IT was not convinced that the system ran on air despite the vendor sales manager’s declaration: “That’s the good news – it will just cost you annual support and maintenance.”

After all, IT had experience running a major datacenter and knew how much it really cost to keep the LEDs flashing. And, they had the budget, so it was fair game to ask the questions. “The servers we’ll be using for this video surveillance system software use electricity – what about that cost? And what about a back up UPS? The PoE cameras’ switches need UPS, right? Won’t we need to upgrade the cooling in the datacenter and closets, and don’t the air conditioners use electricity too? And this particular solution means we’ll have to house five new racks of equipment in the datacenter? We’re going to have to bring the construction crew in for this!”

Security grinned proudly as IT rattled off question after question to each bidder – because they now knew that together with IT, they were much stronger and better informed than they would have been apart. After all, Security was the expert at dealing with the ‘What,’ while IT was most adept at dealing with the ‘How.’

The next day, frustrated by the lack of answers, the working team called in some trusted system integrators, and posed the questions to them. One particularly progressive integrator produced a calculator tool to help the group tally up electricity cost and the cost per square foot of datacenter floor space. Using information from all the bidders, IT hurriedly entered the data into the calculator and created a 5-year comparison. Much to their surprise, what they had thought was the best solution from a capital investment standpoint, was by far the most costly based on OPEX. The decision now came down to ongoing costs, the green factor and plain commonsense.

Of course, in the real world, solving business problems through security solutions would be much more complex. But that’s not the point of this story. The point is – you can substitute any threat or compliance challenge, for any industry, and come to the same conclusion. With the advent of IP-based security and the widespread use of non-proprietary servers and storage, solving problems through security is no longer simply the domain of the Security group. Because IT has subject matter expertise, and often holds the budget reins, IT now has a head seat at the table.

So, what is the role of IT in security?Except for: designing the system architecture, selecting vendors, overseeing the budget, supporting installations and system integration, administering the network, allocating rack space in meticulously climate-controlled datacenters, and maintaining all of the software, servers and storage solutions, I can’t think of anything at all.