Articles by Greg Hetrick
The principals of fault-tolerant access control are designed to limit the chances of system catastrophe by hardware failure Today, fault-tolerant security systems have become a necessity in several high-security environments as they ensure that security is not compromised in the event of some hardware malfunction. The availability of competitively priced fault-tolerant access control systems also make them attractive for security installers as well as end-users. In this article, Greg Hetrick, Marketing Manager at PCSC, explains fault-tolerant systems in detail, including its architecture and benefits. The Scenario Imagine a Security Director receives a call at home in the middle of the night. He’s awakened by a member of the Security Guard staff who frantically informs him the high-rise’s night shift employees cannot enter their offices when returning from break. The office door access readers are ignoring the employees’ access credentials when presented. The guard is further puzzled because his system appears to be offline for that segment, no reports are being generated and even his video monitoring has been interrupted. In a panic, the Security Director now makes numerous late night calls to the building’s Maintenance and IT Departments to assess the situation. Meanwhile, chaos builds at the scene, employees loiter the halls and lobby while the elevator reader’s floor control remains ineffective. The reader controlled parking arms in the garage will not rise either. In this hypothetical situation the results stemmed from failed access controller components of the building’s security system. Fault-tolerance is the property that enables a system to continue operating in the event of a failure of one or more of its components Overview of Fault-tolerant Systems Paraphrasing from Wikipedia, fault-tolerance is the property that enables a system to continue operating in the event of a failure of one or more of its components. Fault-tolerant computer systems have been around for many years, the concept is not new. For example, redundant network servers are common place in data centers. Often set up so that any single device or connection can fail, and without user intervention, a backup system or connection will step in without user intervention, and take over the job of the failed device or connection. The result, no data is lost, computers and networks continue to function while system user’s experience a brief hiccup lasting just seconds. Normally, fault-tolerant systems can be characterized in terms of both planned service outages and unplanned service outages. These are usually measured at the application level and not just at a hardware level. The figure of merit is called availability and is expressed as a percentage. A “five nines” system would statistically provide 99.999% availability. A forward thinking security systems designer might pair today’s fault-tolerant servers with today’s fault-tolerant access controllers to achieve this type of system. Fault-tolerance has now been applied to the components of access control, namely the access control panel or controller. The principals of the fault-tolerant architecture are designed into the security hardware and software alleviating the chances of system catastrophe by hardware failure. The result: the system and its components remain “online”, and any malfunctioning hardware can be inspected at leisure (ideally this setup would have prevented the scenario described earlier). Distributed Versus Subservient Access Controller Architecture Often, two common hardware architectures are deployed in the access control industry. First, the “distributed” architecture; as its name suggests, the intelligence (database storage and decision making ability) of the system is distributed to an array of control panels on the system. Each card reader and its associated input and output points are connected directly to an intelligent controller. The second architecture is the “master controller-to-door controller” style, also known as master/slave. With this configuration, the master controllers are the only intelligent component of the system and each door is connected to a lesser intelligent door interface module near the systems edge. The advantage of the first type of system described here is that since the intelligence is distributed to each controller and the number of doors connected to each controller is limited (usually 12 to 16 doors), the risk of losing more than a few doors within the system due to any one hardware failure is low, however still a loss. In contrast, the master controller-to-door controller configuration could conceivably put up to 128 doors in a degraded state if one master controller fails. The advantage of the master controller-to-door controller schema is the low cost associated with having fewer intelligent controllers on the system. Many service providers in the security industry have had to evaluate the pros and cons of these two types of architectures upon the application’s access control requirements. Both are valid architectures, and depending on how critical it is that the system stays up and operating or the size of the end-user’s budget, either architecture could be more appropriate. In large part, manufacturers of access control hardware default to either one or the other of these two architectural philosophies and will forcefully defend it. Fault Tolerant Access Control Fault-tolerant systems lend flexibility to the management of security systems and technologies New fault tolerant systems offer the service provider and the end-user the best of both worlds. They use the more cost-effective master controller-to-door controller architecture, yet offer system survivability that surpasses even the most conservatively designed distributed intelligence systems. Having the ability to fall back to any other master controller on the system is advantageous in eliminating an “offline” scenario. A truly fault tolerant system offers redundant master controllers, redundant host computers, redundant communication paths and backup power. With today’s fault-tolerant access control systems, you can choose from several different backup or secondary communications protocols. You could opt to use an LAN as your primary communication path and then have an additional LAN connection, wireless network or hardwired RS485 to serve as a secondary or tertiary communication mode. These fault-tolerant systems offer advanced features, such as automatic data propagation. When a new fault-tolerant master controller is added to an existing fault-tolerant system, the necessary information the new controller needs to operate as an integral part of the system can automatically be transferred from either the host computer or from another master controller in the system. No physical user intervention is needed to give the new controller the data and system parameters it requires to become a part of the existing system environment. Inputs and outputs are now global in their reach. Any input on the system can trigger any output and this can be based on any event, anywhere on the system—none of this is dependent on the host computer or even any specific master controller. This flexibility is an inherent consequence of the system’s fault-tolerant characteristics. According to the specifications of one manufacturer (PCSC), these systems naturally incorporate 32 bit CPUs and can take advantage of today’s advanced Power over Ethernet (PoE) technologies as well as additional high security features, such as: Automatic Hot Cutover, Fail Safe Operations, Anti-Passback Control, 5 State Alarm Monitoring, “Threat Level” Card Authorization Logic, 2 Stage Alarm Control, Alarm Latching, Two Person Minimum Occupancy Rule, AC Power Failure Notification, DC Low Power Notification, Supervised Readers and Tamper Switches, Supervised REX and FIPS 201 and TWIC Compliant. At What Cost? Fault-tolerance is often sought-after by the requirements of today’s high security environments. This technology is ideal for the following markets: military, government, campuses, healthcare, utility and industrial facilities. Currently, PCSC a Torrance, California based access control manufacturer holds patent rights on the Fault Tolerant Security Architecture, the technology that is found within their product line of fault-tolerant controllers. It is difficult to place a price on security, and priceless when it comes to life safety. These access control systems are competitively priced to compete with systems using standard designs, making these high-availability systems an attractive option for both end-users and access system installers. The days of frantic calls to dispatchers in the middle of the night to fix an access control and security system that has dropped offline could be no more. There is peace of mind in knowing that even if the controller and primary communications fail and the host computer goes offline, a facilities’ access control can remain “online” without serious interruption.
More attention needs to be placed on the development of readers that can accommodate Wireless and Wi-Fi technology Many of the changes in the access control market are happening at the “edge” – at the reader level. Access control advances that continue to become more widespread include wireless and PoE-enabled access control hardware such as wireless locks and PoE door controllers, which both reduce installation costs. Other trends are related to mobility; one is the increased use of smart phones and tablets for day-to-day access control operations. Another is the increased adoption of mobile credentials – leveraging near field communications (NFC) or Bluetooth Low Energy (LE)-enabled technologies that allow smart phones to be used as access control credentials to enter a building instead of traditional credentials such as cards. Emerging technology platforms can fragment and hinder the market, among both integrators and end users. Do we install and use Bluetooth, NFC or the latest in biometrics? Are they safe, proven, and are there standards? “Only time will prove which technologies are better,” says Greg Hetrick, PCSC’s director of marketing. “Until then, it’s anyone’s guess, often at the expense of real-world scenarios. By the time it’s proven, new technologies become available. The cycle is always turning.” The best approach is to find the right balance between today’s and tomorrow’s technologies, he adds. Wireless and Wi-Fi technology is inching into the access control space, and because of this, more attention needs to be placed on the development of readers that can accommodate this technology. Accompanying issues include the level of integration with traditional physical access control systems and safety concerns when recommending and deploying these devices, says Robert Laughlin, president of Galaxy Control Systems. John L. Moss, CEO of S2 Security, sees access control evolving in the next five years in relation to “bring your own device (BYOD),” global distributed systems in the cloud, and inexpensive wireless locksets. “With the ubiquity of smart phones and BYOD, people will use mobile devices as personal credentials, either with Bluetooth LE or by using an app built into the device,” he says. “New business models will evolve around these new technologies that will benefit end users through reduced total cost of ownership and integrators through a shorter replacement cycle, which is typically long in access control,” Moss comments. Hetrick believes that in the near future, smart phones or wearables will become the primary source for card access, door entry, system access, payments, health information and identification In the near future, access credentials will become more mobile and more portable, whether physical or cloud-based. “Your smart phone or wearable (smart watch) will become your primary source for card access, for door entry, system access, payments, health information and identification,” Hetrick says. Virtual credentials may live in the cloud versus on a device. If someone switches to a new employer, for example, no new credentials will be assigned. Rather, they are simply authorized and activated by the new employer and deactivated by the previous one. When it’s time to upgrade a device, the credentials are available via the cloud to the new device, Hetrick says. “Device security will improve via biometrics (fingerprint, i.e., Touch ID; and perhaps facial recognition using a device’s camera) with multiple forms of authentication and rolling encryption,” Hetrick says. “As a manufacturer, we hear about biometrics, NFC, these are all things we see, but it’s hard to integrate them into our platform,” says John Smith, senior channel marketing manager, Honeywell Security. “There are 100 different biometrics, not operating to a standard. Most of our systems can work with these things, most have a Wiegand or standard output, but the enrollment piece might be a problem and require a separate application. We as a manufacturer are watching it closely, but we haven’t seen it as a big draw.” For example, a predominant leader hasn’t emerged relative to NFC. Also, biometric readers are three to 10 times more expensive than a card reader, so cost justification has to come down, he adds. Jason Ouellette, product line director, access control, Tyco Security, suggests the future of access control will be a matter of “back to the future.” He expects more access control systems will be based on a cloud environment, reminiscent of the days of mainframe computers. The edge devices that provide the monitoring, reporting and day-to-day management of access control will be comparable to yesterday’s “dumb” terminals. “Additionally, we will see a shift from the traditional plastic cards and fobs to electronic credentials managed through smart devices like mobile phones and tablets,” he adds. “One more shift will be the use of biometrics, such as facial recognition, for access control, which will create a ‘frictionless’ mode of access control as the technology improves,” Ouellette says. “While the technology of cloud-based servers over mainframes and tablets or mobile phones provides far greater capabilities, it will also drastically change the way access control is installed, managed and encountered by end users over the next five years.” More access control systems will be based on a cloud environment, reminiscent of the days of mainframe computers. The edge devices that provide the monitoring, reporting and day-to-day management of access control will be comparable to yesterday’s “dumb” terminals Richard Goldsobel, vice president, Continental Access, sees some movement to more secure (than Wiegand) RS-485 readers. However, he says the the hype for access control right now revolves around moving the access credential to smart phones, using either NFC or Bluetooth LE technology to communicate with the reader. Problem is, the technologies are battling, and both have their pros and cons, but the functionality will be similar. The convenience of the credential on the phone, of course, is the major driving factor, but the functionality also raises some new security concerns. Security may dictate that additional functions be running on the smart phone app, such as biometrics or PIN processing. However, a need for additional actions to be performed on the phone will reduce convenience, says Goldsobel. “Your smart device will continue to play a larger role in the systems,” agrees Greg Love, vice president of sales, AMAG. “You can manage the system and get into the area, all with the same device.” He also sees additional options ahead for hosted, Web or embedded solutions – all from one manufacturer. “The customer can make the choice of how they would like to manage their security,” he says. New solutions will extend above and beyond access control and video management – including risk management, emergency preparedness and enhanced reporting outside of security responsibility. “It’s more of a total facility management system that takes advantage of the network in its entirety,” says Love. New technologies also bring new risks. Hetrick says the market should consider carefully issues related to credential and identity security, whether lost, stolen, duplicated or authenticated. “Can an access point identify that the access device authenticates the actual physical identify of the user?” he asks. “Is a lost card or hacked and stolen mobile device with NFC access able to open a secure door? Or is the access point also smart, i.e., able to use facial recognition to confirm that the card or device and the user are indeed one and the same, and therefore authorized? Or is this just a duplicate access device or card being used by a criminal? Can a duress situation be discreetly announced and identified, perhaps granting access while simultaneously notifying authorities? Will virtual and cloud-based credentials be at risk for attack, theft or duplication? Technology opens new layers of security risks. Are these risks masked, unforeseen? What preventions can be enabled?” Smith of Honeywell says the traditionally slow-moving access control market is being forced to embrace new and changing technologies, and many dealers are not comfortable with the situation. It takes a lot for a dealer to change its products or business model. Some are resistant to change, and others have a hard time finding qualified talent to deal with new technologies. “We are lagging behind technology as a whole,” says Smith. “A lot of dealers we have are resistant, it doesn’t fit their current business model, and they will have to change.”
A planned migration provides the ability to plan, budget and control the path to an improved access control environment The installed base of legacy systems presents opportunities and obstacles for providers of newer access control systems. Most end users would prefer not to do a full rip-and-replace upgrade. Therefore, integrators (and manufacturers) have to find a smooth transition path. Access control customers eager to embrace the newest capabilities on the market are often faced with a daunting question: How do I get there from here? “The migration from traditional access control technology to newer technology can be costly and painful if not planned and implemented in the right way,” says Jason Ouellette, product line director, access control, Tyco Security. He points out the importance of looking for solutions that allow end users to continue to leverage a legacy installation base while transitioning to newer technologies. A planned migration provides the ability to plan, budget and control the path to an improved access control environment with very few tradeoffs and avoiding a one-time large budget cost, says Ouellette. “A strong integration platform, unified server capability and flexible collaborative client interfaces can support this type of migration,” he says. “One more important piece of the puzzle is a strong history of being able to support legacy hardware over a longer migration period. Forklift exercises are difficult to manage and justify in the budget, so time is needed to allow for a controlled and phased-in update of hardware from old to new.” Can yesterday’s product continue to be supported, then upgraded and transitioned to tomorrow’s solution with minimal to no downtime? Greg Hetrick, PCSC’s director of marketing, says technology must support legacy systems and also be backward-compatible and database- and hardware-upgradable. Where does it leave integrators and end users if an access control manufacturer abandons the ability to accommodate legacy controllers and wiring with their new software? That makes rip-and-replace the only option, says Robert Laughlin, president of Galaxy Control Systems. However, Laughlin says if analog twisted-pair cabling with 485 or 422 protocols is present, it can often be used along with the installed readers and only the controllers need to be replaced, thus saving time and money. “In some instances the existing controllers installed throughout a facility can even be re-engineered so they also do not need to be replaced,” he says. “Only the centralized software at the head-end needs to be replaced.” Bringing uniformity to an existing or new installation is easier with software-based controllers that are backward-compatible and promote best-of-breed solutions, says Laughlin. “The opportunity for integrators is keeping end users informed on the latest technologies, upgrading when appropriate, staying ahead of the curve, and preventing risks in all aspects of access control and security” Expanding the benefits of existing systems is another way to increase business for integrators. Software-based systems have increased the potential for new business development outside the conventional physical security domain, says Laughlin. He gives an example of a school system that was looking for a better way to manage student traffic among a large number of portable classrooms being used while a new facility was being constructed. A main concern centered on children using restrooms and other facilities located in the main school building throughout the course of the day. “School administrators wanted a way to track student movements efficiently beyond issuing conventional written hall passes,” he says. In lieu of hall passes, proximity devices were issued for use with access readers in the classrooms and at all entrances to the main school building. Now students are monitored and allocated a predetermined amount of time to walk from their classroom to the building. If a student fails to report in the given time period, the system issues a general alert. Innovation is making access control installation easier and more effective, whether in a new application or an upgrade. There’s a trend toward network appliances that come pre-configured for easier and more efficient on-site system setup, application installation and customization. For example, on-board capabilities will allow users to connect to the network appliance by launching a shortcut from any LAN-connected PC. This capability will greatly reduce installation time by eliminating the need to deploy or install software and servers, says Laughlin. Access control systems will continue to be a focal point of an organization’s physical security systems. From a single control platform, users can monitor the state of a facility as well as share data with other systems such as video surveillance and video management, visitor management, time and attendance, alarms, photo-imaging, badging, elevator control and building management. Further in the future, wireless communication will eventually replace Ethernet cables. Also, alternative power (think: solar/battery/conductive charging) as wireless power platforms will replace wired power. Cloud backup for local and offline recovery will become essential. “The opportunity for integrators is keeping end users informed on the latest technologies, upgrading when appropriate, staying ahead of the curve, and preventing risks in all aspects of access control and security,” says Hetrick.
Access control systems that leverage proprietary technologies severely limit system flexibility Access control’s ongoing transition from closed systems to more open integration provides benefits for integrators, and especially for end users looking to maximize their system return on investment. End users want greater flexibility, specifically in terms of hardware choice. As a result, more non-proprietary solutions are coming to market. For the integrator, offering more open access control solutions provides an edge over competitors, freeing up the integrator to suggest and install various types of IP access control devices from multiple vendors that work with a single unified or universal access control software solution. The market is working to overcome a tradition of proprietary systems. Many manufacturers have been predominantly proprietary, especially related to core control. Openness will create a need for different costing models, says John Smith, senior channel marketing manager, Honeywell Security. “We as manufacturers have to adapt to meet the demand for openness in the industry by making ourselves open and finding additional ways to capture revenue from our products and services.” Access control systems that leverage proprietary technologies severely limit system flexibility and choice of hardware available to end users and integrators, especially when systems near end-of-life, says Jimmy Palatsoukas, senior product marketing manager, Genetec. “It can be extremely costly to maintain or replace closed-architecture systems as technology continues to evolve, leaving end users in a position where they must consider a potentially costly system replacement,” he adds. “A shift toward greater openness with IP access control systems is helping end users extend the life of their systems,” adds Palatsoukas. Intelligent controllers such as Genetec’s Synergis Master Controller allow end users to keep existing equipment and phase in new wireless and PoE door hardware over time, thus minimizing upgrade costs, he says. Systems need open databases, open standards and open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Products should be compatible with each other regardless of the manufacturer, achievable using industry standards and protocols. Offerings and solutions should be consolidated and minimised to provide only the necessary solutions and features, says Greg Hetrick, PCSC’s director of marketing. “Essentially, less always becomes more,” he comments. Several suppliers mentioned other aspects related to the need for open systems: Both venders must be committed to finding a resolution for any challenges that arise Finger-pointing: Who’s responsible? “Most people in the security industry have at least one horror story about trying to integrate two solutions or trying to manage an integration over time,” says Jeremy Krinitt, general manager of Frontier Security. “Often integration challenges lead to two manufacturers who are unsure where the problem really lies, which results in a lot of finger-pointing that doesn’t help the integrator or the end user find a reasonable solution.” Both venders must be committed – in resources and in partnership – to finding a resolution for any challenges that arise, he says. Compatibility issues among product versions When combining systems using integration, compatibility is typically limited to specific product versions. For example, once a video surveillance system is upgraded, the integration with access control could become faulty or fail completely. Krinitt says technology can help by providing consistent interfaces between solutions to ensure flexibility to upgrade either of the solutions without loss of the interface. Also, a unified platform from a single vendor is intrinsically backward-forward compatible, thus eliminating any future compatibility issues, says Palatsoukas of Genetec. Standards that lack full functionality “As much as we like to talk about standards within the industry and how everything should be plug-and-play, we still seem to struggle with that,” says Greg Love, vice president of sales, AMAG. “There are base features that are supported, but most end users only hear that ‘it integrates.’ When the system is installed, and it doesn’t perform one of the tasks the customer expected, we end up providing that for free (as an add-on).” Some systems are integrated only on a basic level (based on ONVIF standards, for example), but end users expect the full value of every feature on the device. “We need to do a better job of communicating the level of integration,” says Love. “The end user community isn’t getting the whole story.” A broader spectrum of systems needing integration Today’s access control systems must integrate with a growing number of devices, including wireless locking systems, VMS software, elevator control software, environmental controls and lighting systems. Access control also has to integrate with high-end software like physical security information management (PSIM) software. Some manufacturers provide APIs, which allow integration components to be fairly stable and consistent. Others write specific interfaces, which can be advantageous in terms of performance and features, but development resources are required to keep up with any changes. Either way, the development requests and pace continues to escalate, says Richard Goldsobel, vice president, Continental Access.
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