New standard to unite physical and IT security

You don’t normally think of Cisco Systems Inc. as a camera company. But as IT and physical security become more converged on the IP network, that might change.

New indoor and outdoor dome cameras in vandal-resistant housings were among a series of physical security announcement the switch-maker made last week. A range of modular multi-service platforms and video surveillance applications were also announced.

But more significantly, the company climbed aboard the open IP Media Device API bandwagon, announcing it has embedded the new standard introduced earlier this month by the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) in its surveillance cameras.

“This standard is going to make it easier for integrators to build systems,” said Steve Collen, director of business development for Cisco’s physical security unit. It will also allow make it easier for companies to innovate, Collen said – the camera becomes an Internet protocol device that can be controlled over the Internet.

Other companies supporting the API include ADT Security Services, GE Security, Honeywell, IBM and Johnson controls, among others.

The camera release extends a line that Cisco launched about six months ago. “You’ll probably see us make announcements in the camera space every three months,” Collen said. While customers can choose from a range of CS-mount lenses from Tamron and Fujinon and the sensors are made by a partner Cisco won’t name, the rest of the camera is all Cisco, Collen said.

The modular multiservice platforms come in one-, two- and for-unit racks, providing different amounts of storage and stream capacity. And Cisco Video Surveillance Manager has record-on-motion and record on-event capabilities to extend storage capacity.

The three are Cisco’s first products to support the H.264 video compression standard, which has risen to prominence in the last six months, said Collen. H.264 provides better quality video at lower bandwidth than the MPEG4 standard that’s currently common for IP video surveillance equipment.

Cisco’s growth in the video surveillance market reflects a slow-building trend to converge physical and data security onto a single network.

“Technically, we’re there,” Collen said. “There’s no technical impediment” to converged infosec and physec networks. But, he said, “in almost all organizations, you have separate physical and IT security teams.”

And those teams don’t necessarily talk much, although that’s improving, Collen said. A year ago, perhaps 10 per cent of customers he spoke to had physical security and IT co-operating; now that number’s more like 50 per cent, he said.

That’s mirrored on the integration side, where physical security resellers are partnering with IT shops or developing their own IT practices – and vice versa.

At least the smart ones will, according to Dan Dunkel, president of New Era Associates and co-author of Physical and Logical Security Convergence.

“Security is the last domino to fall in the corporate infrastructure” in terms of connecting to the network, Dunkel said. “Every other department has been through this exercise over the last 20 years.”

Dunkel said convergence is a byproduct of “a fundamental transformation” of the security industry fuelled by globalization and a changing perspective on risk. The task of securing a global supply chain is one of huge scope, and until the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the notion of protecting infrastructure from an intentional attack “was never a security goal,” he said. “Now, (risk is) not just fire and earthquakes and labour strikes.”

Security officers have had to become more business- and technology-literate, and those requirements are being passed on to integrators, Dunkel said.

“They’d better get this religion quickly,” Dunkel said. “IT folks are becoming more involved in security decisions.” It’s easier for an IT firm to pick up the physical side of security than for a physic company that’s been ignorant of technology to do the reverse, he said.

“Some folks are going to get smart and partner,” he said, while other larger security companies might buy IT integrators. The security industry is in a “transformation phase,” he said.

“You can make a lot of money if you’re in at the front end,” Dunkel said.