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Ask the expert: Integration using SDKs and DDKs

As a manufacturer of security and safety software and equipment, one of the most often asked questions is, “Does your product easily integrate with other systems?” Without a doubt, integration between different security systems is on every security integrator’s and end user’s mind. More importantly, the need for integration has gone beyond security systems and into the realm of IT and other business systems.


January 4, 2011
By Jimmy Palatsoukas

Topics

The reasons are easy to understand: no customer wants to purchase a system that works in a silo and is unable to communicate and share information with other systems. Information is power, and seamless communication can not only enhance an organization’s efficiency but also serve as a catalyst for positive interdepartmental co-operation. As a result of this need for collaboration between security, safety, and business systems, many manufacturers have modified and extended the capabilities of their products to add the value customers long for.

Before jumping into the various aspects of a security product that enable and promote integration with other systems, let’s define what integration really is and how it has been approached by security manufacturers historically. The simplest approach to integration has always been through dry contacts and relays. Examples range from a fire system’s secondary output triggering an access control input to generate an event in case of fire, to an intrusion panel activating an input on a camera or encoder to add a video bookmark thereby augmenting the actual intrusion event with recorded video for visual authentication purposes. Although simple to implement, this level of integration is limited, and involves manpower to wire all the electrical interconnections between systems. There is only so much you can communicate with relays. That being said, the main benefit is that the events from one system can be displayed in the user interface of the other system, a small step in consolidating information.

The next level of integration is through a software development kit or SDK. Many security product manufacturers have added SDKs to their toolkits which allow for integration through software that circumvents the labour-intensive use of electrical wiring as the primary means of communication. With an SDK, all communications can be achieved through software or middleware, information can be shared bi-directionally, and installation involves deploying middleware created with the SDK and ensuring there is IP network connectivity between systems. Examples range from an access control system adding a video bookmark directly into the video database on every access control event, or a human resources system adding and removing cardholders in an access control system. 

Newer trends include integration through IT directories and driver development kits (DDKs). With the growing trend of IT and security systems convergence, integration through directories, e.g. Microsoft Active Directory, is gaining traction.

Today, many organizations use a centralized directory to manage their computer users, security policies, and deploy software. Since these directories tend to be centralized, an organization can use this central repository to not only consolidate information but to share information with other business and security systems. For example, Microsoft Active Directory can be used to synchronize computer user accounts with a video surveillance system’s operator accounts or an access control system’s cardholder accounts.

With automated synchronization from the directory to these various security systems, an organization’s efficiency is naturally increased. Data entry is done centrally and only once, and system updates are sent to any system connected to the central repository, be it a security system or a business system such as a human resources management system or a student database. What’s more, this type of integration is increasingly supported out of the box by security product manufacturers and can be simple to set up if properly supported by the product.

Another level of integration can be achieved through driver development kits or DDKs. DDKs have been used historically by operating system (OS) manufacturers, such as Microsoft and Apple, to allow hardware manufacturers to add device drivers that can be used by applications running on their operating systems. A security product looking to integrate third party hardware systems will tend to naturally evolve to support DDKs. More importantly, a security product that supports hardware-specific DDKs (e.g. an intrusion panel DDK or a camera DDK) means that the level of integration should, in theory, be more extensive than going through a generic SDK.

As an end user or integrator, the level of integration you can expect depends on what is supported by the product you select. A safe approach when selecting a product is to question and look at all the product has to offer in terms of integration-specific functionalities. A product that supports hardware input and output modules, SDKs, DDKs, and centralized IT directories, is one that promotes integration and co-operation.

You will also need to question the type of framework and programming language supported by the SDK and/or DDK to ensure it will be viable for the many years ahead, if the toolkits are backward and forward compatible, and I would even strongly recommend that you find out what specific functionalities are supported by the toolkit. The good news is that software integration is no longer merely a trend but an industry reality and security manufacturers are listening to the market and adapting.


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