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The technology behind centrally managed and hosted solutions

In my last column, we discussed the increasing interest in centrally managed systems and hosted services. The potential value of such offerings is closely tied to the technology behind it. This time, we'll go over some of the technological aspects of hosted solutions and discuss some of the requirements vendors and manufacturers need to take into account when designing an access control or video solution to operate in this environment.


December 21, 2011
By Rob Colman


Topics

Centrally managed servers need connectivity to devices on the edge, be they door controllers, IO modules, video cameras or encoders. It is quite obvious that one of the first requirements for these solutions is that they have native IP or networking capabilities. We are discussing these newer offerings because IP networks are now quite common within today’s security environment and a must in any hosted solution. Intrusion panels historically relied on telephone lines, but the data requirements of access control and especially those of video make IP the ideal medium.

Given that communication can take place over a public network such as the Internet, encrypted or authenticated communications is also of vital importance. Exchanges between edge devices and the “cloud” need to be protected, especially when sensitive data is being uploaded. As such, encrypted communications is another key feature that should be built into any solution destined for the hosted or managed services segments of the security market. Another option, of course, is to set up connections over a virtual private network – (VPN). Through a VPN, a tunnel between the edge device and the central server can ensure a higher level of security over a more public network. That being said, this option can add to the cost or to the monthly fees paid by a user.

Another important technical aspect revolves around how the communication is initially established between equipment on the edge and the central server. Since many edge devices will typically be located within private networks behind a firewall, it may prove complicated to have a central server contact these remote devices. Here, manufacturers should place an emphasis on devices establishing connections back to a central server and simplifying as much of the process as possible. For example, manufacturers can go as far as programming all edge devices destined to the managed services space to automatically connect to the centralized servers. This simplifies the installation process and speeds up the establishment of communications. Customers would not have to manually configure anything in this case.

Once edge devices are up and running and connected back to a host or a centrally managed server, the next question is what data to transmit and when. In the case of video surveillance and because of the amount of bandwidth required for viewing video, this is one of the more important topics. What makes sense within a hosted environment is to have cameras with recording capabilities coupled with video servers capable of trickling video back on demand and on schedule. Door controllers typically handle most of the processing on the edge and log events when offline, so we’ll focus more on video here.

One of the key benefits is that video is recorded on the edge and only transmitted when required — for example, when an operator wants to review the video. A hosted solution that is able to upload the video on demand or automatically on schedule also enhances the overall offering. Video can be uploaded or trickled back for central storage during off-peak hours when bandwidth is not at a premium. Edge recording and other edge capabilities also make the overall solution more robust. Whether or not communications with a central host is up and running, end users know that their edge devices are either controlling access through a door or recording video and not incapacitated if the host is unreachable.

Another key requirement is allowing end users and customers to access their data and making this as simple as possible. Even though servers, databases, and storage may be centrally located and monitored, end users will still require access. This is where web clients or thin clients can add tremendous value. A web client that is truly platform-independent will allow your customers to run it from any location, regardless of the operating system. Furthermore, deploying and maintaining web clients should be a much simpler process since there is typically nothing to install. Lastly, the functionality offered by the web client is important and this is where you assess your customers’ needs from both a usability and supported features perspective.

Jimmy Palatsoukas is a Senior Product Manager at Genetec.


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