Critical Connection Questions for PSIM

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Only Connect!

E.M. Forster's exhortation is especially apropos to the world of physical security information management (PSIM), in which the number of systems a PSIM vendor can connect to is a key criteria for integrators and users evaluating vendor offerings.

Yet figuring out how many connectors a PSIM vendor has completed and has available is like reaching for a cozy English mystery and picking up Howards End instead.

What seems like a straightforward question quickly branches into a tangle. Security Squared did ask each vendor for a connector count, and though all provided numbers, in the end, we decided we could not be certain we were offering an apples-to-apples comparison. Several classic PSIM vendors clustered in the 40-50 range, a couple were at 100-150 mark but at least one of those was including sensors though we'd wanted major system connections only. Meanwhile several near-PSIM vendors claimed thousands of connections, most likely by counting device connections.

All that's clear is connectors can be counted in many different ways, some more meaningful than others.

The Ways to Count


A PSIM vendor connects to, say, Lenel's OnGuard platform. The OnGuard system may have many hundreds of devices and sensors connected to it. That can either count as one connection--or as several hundred, depending on who's counting and how.

Similarly, if counting direct connections to specific cameras, card readers, motion detectors, sensors, etc., connector numbers can quickly mount into the thousands.

A PSIM vendor could support a standard protocol, like BACnet, which in theory means the platform supports every major building automation platform also supporting that communications protocol. Can those be counted as connections or do they only count once running in a live implementation?

Then there's the issue of which version of a major system the PSIM platform supports. Access vendors have multiple versions of their platforms in the field; so do video management system vendors, building automation systems, etc. An older version of a product may be much different from a newer one.

"Each connection has to be certified separately," said James Henry, CEO, Henry Bros. Electronics, Fair Lawn, N.J.

The number of connectors specific to a vertical industry may be more meaningful to users in those fields. "Oil and gas refineries definitely have a limited set of products that they use inside their facilities," said Steve Rogers, vice president, LANAIR Group, Los Angeles. "That definitely would play into reducing some of the potential software solutions because these guys are locked into a certain set of standards. The PSIM vendor who already had those connections done would probably be first on the list."

Only Part of the Story

While the connection question is important, several integrators and vendors said those numbers don't tell the whole story about any PSIM solution.

"What the system does with the data is how it differentiates itself," said Ayal Vogel, vice president, Safeguards Technology, Hackensack, N.J.  The company, which specializes in large perimeter intrusion detection systems, will be using highly sensitive acoustical fiber optic detection systems. The company is working with Mer Inc., in part because Mer's PSIM platform had built-in capabilities to help Safeguards analyze and craft appropriate responses to readings from the fiber optic sensors.

Integrators also said the openness of the PSIM solution's architecture must be considered (See Picking a PSIM Solution). The more open the platform, the easier and faster it should be to write custom connections to old or homegrown systems as well as to support new versions of and upgrades to connected subsystems.

The depth of a connection and whether it is offered direct to a sensor or into a system that's aggregating sensor data, such as those offered by Augusta Systems, Morgantown, W.Va., and ViaLogy, Pasadena, Calif., may be an important question. That in part depends on what functionality a customer wants to control in downstream devices. A direct connection means the PSIM provider owns the driver and can expose any features the device vendor has offered in its SDK or API. An aggregator may not have exposed as rich a feature set, according to CNL Americas, Indianapolis.

That said, PSIM vendors like VidSys, Marlborough, Mass., and Proximex, Sunnyvale, Calif., that partner with aggregators tout the cost effectiveness of making one connection rather than hundreds or even thousands to different sensors. Intergraph, Atlanta, offers its own specialized sensor aggregation point.

The Final Link

Integrators have a fairly direct means for answering these connection queries: They generally ignore the PSIM marketing material and slideware and either go see the PSIM platforms working in production environments similar to those of their clients and/or put the platform through tests in-house.

"Detailed due diligence is needed on the part of the systems integrator to tie claims and reality together," said Henry. "PSIM is very good and can supply great value, if customer expectations are managed. We're the critical bridge between reality and the expectations."  

That link may be one of the most important connections of all.

Only Connect!

E.M. Forster's exhortation is especially apropos to the world of physical security information management (PSIM), in which the number of systems a PSIM vendor can connect to is a key criteria for integrators and users evaluating vendor offerings.

Yet figuring out how many connectors a PSIM vendor has completed and has available is like reaching for a cozy English mystery and picking up Howards End instead.

What seems like a straightforward question quickly branches into a tangle. Security Squared did ask each vendor for a connector count, and though all provided numbers, in the end, we decided we could not be certain we were offering an apples-to-apples comparison. Several classic PSIM vendors clustered in the 40-50 range, a couple were at 100-150 mark but at least one of those was including sensors though we'd wanted major system connections only. Meanwhile several near-PSIM vendors claimed thousands of connections, most likely by counting device connections.

All that's clear is connectors can be counted in many different ways, some more meaningful than others.

The Ways to Count


A PSIM vendor connects to, say, Lenel's OnGuard platform. The OnGuard system may have many hundreds of devices and sensors connected to it. That can either count as one connection--or as several hundred, depending on who's counting and how.

Similarly, if counting direct connections to specific cameras, card readers, motion detectors, sensors, etc., connector numbers can quickly mount into the thousands.

A PSIM vendor could support a standard protocol, like BACnet, which in theory means the platform supports every major building automation platform also supporting that communications protocol. Can those be counted as connections or do they only count once running in a live implementation?

Then there's the issue of which version of a major system the PSIM platform supports. Access vendors have multiple versions of their platforms in the field; so do video management system vendors, building automation systems, etc. An older version of a product may be much different from a newer one.

"Each connection has to be certified separately," said James Henry, CEO, Henry Bros. Electronics, Fair Lawn, N.J.

The number of connectors specific to a vertical industry may be more meaningful to users in those fields. "Oil and gas refineries definitely have a limited set of products that they use inside their facilities," said Steve Rogers, vice president, LANAIR Group, Los Angeles. "That definitely would play into reducing some of the potential software solutions because these guys are locked into a certain set of standards. The PSIM vendor who already had those connections done would probably be first on the list."

Only Part of the Story

While the connection question is important, several integrators and vendors said those numbers don't tell the whole story about any PSIM solution.

"What the system does with the data is how it differentiates itself," said Ayal Vogel, vice president, Safeguards Technology, Hackensack, N.J.  The company, which specializes in large perimeter intrusion detection systems, will be using highly sensitive acoustical fiber optic detection systems. The company is working with Mer Inc., in part because Mer's PSIM platform had built-in capabilities to help Safeguards analyze and craft appropriate responses to readings from the fiber optic sensors.

Integrators also said the openness of the PSIM solution's architecture must be considered (See Picking a PSIM Solution). The more open the platform, the easier and faster it should be to write custom connections to old or homegrown systems as well as to support new versions of and upgrades to connected subsystems.

The depth of a connection and whether it is offered direct to a sensor or into a system that's aggregating sensor data, such as those offered by Augusta Systems, Morgantown, W.Va., and ViaLogy, Pasadena, Calif., may be an important question. That in part depends on what functionality a customer wants to control in downstream devices. A direct connection means the PSIM provider owns the driver and can expose any features the device vendor has offered in its SDK or API. An aggregator may not have exposed as rich a feature set, according to CNL Americas, Indianapolis.

That said, PSIM vendors like VidSys, Marlborough, Mass., and Proximex, Sunnyvale, Calif., that partner with aggregators tout the cost effectiveness of making one connection rather than hundreds or even thousands to different sensors. Intergraph, Atlanta, offers its own specialized sensor aggregation point.

The Final Link

Integrators have a fairly direct means for answering these connection queries: They generally ignore the PSIM marketing material and slideware and either go see the PSIM platforms working in production environments similar to those of their clients and/or put the platform through tests in-house.

"Detailed due diligence is needed on the part of the systems integrator to tie claims and reality together," said Henry. "PSIM is very good and can supply great value, if customer expectations are managed. We're the critical bridge between reality and the expectations."  

That link may be one of the most important connections of all.

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