Cisco and the Looming Inevitability of IT in Security

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Cisco Systems will make its Medianet network management architecture available to third-party vendors of IP video surveillance equipment as part of a new strategy to drive sales of network infrastructure through the physical security channel.

For Cisco, the move represents a shift in emphasis away from the traditional security trappings of cameras, cable and video management and back to its core strength--IP network infrastructure and integration. Nonetheless, the company says it will continue to market its own camera and VMS systems.

Yet Cisco's security hardware now seems to be taking a back seat to its suite of network planning and management tools, which are built around the proprietary Medianet platform. With access to Medianet, camera and VMS suppliers will be able to offer Cisco customers the ability to previsualize the way video surveillance traffic will cross the enterprise network and troubleshoot problems in advance of actual camera deployment.

This principal Medianet tool synthesizes a video stream from a given camera or set of cameras, using the desired resolution and frame rate. This gives users an accurate picture of how video traffic from the prospective camera or cameras will affect overall network performance, according to a Cisco spokesman.

"This sets up the network for success," the spokesman said. "There are no weak pints. Every camera is optimized."

Medianet availability also will allow third party vendors to integrate with IPICS, Cisco's IP-based incidence-response solution that integrates video, IP telephones and IP-based push-to-talk radios and other wireless devices providing a common surveillance and communications management across a single platform in an emergency.  .

VideoIQ, which makes IP cameras with onboard analytics, is the first camera vendor to announce Medianet compatibility. Cameras vendors make a natural first target for Cisco, as processing power, resolution and features consume greater amounts of bandwidth with each new camera series. Cisco is also looking to offer Medianet capability to VMS suppliers, but there may be some reticence there because VMS suppliers tout their own network configuration and management utilities.

The size of Cisco's installed base is likely to attract some takers for Medianet with very little risk on their part. The question remains if Cisco can use its Medianet agreements to extend its reach new customers.

The Cisco announcement, however, does point to the IT optimization issues that IP video is beginning to create in the network and that security managers ignore at their peril. Five years old, Medianet already is a familiar architecture to enterprise IT managers, and even in the security milieu, it is hard-core IT--something that cannot be said for NVRs and some VMSs. 

While Cisco would not call the move a retrenchment, it is clearly repositioning itself as a value-added partner for physical security vendors and less of a competitor. A nicer way of saying this is that Cisco, while trying out various strategies, has been waiting for the security industry to catch up with its vision of IT convergence. While the brand awareness is there, judging from the general lack of interest from ASIS attendees to the announcement, the company still may have to rely on its store of patience. That doesn't mean its vision is wrong in the long run.

ASIS 2011: Firetide Wins Houston Contract

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Firetide has deployed a wireless surveillance network for the City of Houston, supporting some 300 high-definition IP cameras in the city's two-square-mile downtown area.

The project, announced today at the 2011 ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits in Orlando, Fla., will use 200 Firetide HotPort mesh nodes with four gateways that connect to Houston's fiber optic network. Cameras, from Axis Communications, will require 2 to 3 Mb/s of bandwidth, calling for network performance close to 1 Gb/s.

Firetide won the contract on the basis of its ability to deliver high throughput performance in such a high-density area crowded with other RF traffic, including hundreds of commercial WiFi hotspots, traffic control devices and parking meters, according to Pramod Akkarachittor, director of product management at Firetide. Interference problems were handled through recent software enhancements to the HotPort line, Akkarachittor said, and these additions led to Firetide winning the contract from another, undisclosed, vendor at the eleventh hour. In all, cameras will monitor 143 intersections. The system, which recently went on-line, is managed by the Houston Police Department, which will maintain a control center similar to operations in other cities, including Dallas, the subject of a Security Squared video last year.

The cameras use H.264 compression and variable bit rate encoding, Akkarachittor said. Project development was overseen by the Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Value of overall contract, however, has not been disclosed. Other partners in the system development include NWN Corp., which did network engineering and design; Pfeiffer and Son Ltd, which did configuration and integration, and Vidsys, supplier of Houston's physical security information management system.

The current system could be just the first phase of a larger wireless surveillance system covering other parts of the city. Akkarachittor suggested, although he said no definitive plans have been made as of now. Natural extensions of the network include the city's Midtown and Museum districts to the south of downtown, and the Uptown and Heights districts to the West.

L-1 Identity Solutions Enterprise Access Division introduced a line of compact access control readers and controllers at the 2011 ISC West conference and exhibition held in March in Las Vegas.

The new line includes the 4G V-Flex Lite, which, at 6.7 inches high and 2 inches wide, is the smallest biometric form-factor in the 4G product line-up.

The introduction also includes the 4G CR-Pass card reader, designed for organizations that use a mix of biometric and non-biometric devices but still want to manage them same platform. The 4G SecureControl, an input/output door control module used in combination with 4G V-Flex Lite and 4G CR-Pass, rounds out the line.

In this video, sponsored by L-1 Identity Solutions, Shiraz Kapadia, chief operating officer of L-1 Identity Solutions Enterprise Access Division, walks through each of the three products in the 4G line.

March Networks launched a new line of ONVIF-compliant video management software designed to provide scalable support of up to 128,000 cameras from a sophisticated, Web-based interface.

The Command video management platform, available in two versions, runs on any commercial off-the-shelf server or in a virtualized environment. It's Intuitive Command interface runs on Windows and Mac operating systems, and can work with Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Chrome browsers.

The software has two versions, Command Professional, for mid- to low-end single-server installations, and Command Enterprise, for high-end users. Command Professional handles up to 128 cameras, while Enterprise can manage up to 128,000 with multiple servers, said Net Payne, chief marketing officer for March Networks.

In the accompanying video, produced by Security Squared and sponsored by March Networks, Payne discusses the benefits of the new Command software for security and IT professionals, its compliance with the Open Network Video Interoperability Forum (ONVIF) specifications, and its third-party integration partners.

Also, Jammy DeSousa, product manager for IP video management solutions, provides a demonstration of the Intuitive Command interface, highlighting some of the features of both the Professional and Enterprise versions.

Ambarella Inc. has introduced an IP camera system-on-chip (SoC) designed to enhance the performance of megapixel and high definition cameras, especially in low-light situations.

Ambarella's A7 SoC, making its debut next week at ISC West 2011 in Las Vegas, comes in the wake of two Texas Instruments DaVinci digital media processors announced at the beginning of March. In particular, the A7 appears positioned against the DaVinci DM8148, which offers a single 1080p60 frames-per-second video stream, or three simultaneous 720p30 fps video streams at 3 watts.

Ambarella-A7-IP-Camera-Chip.jpgThe A7 (pictured), with a front-end imaging sensor using a 500-MHz pixel capture rate--equivalent to 8 megapixels at 60 fps, delivers one 1080p60 stream, two streams at 1080p30, four at 720p30, or 5 megapixels at 24 fps. It also supports digital pan-tilt-zoom. Power consumption is below 1.5 watts, enabling the chip to be used in compact cameras, said Chris Day, vice president of marketing and business development at Ambarella.

The high-speed imaging processor offers a number of advantages, Day said. First, when transmitting multiple streams, each stream can be encoded in different resolutions, frame rates, bit rates or profile. This achieves optimal efficiency for recording and storage, Day said, allowing the user to balance the quality and speed of a stream. Second, the processor's digital wide dynamic range (WDR) can adjust picture contrast at the pixel level. Combined with on-board 3D motion compensated noise reduction, the SoC can substantially boost image clarity in low light, Day added.

Not only can these features improve image quality and resolution at night or in dark indoor environments, they can show images that might otherwise be lost in the shadows of in an  image saturated with light.  

The SoC, based on a Linux platform, is priced under $50 per unit, Day said, with deeper discounts for quantity orders. The SoC comes with a software development kit camera manufacturers can use to integrate it with their own camera software. Ambarella is ramping up for shipments now, Day said. He anticipates customers will roll out the cameras equipped with the A7 by the end of this year or early 2012.

Identity, Access, Secure Collaboration Done the Aerospace Way

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The Transglobal Secure Collaboration Program: Influencing identity, access and collaborative transaction security beyond industry boundaries

Competitors one day, partners the next. That's a business model edging its way into a variety of industries, from healthcare and life sciences to manufacturing and finance and even security. It's a model that will draw on the ubiquity of mobile computing and efficient cloud-based infrastructure. It will also require strong security measures to ensure greater protection of intellectual property and competitive data even as companies become more open.

None of this is news to the aerospace & defense industry. And that industry's model for managing collaborative transactions and data exchange securely is poised to influence other vertical industries. That's why Security Squared spent time this month talking to leaders and members of the Transglobal Secure Collaboration Program.

The TSCP is an international cooperative of leading A&D companies and government agencies who work together to figure out how they will exchange data securely. The group's commercial user, or "platinum," members include BAE Systems, Boeing, EAD, Finmeccanica, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, and Rolls Royce. Government members include the U.S. Department of Defense, the General Services Administration and the Secret Service as well as the defense ministries in the U.K. and Netherlands and the French government.

Affordable Smart Credentials Delivered by Appliance

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ActivIdentity Aims for SMB Market with New Credentials Management Appliance

Using smart credentials to achieve strong authentication is generally thought of as a solution for large companies with sensitive data assets and/or compliance issues along with deep pockets. With its release earlier this month of the ActivID™ Credential Management System (CMS) Appliance, ActivIdentity hopes to change that paradigm.

"This appliance should open up the market for smart credentials," said Chris Harget, director of enterprise markets worldwide, for ActivIdentity. He cited medium-sized medical, finance, manufacturing businesses and state and local government agencies as potential customers.

The CMS appliance enables deployment of smart cards and smart USB tokens for authentication into desktops, VPNs, applications and building access systems. To support these, the box also incorporates a full PKI infrastructure.

ASIS 2010 Video: PSIM and CAD

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Because physical security information management (PSIM) systems serve as a central point for incident information and communications, they add significant value to computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, systems. Users such as the Port of Long Beach, a Proximex customer, and New York City's Joint Transportation Management Center, a Vidsys customer, are using PSIM and CAD together to manage incoming calls and alarms--by phone, panic button or sensor--and determine and notify nearby responders. PSIM and CAD can be particularly effective in managing and documenting interagency communications during an emergency

At the 2010 ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits last month, we asked PSIM vendors such as Cisco, Vidsys, Proximex and Intergraph about the complementary relationship between PSIM and CAD.


VMS Vendors Shore Up Their Flank

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Established video management software vendors, fighting pricing pressure from a new crop of low-end suppliers, are realigning their product lines into scalable tiers in hopes of offering small- to mid-size enterprises more robust and scalable products at might cost more out of the box, but promise a lower total cost of ownership over the long term.

For vendors of any software built on open standards and designed to work across multiple platforms, the principal competitive threat has always been commoditization. This has proved no less so for software that manages surveillance systems. Indeed, small companies such as Nuuo (Taiwan), Argus Surveillance (Canada), Digifort (Brazil) and Luxriot (Latvia), offering DVR, NVR and VMS software for PCs that can be purchased and downloaded off the Internet, are peeling off customers at the low end. They can offer operations, which typically use 20 cameras or less, price points at about $50 to $100 per camera, according to research by IP Video Market.

In response, major North American, European and Israeli companies are adopting a three-pronged approach:

* Use of a single core software engine as a common foundation for a line of tiered VMS offerings targeted at different levels of the market;
* Accommodation of multiple inputs, such as analog and digital, and video formats, such as VGA, H.264, MPEG and HDTV; 
* Support of emerging industry specifications such as ONVIF and PSIA, which not only promise greater interoperability among other video equipment, but are likely to extend into the broader ecosystem of IP-based security technology.

Access Control Meets Intrusion Detection

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We've been wondering when U.S. government security mandates would start influencing enterprise/commercial deployments. The latest version of AMAG Technology's flagship Symmetry access control platform offers one path.

At Security Squared, we don't typically get too excited about iterations of products unless they signal a major technological or strategic shift. What intrigued us about the Symmetry Version 7.0 announcement at ASIS 2010 was that this version is currently available only in limited release to government customers. So we spent a few minutes recently talking with Matt Barnette, senior vice president, marketing, for AMAG Technology. He discussed the features developed for federal users and how those will find their way into enterprise versions of Symmetry 7.0, due at ISC West next spring.

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation, edited for clarity and length:


Sharon J. Watson, Security Squared:
Tell me a bit about what's in the latest version of Symmetry previewed at ASIS 2010 and why you're initially targeting government customers with it..

Barnette: What we found over the last four or five years is there were a few product lines in that space where those companies maybe hadn't been investing in current technology and for one reason or another, with the changes in the economy and buyouts, mergers and acquisitions, those product lines are really kind of stagnant.