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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.

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