In order to minimize friction with a client’s IT department, many physical security integrators are proposing and installing a parallel network infrastructure to support IP-enabled cameras, encoders and other electronic security devices. These parallel or separate networks eliminate IT departments’ concerns regarding bandwidth, because the video streams are not using the same cabling and switches as the enterprise data traffic.

Another tangible benefit of a parallel security network is that the hacking of the security devices by inside personnel is either impossible or much more difficult, because the inside person’s computer is not on the same network as the security devices. In my mind, the biggest benefit of parallel networks for physical security devices is to limit the liability of physical security contractors.

A client’s most important possession is the data on the network. If the network is compromised through a software flaw in a camera, NVR or other security device attached to their main network, and the client’s data is damaged or stolen, the security installation company might well be liable for the losses incurred. A separate network for the security devices eliminates this ugly scenario.

Although our industry-specific vendors are developing purpose-built network infrastructure devices for use in parallel networks, traditional network equipment suppliers are delivering products today. The Netgear FS116P is a 16-port 10/100 unmanaged Ethernet switch, with built-in PoE (power over Ethernet) capability for eight of the ports. This switch provides up to 3.2 Gbps of throughput, which is plenty of capacity for the transmission of network video.

One concern if using this product is that there is a maximum power output of 55 watts for all PoE ports in use simultaneously. Security integrators will need to calculate how many PoE devices they are planning to put on a single FS116P, and that their combined current requirements do not exceed the capabilities of the switch.

Netgear has produced a very practical, mid-sized Ethernet switch that is perfect for parallel physical security network applications. Additionally, the product is inexpensive, at a cost of less than $225 from online suppliers.

Which brings me to the next point....

Security Product Pricing versus Laptops

I use a six-year-old laptop computer and Word 97 software. As you can probably guess, I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t like to replace equipment unless it’s broken or just cannot perform a needed task.

But my company is planning to start hands-on network training labs next year, so I’ve been out shopping for a quantity of new laptop computers. Visiting my local mega-computer store, I looked over the current offerings.

I tried out the least expensive laptop, around $450, and was surprised, no, astounded, at what can be gotten in a computer for less than $500 — a big screen, Windows Vista, 10/100 Ethernet and Wi-Fi, USB ports, and a one-year warranty. These new laptops are much better than the one I’m using now, which cost me about $2,800 five or six years ago.

How does this relate to our industry? In my previous career, I spent more than 20 years as a manufacturer’s salesperson for fire alarm, access control and electronic security products. I’ve seen the same scenario unfold each time a new technology was invented or adapted for our industry’s needs.

Consider passive infrared motion detectors, now the standard for intrusion detection sensors. When I started in this business in 1977, a single PIR cost more than $275 (in 1977 dollars) when purchased at a distributor. Other currently available types of motion detection sensors, such as ultrasonics and photoelectric beam sets, were less than half that cost.

The passive infrared manufacturers pushed their products as “high tech” in an attempt to justify their high cost, and prices went down when competition forced vendors to reduce their profit margins on individual devices.

Now go to your stockroom, grab a PIR sensor, take it out of the box and remove the product’s cover. What’s in the sensor? A lens or mirror, a sensor and a circuit board. It’s really a pretty simple technology. And you didn’t pay $275 for it. As the market grew, and manufacturers increased their capabilities, the wholesale costs of good-quality PIRs have dropped below $60.

What we’re seeing in the IP-enabled physical security device marketplace is the same philosophy our industry’s manufacturers have applied to any new technologies that have come into our marketplace in the past. Single-input high-end IP video encoders are currently priced in the $800-$1,000 range per unit.

I understand it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but how do our manufacturers justify such high costs for single-purpose devices such as IP video encoders when I can purchase a brand-new, full-blown all-features-included laptop computer for less than $500?

I’ve worked for manufacturers, and I understand the price of a product includes the costs for development, testing, manufacturing, marketing, sales and support. Not all products are winners, and manufacturers eat the losses when a new product doesn’t meet sales projections.

But the current high costs for IP-enabled devices are hurting our industry as we move forward into the IT network world. Simply put, lower cost devices will sell more IP security systems, which will sell more IP-enabled security devices. What no one seems to be grasping is that the high cost of individual devices is stopping the potential sales of IP-enabled security systems at the starting line.

In a competitive, bottom-line-oriented world, many security system installation companies are not offering their clients the benefits of networked physical security because they know that the cost for the IP security components will make their installed price substantially higher than their competitor, who’s providing an old-school analog security system. And many end-users make their purchasing decisions based on the bottom line.

The current high cost of IP-enabled devices is slowing sales growth. One day soon, a major manufacturer will make the decision to reduce the prices of their high-end IP devices dramatically and will grab a big piece of the market. And the rest of the herd will follow along.

Shoplifter Alert

This isn’t strictly a networking item, but some recent experiences I’ve had reflect on the uses of all physical security systems. Recently, I found that every time I went to a retail establishment and walked out through the anti-shoplifting antennas, I would activate an audible alarm. Since I don’t shoplift, it took me a couple of weeks to determine why I was tripping the system with every visit to a store.

My family had given me a new wallet for Father’s Day, and there was an anti-shoplifting tag buried within it. Once I found the tag and removed it, I no longer generated alarms during my shopping trips.

What’s interesting is that while I activated anti-shoplifting alarms in at least 20 retail locations in downtown Chicago, not once was I approached by store security personnel to ask me why I had tripped the alarm. If no one cares if an alarm goes off, what good are the systems that we install?

Retailers are very aware of the high costs of shoplifting and its impact on their bottom-line profits. Either store employees are not properly trained or supervised, or anti-shoplifting systems generate enough “false” alarms that employees are lulled into inaction.

Book of the Month

Google Hacking Volume 1
by Johnny Long

Learn how to use the Google search engine to find just about anything on the Internet, as well as how to use advanced Google search features to learn important details regarding Internet-connected networks and devices.

Web Site of the Month

Speakeasy Speed Test

For a test of an Internet connection's upload and download bandwidth, check out You can test your Internet connection from a variety of servers located around the United States, and the results are displayed in an automotive format. Vroom, Vroom!