A Little Bit Edgy
Integrators weigh in on the pros and cons of using edge devices for access control installations.
Edge devices can be a boon to dealers and integrators both in sales and installation, particularly in the access control field. Easier wiring makes them cost-effective for doors that previously didn’t use electronic security. Yet, the traditional centralized panel solution is far from dead, and indeed still preferred by some integrators. What does the edge look like today for access control systems, and how can it benefit your business?
“What I consider an edge device is one that has some stored intelligence at the door, and doesn’t have to connect back to a panel to make decisions.“
Dennis Smith,SFI Electronics
“What I consider an edge device is one that has some stored intelligence at the door, and doesn’t have to connect back to a panel to make decisions,” says Dennis Smith, director of integrated services, SFI Electronics, Duncan, S.C. “The way it communicates to the host is almost always via the network.”
Moving the computing power out to the field or the “edge” is a key component, adds Joseph Masciocco, president, Security Integrations, Albany, N.Y. “Specifically, the current trend is to have a device in the field and instead of having that communicate to a centralized panel it has its own capabilities of monitoring the door position, locking and unlocking, and granting or denying access using local power over Ethernet (PoE). It is not necessarily self contained but instead of having 30 or 40 wires out to the door, you can just bring a CAT 5 or CAT 6 cable to the door and from that do everything that needs to be done.”
This method is also referred to as “distributed” processing, allowing the decisions to be made at each door instead of centrally.
“An edge device is something that is happening at the ‘edge’ of a network,” says Ron Oetjen, CEO, Intelligent Access Systems, Raleigh, N.C. “It is not centrally located. The processing happens out at the door or gate, away from the IT closet in the server room.”
While access control edge devices have been around for a few years, trends in the IT world have brought them to the fore, and security manufacturers are responding with more and better solutions for integrators and end users.
The distributed-processing model is very familiar in the IT world, Oetjen says. “The trend to take everything to the edge of the network is much more of an IT model and as the security influencers and decision-makers move towards the IT group, the edge-based devices are more appealing to them.”
Local area networks have also expanded exponentially in the past decade, using standardized cabling. “There is an extensive cabling network that is already there,” Oetjen describes. “With an edge device, the ability to use that standard space cabling network saves an extreme amount of duplicate cost. We could come in with our proprietary cabling and do the whole facility with traditional access control, but that doesn’t make sense when you already have a cabling infrastructure that is standards-based, which we don’t have in the security industry.”
Another important thing that has occurred in the past few years is that many end-user facilities have gone through switch upgrades at the instigation of their IT departments, Smith says. When that happens, they typically deploy PoE switches, providing a ready situation for edge devices when the need arises. All of these developments have led to an ideal environment for edge devices.
“When we look at who is actually buying and integrating these products, we see more IT-oriented integrators coming into play,” says Damon Dageenakis, product line manager for physical access control, HID Global, Irvine, Calif. “Edge devices are more familiar to them, verses more traditional physical access wiring with RS485. As CAT 5 cables get closer and closer to the edge of the door and in some cases all the way there, IT, who is having more ownership over building access control, is now able to spec in products for physical access, and they are more comfortable with edge devices versus traditional controller setups.”
Indeed, HID is seeing sales of edge devices outpace centralized systems, although panel systems are still more prevalent. “The growth is at a higher percentage on edge than on traditional panels,” says Dave Adams, senior director of product marketing, HID. “They are still lagging in total numbers, and for a few years we will see traditional panels still being predominantly purchased, but the growth rate on edge devices is ‘hockey sticking.’”
“From our point of view, edge devices make for simple installation and one where we need less help from electricians.”
Joseph Masciocco, Security Integrations
Edge devices themselves are evolving, offering more features and new ways of communicating, including wirelessly.
“With Power over Ethernet becoming much more prevalent in terms of infrastructure and devices, you can now supply enough power with low-energy electronics at the door to power that whole device,” says Richard Goldsobel, vice president and general manager, Continental Access Division of NAPCO Security Technologies, Amityville, N.Y. “What we have done is, formerly stand-alone door access control now is a wireless model that connects to a wireless gateway and reports back real time to the access control system.”
Wireless edge devices are not as prevalent as PoE-wired edge devices, but a growing number of integrators are considering this option as a viable alternative. “We are finding that wireless edge devices are a time saver and more efficient, especially as networks have grown,” says Matthew Ladd, president and COO, The Protection Bureau, Exton, Pa.
Edge devices today also can be used for more than just access, Adams adds. “We are expanding the services at the door that can be provided by the device. You may have an edge device that, yes, reads a card and unlocks a door, but might also interface with VoIP, or enable PKI at the door.” HID’s edge readers are now using a “modular” approach, allowing integrators to increase functions at the door as needed.
The Edge Advantage
Utilizing the benefits edge devices provide can help integrators on both the sales and installation side.
“Security sales pitches today all have some level of involvement with the folks in the IT world,” says Larry North, marketing manager for Linear, Carlsbad, Calif. “Edge devices offer integrators a faster ability to more expediently install the system and a greater level of scalability as needs grow, without interruption to the ongoing day-to-day business of a location.”
“As CAT 5 cables get closer and closer to the edge of the door…IT, who is having more ownership over building access control, is now able to spec in products for physical access, and they are more comfortable with edge devices versus traditional controller setups.”
Unlike video, access control is an easier “sell” to IT, adds Steven Eisensmith, sales engineer, ASG Security, Beltsville, Md. “These edge devices don’t take up much bandwidth and generally there is a lot more flexibility within the IT world when it comes to access control because we are not filling up their network with a lot of data.”
Smith sees far more positives than negatives with edge devices. “The customer generally has a contract with a network cabling company, so it is often a simple matter to contract that company to put a drop at the door, which means we don’t have to go through the wiring costs and unknowns of pulling cable in a building we are not familiar with. Network IT people like it because they know that their standards for network cabling have been met and we are not pulling proprietary cable.”
“I don’t look at this as “I am not going to use panels anymore.” I have done systems with lots of panels and edge devices in the same installation.”
Edge devices help sell systems, Masciocco adds. “Anything we can do to mitigate the quantity of cable to each door is something we are always very interested in. Our primary business is selling security systems. Cable is a necessary evil and the least profitable part of the project. From our point of view, edge devices make for simple installation and one where we need less help from electricians. If a tech is trained in low voltage, it is simple basic electrical theory.”
This can literally open doors to new opportunities, Ladd adds. “Access control integrators generally protect about five percent of doors, which leaves the 95 percent we don’t normally get. When you start using wireless and PoE edge devices, now it is cost effective to put on IT closets and other areas that may have only used keys in the past. Business is being driven by these products. As tighter money and higher security requirements collide, it makes the perfect market for edge devices.”
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Still, not everyone is sold on edge technology yet. And not every situation is a good fit, either.
“The value of these devices is in using PoE switches to run the devices and the locks and manage the system,” says Casey Guagenti, integrated sales instructor, ASG Security. “That has a cost. So where there is a concentration of doors, the conventional panel still makes sense. But on outlier locations, the cost of the PoE switch compared with running thousands of feet of wire is where the value is.”
“The advantage is in the wiring and labor, but…do you want all your electronics out there at the edge or back in the climate-controlled safety of the IT closet?”
Electronic Sales Company Inc.
Complex operations still can be tricky with edge devices as well, Eisensmith adds. “Input/output linking or actions across multiple doors are still best done with a conventional panel.”
Counte Cooley, owner/president, Electronic Sales Company, Inc., Gainesville, Ga., uses edge devices reluctantly. “When you are out at the edge, sometimes you don’t want to put all the equipment right there,” he says. “The advantage is in the wiring and labor, but it is a matter of do you want all your electronics out there at the edge or back in the climate-controlled safety of the IT closet?”
Cooley also points to power issues with the locks as a detriment for edge devices (see related article, “Power Talk” on page 80).
“For these and other reasons we promote the Hub type of centralized systems where we can. They are harder to install and cost more, but in our opinion give years of service. I see both solutions in our future for a long time to come, but sometimes the path of least resistance is not the best choice in the long run.”
Some clients are concerned with having the electronics “out there,” vulnerable to vandalism and compromise, Smith of SFI Electronics says. “We only use the edge devices that separate the reader from the panel, which is placed on the inside of the door. Classic edge has all the smarts in the reader and sticks on the outside. We will only use that on inside doors and only under protest.”
Despite some reservations, however, most if not all integrators agree that edge devices are here to stay and that there is a highly useful place for them.
“I don’t look at this as ‘I am not going to use panels anymore,’” Eisensmith says. “I have done systems with lots of panels and edge devices in the same installation.”
This type of solution, or “value engineering” is the best way to get the most benefit out of both panels and edge devices. “The fact that you have all these tools in the box where you can mix and match technology makes it very cost effective and advantageous,” Guagenti thinks.
“It is a matter of understanding the engineering proposition,” Oetjen adds. “We are essentially doing the exact same thing we have always done. It is just a matter of getting your sales and engineering people to understand when to use them and how to design for value engineering.”
Masciocco sums it up nicely: “You need to take that step if you want to be buying and installing systems that you can grow with as technology continues to move over the next five to seven years. Technology is like a bus. You get on a bus when it stops in front of you. You don’t run back to the previous stop.”
Power over Ethernet (PoE) is a primary driving force for access control edge devices. But it has its limitations, especially when it comes to heavier duty or higher security locking devices. Until this is resolved, some situations are simply beyond the reach of edge devices.
“Our guys here are very hopeful that we will be able to use PoE,” says Dennis Smith of SFI Electronics. “But there are limited door devices today that can truly lock and unlock a door with PoE. A lot of older devices aren’t going to be able to be used because they take too much current. That is the trick now, getting door hardware that is low power enough to use PoE.”
For some integrators, it is a hindrance to truly being able to take advantage of edge devices for their ease of wiring and other significant benefits.
“For our locking mechanisms we always use a power supply, which really just transfers the expense of cabling to the electrician wiring the supply,” says Counte Cooley of Electronic Sales Company Inc. “We still have to get out there and build up the power supply enough to handle the locks. PoE can power the door port module, but not the locks we use.”
Kirk Huss, systems engineer, G4S Technology, Omaha, Neb., agrees. “Challenges seem to come up with power at the edge. Powering electric locking devices or other devices in close proximity to that edge device can be difficult. A lot of our projects require very robust installation and we have to be careful that the product we use is robust enough to be installed in those applications.
A couple of factors may help mitigate these concerns going forward, however. PoE Plus is a standard beginning to be implemented that allows for heavier duty locks. “As that standard continues to evolve we will see a broader adoption of edge devices as locking concerns become less of an issue,” says Ron Oetjen, of Intelligent Access Systems.
According to Dave Adams at HID Global, “PoE Plus will enable a broader range of locks. We aren’t going to meet them all, but if you are doing strikes and magnetic locks, with the PoE Plus you will probably be fine and correctly designed edge devices should be able to power efficiently.”
The other development helping the power situation is that the locking manufacturers themselves are working towards developing lower power requirements for their products.
Rutherford Controls, Cambridge, Ontario, is one such manufacturer. “We are doing a lot of research and development on devices that can be PoE driven and are low power enough to run off battery power,” says Alex Grenda, business development manager for Rutherford Controls.
“We understand that PoE is limited with power consumption. By the time you add a reader, PIR and other devices, all of a sudden power can be used up quite quickly,” Grenda comments. Rutherford recently debuted a low-power proximity driver that controls a standard electrified door strike running off a 9-volt battery. The prototype lock is due to be introduced during the fourth quarter this year. “It allows a regular existing strike to operate on low power,” he says.