Virtualization — it’s a word and a concept I heard several times on Tuesday at ASIS and it’s a technology that you should become more familiar with. I am going to try to give you two perspectives; one for the end-user and one for the systems integrator and dealer. You will have to read both SDM and Security blogs, and at least in part, to get my take on why it makes sense for end-users as well as dealers/integrators. 
First, what is virtualization? It is an enabling capability of software or a combination of software and hardware to appear or act as another piece of software or a device. Not so clear? Let’s try an example or two using pop culture. In the movie Avatar, a human, with the aid of software and hardware, is able to function as an alien-being on a planet that would not otherwise support us “normal oxygen-breathing humans.” But rather than strapping an oxygen tank on a human, the human controls an alien body and breathes that planet’s noxious air; the Avatar (alien body) is a kind of “virtual” body for the human that controls it.

Didn’t see the movie? Ok let’s try a business/IT application that is a bit closer to home and has become widely popular: server virtualization software. VMware and Microsoft, among others, offer server virtualization software. It is valuable to businesses because, among other things, it saves money, power, and IT resources and reduces complexity by allowing applications to be configured and deployed on a far more predictable and consistent basis, regardless of the underlying hardware and operating system. 

So what are physical security vendors doing with virtualization? Plenty of vendors have or support virtualization in different forms. NVR vendors, along with Ethernet switches, “virtualized” (eliminated the need for) video matrix switches several years ago.  A few access control vendors (such as HID Global and ISONAS) are using virtualization to eliminate access control panels by implementing panel functions as a combination of access control configuration and management software that runs on a PC/server and intelligent credential readers, that contain an authorized user list and policies database. 
But at this year’s ASIS conference, I am seeing new uses of virtualization. HID is talking about virtual credentials. Rather than the tried-and-true ID badges/cards, you could use a cell phone equipped with Near Field Communications technology. The phone can not only be “something you have” like the ID badge/RFID or smart card, it can also provide multifactor authentication by also becoming a PIN pad to provide authentication via “something you know” (such as a PIN code).
Not ready to say goodbye to ID badges? Consider that studies have shown that people realize they have misplaced/lost their phone in just 6 minutes. I have gone hours, if not an entire weekend, before I realized that I misplaced my ID badge. And you can send commands to help locate and/or deactivate your phone. So, security is enhanced with this sort of smart/virtual credential.
Raytheon has implemented a virtual world module in its command-and-control software that allows users and integrators to simulate events in the real world to help train operators and gauge their response/performance to events. This virtual event simulation saves time and money compared with having real-life drills. 
And finally, while IP camera manufacturers have had the ability to send video direct to storage, without the aid of a DVR or NVR for a while, there are now a couple of vendors (such as IPVision Software and Mobotix) that offer VMS software that virtualizes (eliminates) recording servers — DVRs and NVRs. This type of virtualization, which has nothing to do with using VMware on PC/servers, allows for a single instance of the VMS software (and one server) to support hundreds of cameras. Obviously, with that kind of scalability, you aren’t going to need as many copies/licenses for the VMS software and you are going to save a lot of money by not having to buy, maintain, power and cool those underlying servers.
Virtualization offers security system owners/end-users cost savings, reduces complexity and enables new capabilities. How is all that going to impact the bottom line for security dealers and integrators?
Virtual credentials will require new approaches and services for issuance, personalization, transaction processing, and more. So you can offer new services to your customers. Virtual world/simulation capabilities will help expose and eliminate potential bugs or gaps in the security system during the acceptance test phase. By catching them while you and your team are still on-site, you won’t have to roll a truck to remediate these problems under warranty. Not to mention, your customer will be happier with a system that works like it is supposed to.
And finally, while you may not sell as many servers for video processing and recording, the cost savings may end up being used to buy and deploy more cameras. So in the end, you will be trading lower margin servers for higher margin software and cameras.

By embracing virtualized security technology, it might just be the edge you need to win new customers and increase customer satisfaction. You can probably find a few examples in security. The point is virtualization is capability that you should be looking for in your next security products.