Leveraging the Infrastructure

July 1, 2004
Seeking the Holy Grail of Building Systems
Smart is simple. It has to be the same with building systems. The Holy Grail for many building designers and building system vendors is a single infrastructure that addresses the needs of all building systems including voice, data, building controls, and security systems. A number of technologies are vying to become the backbone to meet these requirements, including wireless networking (801.11.a.b.g and whatever comes after), infrared (IR), lighting systems, network over power line, and others.An important step in creating a single system is integrating logical and physical access, an option that has become available for operators, integrators, and designers. While institutional objections to this convergence remain, a closer look should be given to the untapped benefits.Every enterprise has a goal of increased productivity. Security, when implemented properly, increases productivity. Easy, secure access provides a means of collaboration, whether it is digital access such as e-mail, instant messaging, or video conferencing; or physical access, such as to a building or room.Easy collaboration and an ability to share information, electronically or in person, results in greater productivity. For building security to be truly effective, both physical and logical security must be equal or threats will use the weakest link to harm an organization.Credentials and BiometricsNo one likes carrying a badge for every transaction. No one remembers a unique password or PIN for every account. Fortunately, credentials have evolved so that a single badge or credential token can meet the needs of both logical and physical systems. This can be done today using credentials that combine contact smart cards, contactless radio frequency (RF) access control, and soon, single-chip solutions coming into the marketplace. Combined with biometrics (adding something you are) to PIN (something you know) and an access card (something you have), this provides a single set of credentials able to address almost all security requirements.Cryptography and Access ValidationTypically, validating access requires hitting a database to determine someone’s privileges. Cryptographic techniques exist where privileges can be pre-established and put on the credentials described above. The combination of these allows validation to take place without hitting a database. Suddenly, there are few limits to the scale of an access control system for either logical or physical access. Techniques exist where the cryptography is done in such a way that this information is secure, small, unforgettable, and public. This means that not only can networks be combined but they can now be public – even disconnected and much less expensive as a result. Convergence not only becomes possible, but at a much lower cost.Digital Video and CompressionOne of the reasons that information technology (IT) networks want a separation from security networks is that the surveillance cameras have required tremendous bandwidth for their monitoring activities. Fear of clogging the network has stopped many a convergence conversation dead in its tracks. Fortunately, digital video compression has greatly reduced the bandwidth requirements. Moreover, monitoring systems have become much more intelligent. For example, camera systems are only turned on in the case of events and not streamed continuously.The Smarter BuildingThe combination of the benefits from convergence, along with the continued development of enabling technologies, means that a common infrastructure leveraged across applications sets a new standard for the smarter building. Productivity, safety, and privacy all improve and at a lower total security cost. It’s about time the conversation flipped from “Why should I  consider convergence?” to “Why not!”Salvatore D’Agostino is vice president of Physical Access at CoreStreet Ltd. (www.corestreet.com), Cambridge, MA.

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