Campus Networks Power IP Uptake
Editor / Provider: Tevin Wang | Updated: 1/30/2012 | Article type: Education
Higher-education IP backbones enable integration among systems. They bring clear benefits to end users and integrators. However, IP requires careful planning as well. In this second of three articles, a&s highlights the benefits of unlimited bandwidth and related challenges.
College campuses boast some of the most advanced fiber networks for civilian use. Because of this connectivity, higher education is seeing significant IP uptake. “It has been our experience that educational institutions have the most proactive attitude to accept and deploy IP-based security solutions,” said Barbara Winkler-Chimbor, Director of Global Education Market Development, Genetec. “Mostly, they seem to slowly migrate existing equipment to an open, nonproprietary platform that has the ability to accommodate new technology later on when budgets become available.”
Campuses with existing IT infrastructure and fiber-optic backbones make integration and configuration easier. Most importantly, IP-based systems offer significant cost advantages and more efficient system deployment. “Fiber-optic bandwidth definitely removes a cost obstacle to many systems in the education vertical,” said Gadi Piran, President of On-Net Surveillance Systems. “Taking advantage of an institution's existing network infrastructure simplifies installation of cameras anywhere within reach of a network connection. Plenty of bandwidth negates the need to build a parallel system or to upgrade the network infrastructure, and can also simplify system configuration.”
Having virtually unlimited bandwidth also allows vendors the ability to offer flexible solutions suited for all budgets, said Terence Lee, Director of APAC System Integration, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. “Compared to other verticals where we have to combine both hardwired and wired configuration, it is definitely much easier and seamless in our conceptualization and implementation in higher education verticals.”
No Silver Bullet
High-tech infrastructure and unlimited bandwidth do help enable integration among systems. However, the connectivity and convenience of IP networks also increase the number of subsystems and components. “Higher education institutions have many applications sharing a common network, such as voice, data and other applications, that can severely impact the network's performance,” Winkler- Chimbor said. Bandwidth availability and network security must also be taken into consideration.
IP has clear benefits. However, network configuration requires careful planning, as it is far from trouble-free. “Institutions need to take into consideration that in an emergency situation, many staff members as well as local first responders, such as the police, need to utilize the same feed. This can overload the network since many people will be trying to log in simultaneously. Thus, a system that cannot only prioritize by user, but that can automatically manage the network bandwidth with features like multicasting and multistreaming is crucial to ensure a true load balancing of the existing network,” said Winkler-Chimbor.
Advanced IT infrastructure and fiber optics require correspondingly networked options in storage and video analysis. “The education vertical has a higher-than-average amount of bandwidth for increased integration, but their storage options and ability to analyze all the information collected is not always as advanced,” said John Moss, CEO of S2 Security. “There are still issues related to responsibility to consider when looking at the quantity of information collected. So, while the education market has been an early adopter of high-capacity data-transmission technology, they face the same issues as other users relative to storage, monitoring personnel.”
Who Is In Charge?
Security used to fall under facility management in many universities. As schools are seeing more IP uptake, IT departments are becoming more involved in security procurement. This poses challenges in integration and implementation for system integrators. “It can be difficult getting internal departments such as IT, security and maintenance departments to work together and agree on priorities,” said Randy Montelius, VP of Engineering, Communications Engineering Company.
As the adoption of IP-based solutions continues, the need to consult with the IT department increases . “ The campus IT department controls access to the network and how it is leveraged for a video surveillance system,” Piran said. “Campus police and security, as the primary users of the system, have a say in their usability needs and requirements.”
Detangling System Kinks
Smartphone penetration is growing exponentially across the globe. Smartphones represent more than 40 percent of mobile phones in Western Europe and 38 percent in the U.S., according to a Nielsen report from July 2011. Individuals who bought new smartphones in the past three months made up 52 percent of handset purchases, up from 34 percent. While less than 20 percent of Asian mobile users currently have smartphones, interest in them is high.
This smartphone wildfire has spread through campuses as well. As students bring all kinds of wireless devices to college campuses, they impact the school's IT network. “This may lead to a shift toward Web-based applications,” Montelius said. “An added layer of security should be added to these applications to ensure that they are displaying the data, but it's not where the data is stored, so the user doesn't have access to the actual data itself, or the backend servers it's stored on.”
After the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that resulted in 33 casualties, US schools understand the importance of quickly pulling someone's access or locking down a facility at a moment's notice. Tragedy struck again on Dec. 8, 2011, when a campus police was shot and the gunman took his life. Mass notification played an essential role during both events, with 2007's two-hour delay cut to six minutes in 2011. The campus was quickly locked down and the event was effectively contained.
Alerting an entire campus about a shooting is no easy feat. Using only one type of mass notification during an emergency is not enough. “You may not reach everyone in the community who needs the information to protect themselves,” Montelius said. Students, faculty and staff may have their phones turned off or not be able to hear sirens. “Universities need to think beyond opt-in texting systems and instead focus on tiered systems. By using a layered mass notification system that incorporates all of these tiers, authorities are much more likely to reach everyone in an emergency situation.”
Communication between campus security and law enforcement should be as open as possible, so that if a critical incident does occur, first responders are able to deal with it quickly and effectively. During the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, senior administrators had to meet to assess the situation and then decide whether to issue an emergency alert. This cumbersome process may have contributed to the delay in communication and to its lack of specificity once it was issued. Addressing these concerns “requires a new level of leverage involving community communication within the school and outside the school,” said Nigel Waterton, VP of Strategic Development, Aronson Security. “If we were engaged, we would work closely with the administration, responsible administrative staff and technology stakeholders, to ensure that the goals and direction of all of these are aligned and optimized.”
As more subsystems relate to security system integration, campus safety is no longer a business of integrators alone. IT technicians, maintenance staff and security officers have to work together to secure college environments.