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Yale Keypad Lock Is One to Keep in Stock

WE HAVE TESTED AND REVIEWED keypad access locks in the past, including models from Schlage and Kwikset, most recently the Kwikset SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Deadbolt (securitysales.com/ kwikset_deadbolt_locks_reliable), and are big fans. After looking at promotional material for the Yale nexTouch keypad access lock, we asked for a test model but were really expecting a product that was functionally similar to the Kwikset 916. Well, they both have touchscreens (and are available with pushbutton keypads as well) and unlock doors, but they are otherwise pretty different. The question of which would work best for you really depends on your application.

The nexTouch lock is available in three versions: standalone, Data-on-Card and Z-Wave/ ZigBee. The standalone version is the base model, and while any version can be ordered from Yale, Data-on-Card, Zig- Bee or Z-Wave functionality can be added by installing a color-coded plug-in module. This allows the lock to be upgraded as the user’s application and needs change. We tested the Z-Wave version and cannot comment on the Data-on-Card version for this review as we did not test it.

Construction

The nexTouch is a solidly built, as befits its ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 certification. This grading system, developed for the American Nation Standards Institute (ANSI) by the Builder’s Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) ranges from 1 (the highest grade) to 3, factoring in longevity and durability. Grade 1 is usually used for commercial applications and is tested to 1 million opening and closing cycles. It is also able to withstand five strikes of 75 pounds of force. Clearly solidly built, the nexTouch is intended for commercial applications, and it shows.

There are a number of configurations available, including the aforementioned choice of touchscreen or pushbutton as well as the underlying technology. There are three different lever designs, including a flat lever and two types of curved levers. A lock cylinder override is available, and a number of Yale interchangeable cores can be used. There are also four finishes available, including bright brass, satin bronze, satin chrome-plated (our test model) and flat black powder coat. There are even kits to adapt other manufacturers’ cores to fit this lock; it is hard to imagine more flexibility in construction. We did not install the lock on a door, as it came on a “mock door” for testing purposes. Interestingly, it was installed in the test rig with the latchbolt backwards; perhaps this was a test to see if we’d notice. We did take the unit apart and put it back together again, and the operation was constant with our experiences installing other brand locks.

Features

The nexTouch is really an access control system for smaller facilities, and is designed for a large number of users and a “jack of all trades” maintenance person. Think apartment building or multifamily residences, small businesses or small office buildings. The standalone unit handles 500 user codes and each code can be four-eight digits. There are a number of features that support these applications, and we tested as many of them as we could.

The first feature that really jumps out is the voice guidance. It walks you through all of the programming in your choice of three languages, confirms operations and allows a maintenance person or administrator to easily change settings without referring to the manual (which is really just a poster). A pleasant chime confirms operations, letting you know when the door is locked and unlocked. Certain modes are annunciated, like “Privacy Mode,” which allows you to lock out the keypad from the inside. To do this you need to install the optional door position switch and associated magnet, which allows the lock to know when the door is closed. Opening the door automatically disables the privacy mode.

You can also set the lock to unlock at the first valid keypad entry and relock either manually or after a preset period (configurable from 1-180 seconds). Relocking manually can require a valid PIN code or one-touch locking can be enabled that allows a simple touch of the keypad to relock the door. There’s also a keypad lockout feature that deters tampering by disabling the keypad for a default period of 180 seconds after five successive wrong code entries.

Powering the lock is also carefully thought out. The unit is battery powered with the four included AA batteries, or can be outfitted with a remote power source through an electronic pass-through hinge. If the internal batteries are used and they fail, two contacts on the front of the lock allow you to press a 9V battery up to the lock that will provide enough power to enter an access code and open the door to change the batteries. A belt and suspenders, indeed!

Setup

As with other locks we have seen, the installation and operation manual is a poster and it has everything you need. Once installed, inserting the batteries provides you with a voice prompt (“Welcome to Yale”) and touching the screen prompts you through entering the master PIN code and subsequent user codes. Visual and audible prompts confirm almost all actions, and the programming is very simple.

Testing

We went through the poster and tested each feature with no issues. We liked the door position switch and privacy mode and wish other locks had that feature. The keypad is extremely sensitive and responsive, shows up well in direct sunlight, and the audible confirmation was a nice touch. There are two volume settings for audio, and it can be disabled as well if you find it annoying over time.

We also tested Z-Wave functionality using a SmartThings hub. We had to try a few times; that isn’t uncommon with Z-Wave devices and the nature of home automation networks. Once set up, the lock worked flawlessly, locking and unlocking with about 3 seconds’ latency. We have other Z-Wave locks in our test setup, and the speed in which the Yale lock responded was consistent with our experiences. We did notice that the SmartThings application showed the lock as locked about 5 seconds before it had relocked itself, so there may be some software or integration issues. This did not impact operation, and reporting on home automation applications is not universally instantaneous. We did not test the ZigBee version, although we can’t imagine that it would be different than the Z-Wave functionality and performance.

Conclusions

If you are looking for an attractive lock for home use, this may not be it. It is definitely a commercial design and may be out of place in residential applications. That being said, for the intended applications, it is hard to imagine a better implementation and feature set. We gave a perfect rating to the similar Kwikset product, and we give the Yale lock the same high marks.

That is not to say the products are the same; each has different strengths and we did not take off points because of differentiating features. However, we think it is safe to say that, no matter what the application, there’s a perfect fit for you.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the March 2017 Security Sales & Integration magazine.

TRENDnet Industrial Network Switch

The TRENDnet TI-PG1284i network switch is an attractive solution for locations that are less than ideal.

TRENDnet has introduced a new industrial-grade hardened network switch that promises to become a “go-to” component for installers when they have network locations that don’t have the best environmental conditions.

TRENDnet has been involved in the electronics world since 1990 and was founded in Torrance, Calif. The company has been building network solutions for the consumer, commercial and industrial markets, and today supplies many different solutions for its markets.

Today’s electronic networks whether they are designed and utilized for CCTV, access control, voice over Internet or some other network function, rely on several key components to complete their system designs.

Increasingly the network switch is installed in locations that can best be described as “less than friendly” to electronics. This review covers a switch that is designed to roll with the punches.

Construction

The TI-PG1284i network switch is constructed with a hardened metal casing and about the size of a hardback novel. The unit has a solid feel to it, shows good construction and has an IP30-rated enclosure that protects the internal components from external dirt and dust intrusion.

The unit is not immune to liquids so mounting it exposed outdoors is out of the question! The switch is designed for harsh environments and can withstand temperatures from -40° to 75° C / -40° to 167° F.

The switch has 12 network ports and one RS-232 port on the front panel. Of those 12 network ports eight are gigabit RJ-45 connections and four are GB SFP ports. The top of the unit has connections for the external power supplies (both primary and redundant) and the external alarm.

There are also addressable DIP switches that allow the end user to customize the notification alarms from the switch for every port and power connection. There is also a grounding terminal on the top of the case to provide greater protection from static shocks.

The TI-PG1284i relies on an external power source of 48VDC; the input voltage has a range of 48 to 57VDC with a rating of 240+ watts. This voltage can be supplied from a master power source or from a standalone unit.

For our testing, we were provided a complementary component power supply, Model TI-S24048, to provide the required input voltage. This unit, just like the switch, is designed to mount to a DIN rail to provide a secured installation.

The electrical wiring for the power unit connects to a Phoenix connector that allows the unit to be easily disconnected from its 120VAC power source should servicing be required.

Features

The TI-PG1284i can supply up to 30W of PoE/PoE+ power for its network ports. The power to each of these ports can be turned on and off via the web-based graphical user interface; this allows the user to remotely reset a device, which can be very effective for troubleshooting or refreshing field devices.

The inclusion of four SFP ports allows the switch to be connected to different devices via fiber-optic connections. This can allow the switch to be used as a hub or repeater for a fiber network; this can be very handy when there are different connection requirements for a network’s construction.

The inclusion of alarm outputs for each network port (as well as the power supply) provides an alert to the user that there is a system problem that requires immediate attention.

The switch is constructed to resist shock and vibration damage and has been rated for durability by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). It also has a freefall rating which is one I have a hard time understanding since the unit is designed to be firmly mounted to a DIN rail!

The TI-PG1284i is also rated by the IEC to resist electrostatic discharges and electromagnetic interference. This makes the unit a perfect fit for installation in a congested environment where there might be heavy electrical interferences.

DIP switch configuration of the TI-PG1284i’s alarm outputs (left) makes setting up failure notification a breeze. The separate power supply (right) allows for redundant power where needed.

DIP switch configuration of the TI-PG1284i’s alarm outputs (left) makes setting up failure notification a breeze. The separate power supply (right) allows for redundant power where needed.

Setup and Testing

Upon unpacking the contents from the box, I found the unit is supplied with a six-foot RJ-45 to RS-232 cable, a quick installation guide, and a CD containing the full product manual and the quick reference guide.

For my examination and testing I performed a basic installation utilizing the switch, power supply, computer and PoE network camera. I used a fixed dome IP camera to test the PoE port switching that allowed me to switch the camera on and off as needed.

As noted, having the ability to reset a device remotely is a wonderful thing — think of the time and effort that can be saved by being able to remote in to the switch and perform this reset.

Compare this to grabbing your eight-foot ladder, slugging it through a back hallway and climbing up to a field node just to unplug a camera or other network device. This feature is worth its weight in gold to me.

The embedded GUI of the TI-PG1284i allows for many system settings within the network. While my networking experience is fairly extensive and has been put to the test many times, I must confess that I was not completely familiar with all of the arcane system settings of which this device is capable, according to the manual.

In addition to the web-based GUI for programming and control of the TI-PG1284i, the unit can be controlled via RS-232 commands from your computer for those “old-school” system administrators.

While I am not one who is well versed in command line interface (CLI) commands, I understand its usefulness for network professionals. Again, this switch provides the user with a plethora of options and protections.

Conclusions

The TI-PG1284i is a robust switch that will perform well in any system’s network. Its size, design and durability makes it a great unit for installation in varied environments, from a small field node in a hazardous location to a network closet with many switches configured together.

The TI-PFG1284i will make a welcome addition to any installer’s repertoire.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the March 2017 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

11 Common Types of Security Cameras

Bullet, dome, covert, outdoor, varifocal and night vision are just some of the common types of surveillance cameras. Here’s a quick reference list.

Selecting a type of security camera is simple, right? If you want a camera that follows people as they move, you want a pan/tilt/zoom or PTZ camera. Otherwise you want a fixed camera. Right?

Well, yes and no. PTZ and fixed cameras used to be the only types of cameras out there, but today it can get a lot more complicated. There’s a difference between the type of security camera and the type of housing or extra features you can add to it.

Types of Security Cameras:

  • Fixed
  • Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ)
  • Virtual PTZ or 360-Degree

Types of Security Camera Housing:

  • Outdoor
  • Dome
  • Bullet
  • Discreet

Extra Features:

  • Resolution
  • Day/Night
  • Infrared
  • Varifocal
  • Remote Zoom
  • Auto-focus
  • Wireless
  • Thermal Imaging

I often say we’re in the “golden age of cameras.” Cameras are uniformly good at the basics, but by over-simplifying things you may not be making the best choice for your application.

This guide will outline some of the variations on those two themes, and suggest some enhancements that you might want to consider for your application. The chart below shows some common, popular features of security cameras compared to the three camera types to consider.

Choosing the Right Security Camera

Fixed Camera

At the heart of the matter is the fixed camera. It is positioned to capture an image and can be optimized for the application with different housings and features as we’ll cover later.

With few moving parts, fixed cameras are inherently more reliable than PTZ cameras and they are always pointing in the intended direction.

PTZ Camera

Remotely positionable cameras are typically called PTZ cameras for their ability to pan, tilt and zoom in on a subject. This is a specially designed fixed camera wrapped in a cocoon of motors and gears which allow an operator to remotely move it.

Higher end cameras may have a greater zoom range, with 32X being fairly common. A higher zoom range is helpful when you are covering a large area, but isn’t always needed.

While a PTZ camera will follow a person or object through an area, they do have a few disadvantages. A PTZ camera may be set to automatically patrol an area, but they are oftentimes most effective when manually controlled.

If a CCTV system is used for forensics, determining what happened after the fact, Murphy’s Law pretty much guarantees that a PTZ camera will invariably be looking in the wrong direction when something happens. The greater the magnification being used, the smaller the area being covered, and this type of camera can only be facing one direction at a time.

360-degree Camera

This has led to a third type of camera, the virtual PTZ or 360-degree camera. This is several high resolution fixed cameras in a single (usually dome) housing. The images are stitched together and you can zoom in after the fact, up to the limits of the cameras being used.

Since all the images are being recorded, it can face in all directions and can be a great forensic tool. The biggest challenge facing 360-degree camera acceptance is that they are often oversold as a universal solution. Few rooms allow an unobstructed field of view in all directions, so you are generally not utilizing the full field of view.

A standard fixed camera can easily be paired with a lens to give it a 120-degree to 140-degree view, and many rooms are better served with cameras in corners which only require a 90-degree field of view. Still, in the applications where this type of camera is needed, it can really shine.

 

Choosing the Right Housing

After selecting the type of camera, the next level of choice is the type of housing. With a PTZ camera you are pretty much limited to indoor or outdoor, as they are mostly dome cameras except for a limited number of specialty applications.

Outdoor

Outdoor cameras will be more weather resistant and include heaters and blowers to allow for environmental variances.

Dome

Dome housings are designed to conceal the orientation of the camera, with some doing a better job than others. This is a high priority in most applications, and is our default selection as it is generally the best deterrent.

When someone can’t tell which way the camera is pointing, they often assume it is pointing in all directions. So, a fixed dome camera covering a door at the end of a hallway is assumed to be covering the entire hallway.

Bullet

We’ll call the cameras that resemble a box on a post bullet cameras, named for the sleek cylindrical shape that many of them have. Whether a small unitized design or a camera/housing combination, these clearly show the direction of orientation and generally provide a better picture.

The front of the housing is close to the camera lens, cutting down on reflections and making it easier to keep clean. They are a deterrent as well, although not as effective as housings that mask the orientation.

Discreet

Sometimes you want to hide the entire camera using covert or discreet housings. These can be designed to look like something else (smoke detector, motion sensor) or nothing at all, with pinhole lenses or flush mount lenses mounted on a wall or ceiling.

These are not designed to be deterrents but are often preferred by architects seeking to achieve a certain aesthetic within a space.

All types of housings can be made to be vandal resistant, a step up from weather resistant. These types of housings (most commonly the dome type) are designed to withstand unfriendly environments while still providing a usable image.

 

Choosing the Right Features

Once you’ve selected the camera type and form factor, you might want to consider tweaking the feature set for the application.

Resolution

The possibilities are varied, with resolution being the most common upsell. Resolution is measured in millions of pixels, or megapixels. The higher the resolution, the more space required to store the images and processing power to manipulate it.

For perspective, an old analog camera is about 1/4 megapixel, your giant HDTV screen is a little over 2 megapixels, and the highest resolution projected image in your local movie theater is called 4K and has 8.8 megapixels.

Higher resolution cameras do not respond as well to low light situations as lower resolution cameras, so, it is possible to buy more resolution than you need and needlessly drive storage costs up and performance down.

Low Light Performance

Beyond resolution, low light performance is often a requirement.

Cameras with day/night capabilities switch into a different mode in low light situations, with various technologies allowing usable images in near total darkness.

Cameras with infrared illuminators provide their own light source, allowing better images in dark areas as well. As previously mentioned, be prepared to sacrifice some resolution to get better low light performance.

Lens Features

We are seeing more fixed cameras with advanced lens features as well.

While varifocal lenses have always been popular, allowing the installer to manually adjust the image magnification when installing the camera, many fixed cameras now come with remote zoom and focus. This allows the user to adjust the camera without physically going to the camera site, a big cost savings in many applications.

At the ISC West security show in 2017, several manufacturers were showing fixed cameras with auto-focus as well.

Advanced Options

Beyond features and functionality, there are other considerations such as wireless signal transition, ultra-high resolution, thermal imaging, explosion proof housings and more.

While the proliferation of available options can make the selection process more difficult, the good news is that no matter what your application is there’s likely the perfect tool for the job — for far less money than you might have thought possible just a few years ago.

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Also published as:

First published on the CEPro website.

Robert Grossman has spent more than 20 years in the industry — giving him plenty of opportunity to learn from his mistakes! He is president of R. Grossman and Associates Inc., a consulting group specializing in electronic security products and projects. Bob has spent time as an end user, responsible for security, surveillance and low-voltage electronics at Bally’s Park Place, a major Atlantic City casino. As a senior project manager for Sensormatic Electronics’ Enterprise Accounts group, he learned first-hand the difficulty in translating ideas into reality while staying on schedule and under budget. He has worked for both Vicon Industries (as vice president of Customer and Technical Services) and American Dynamics/Tyco Safety Products (as director of Product Line Management), with responsibilities that included pre- and post-sales support, project design, product line management, customer service and sales. Bob is a frequent contributor to CE Pro and sister publication Security Sales & Integration. For more information, visit www.tech-answers.com. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Bob at rdgrossman@tech-answers.com

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Minuteman PRO1500RT UPS Has Few Downsides

This uninterruptible power supply bests comparable units in both price and performance.

Minuteman Power Technologies’ power protection products are manufactured by Para Systems, based in Carrollton, Texas.

Now in its 35th year, the company’s product line is well supported and respected, and we tested its remote power management system in August 2016.

Our positive experiences with that product raised our expectations, and we were not disappointed. For this review we tested the PRO1500RT, a member of the PRO RT family that includes both 1000VA (700W) and 1500VA (1,050W).

These are line interactive units with six battery backedup outlets and surge protected outlets and two surge protected only outlets.

All outlets are 15A, appropriate given the power rating.

Construction

Believe it or not, our favorable impression began with the packaging.

Rather than making the user wrestle with preformed top and bottom pieces of Styrofoam packing material, the PRO- 1500RT arrived in a box with eight corner pieces (four top and four bottom) and three side pieces.

Unpacking was extremely simple, and there were no larger pieces of Styrofoam to be broken up when it was time to discard the packaging. We found this packing configuration to be ingenious.

As with the previously tested Minuteman product, construction is extremely solid. The inside is easily accessible with a standard Philips head screwdriver and looks to be fairly easy to service.

Batteries were relatively easy to change, although lining up the long-yet-flimsy screws that hold the front bezel on was more difficult than it needed to be.

The RT designation at the end of the product model number stands for Rack/Tower, another clever design trick.

The supplied rack mount ears can be screwed on the front for rack mounting, or flipped over and used on what becomes the bottom for stabilizing the unit when used in a tower configuration.

al supplied with the product.

An abbreviated single-page quick install guide explains how to connect the batteries and equipment, and turn the unit on, but you need to go to the manual for the other mounting configurations, display reorientation, and an explanation of the various alarms and display information.

It should be noted that this UPS, like others we have tested, is made in China. Unlike others, Minuteman has clearly taken a leadership role in product line management, particularly with regard to documentation.

The manual was well written, free of typos and grammatical errors. We understand that few people actually read the manuals, but those that do will not be left scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Features

The PRO RT Series is marketed as “a value-priced, yet feature-rich UPS,” and that it is.

With an easily read backlit LCD display, simple to use software (more on that later), and displays with alarms for fault, low battery, weak/bad battery, fault and other modes.

The UPS self-tests every two weeks, and overcharge protection is also incorporated into the software. The UPS also checks for an improperly wired wall outlet, indicating a problem on the front panel display.

There is no programming to be done from the unit; not even an option to run in “silent” mode, bypassing audible alarms. You have to go to the software for that.

The scroll buttons take you through the various display options, and the manual explains them (fairly intuitive).

There’s a serial port on the back (RS-232 communication and simulated contact closures for low battery warning and AC failure), a USB port for the included software that also works with most operating systems (e.g. Windows), and accessory slot for an optional SNMP card or dry contact relay card.

There is also a pair of RJ45 connectors for surge protection of a telephone (RJ11) or network connection. In short, this UPS is bare-bones if programming or advanced features are required, although the software provides some additional “tweaks.”

However, the PRO1500RT is quite full-featured in terms of the majority of applications for this price class and configuration. We would have liked to have seen a way to mute the alarms from the front panel, but that’s the only shortcoming that we saw.

Software

The PRO1500RT ships with a CD that includes Minuteman SentryPlus software and the associated (again, well written) manual.

The software is designed to support other Minuteman products and there are a few options that do not apply to the PRO1500RT, such as monitoring three-phase power.

Surprisingly, the software adds quite a bit of functionality, including the ability to silence alarms, run a number of more comprehensive tests, log line and load voltages, graph operation, and indicate battery voltage, battery level, loading level, input frequency, and input voltage.

It should be noted that the software is purely optional. If you just want to use the UPS to shut down a PC automatically, Windows will handle all of that.

In fact, that was our only issue with the software; on the splash screen it noted that the software only worked with Windows versions through XP. In fact, it worked just fine on our freshly updated Windows 10 test bench configuration.

Our least favorite software feature was the constantly scrolling Minuteman UPS logo on the main screen.

Our favorite feature? When Broadcast Message is enabled, unplugging the UPS will result in a very British (think Elizabeth Hurley) voice calmly saying, “Power failed. The UPS is operating on battery power,” and “Power restored. The utility power restored” when all is well.

For those who are interested, the voice announcements (there are 24 of them) are stored as WAV files in the software directory and can be repurposed if desired.

The PRO1500RT’s internal components are protected with heat-shrink tubing rather than common electrical tape, and replaceable automotive-style 30A fuses ensure the value of components protecting the circuit will never change, albeit at the expense of changing a fuse in a failure.

The PRO1500RT’s internal components are protected with heat-shrink
tubing rather than common electrical tape, and replaceable automotive-style 30A fuses ensure the value of components protecting the circuit will never change, albeit at the expense of changing a fuse in a failure.

Setup

Because of the limited options available on the UPS, setup is a breeze. Remove four screws, connect the batteries, mount the unit as needed, plug everything in and away you go.

The manuals are fine, but I doubt many will need them. The software is optional unless you want to silence the internal alarms.

This is as it should be; a versatile UPS with plug-and-play operation.

Testing

As expected, the UPS performed without a hitch. The voltage measurements were off by more than we usually see on a UPS, registering almost exactly 3V low on both input and output (we used three separate meters when testing and got uniform measurements from all of them).

The surge protection RJ45 connectors are specified as 10/100 Base-T in the manual, and our testing bore that out; they worked fine in the specified range but would not pass a Gigabit signal, even at a reduced speed.

This is noteworthy, as most current generation PCs include 10/100/1000 ports and will not work when connected through the PRO1500RT.

As this is explained in the manual, it did not impact our score, although we think Minuteman should either mark it on the rear panel or consider upgrading the port to 10/100/1000 to be in line with commonly connected devices.

Conclusions

One of the first filters we use when selecting products for review is “bang for the buck.” A product can be spectacular, but if it is priced outside of the market range for similar products, it may not warrant our consideration.

After all, we all live in the real world, and comparably performing products should generally be comparably priced. To that end, the Minuteman PRO RT line is a winner.

It beat the comparably rated unit from a major manufacturer in almost all categories — slightly more efficient power conversion (1,050W vs. 1,000W), better surge protection (1,140 Joules vs. 459 Joules) and a significantly lower price.

Construction, warranty, ease of use, software, simplified battery changes and display functionality make this a product worthy of your strong consideration.

As far as we’re concerned, Minuteman has once again delivered a winner.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published on Security Sales & Integration magazine website.

How to Keep Customers Happy When Overworked

An improving economy means more work for integrators, but do they have the time?

As we start the year with high hopes and expectations, I wanted to bring up a topic that impacted many of us last year. Too much work and too few resources, including time and manpower, to complete that work.

Sounds like a great problem to have, right? Not necessarily, and for two reasons.

First, being overworked doesn’t mean you have more business than you can handle. We all know the past few years have been brutal, that the days of having “extra” people around to lend a hand are long gone (if they were ever there).

We’ve all had to work smarter, work harder, do more with less, and so forth. Sometimes it is austerity measures, while at other times you are able to hire more people, but you just can’t hire the right ones.

Or, it very well could be that you have more work than you can handle. The economy is improving by most measures, and virtually all of the integrators I talk to have plenty of work. We’ve even had integrators decline to bid on projects because they are too busy. Good for them, and good for the economy overall.

Regardless of the reason, the result is the same. There are delays in meeting the agreed-upon schedule, customers get frustrated (and vocal about it), and there is often a hit to your reputation. It’s a shame when you work so hard to bid and win a project, it starts out well, and winds up slipping its milestones due to manpower issues.

We all strive for referenceable projects, yet delays are the primary cause of customer dissatisfaction that we hear about when checking references.

This all sounds pretty grim, and, unfortunately, by the time this situation is upon us, it’s usually too late to act. The typical solutions are to add more people, which is easier said than done and doesn’t usually solve the immediate problem, or take on less work, which doesn’t help you today (and good luck convincing anyone to take on less work).

So, if you can’t solve this problem, can you at least mitigate it somewhat? When I am in this situation, and sadly it happens more often than I care to admit, my answer is to overcommunicate. I will call or email clients, tell them about the anticipated delays, and give them revised dates that are “worst case,” internally.

I will provide updates as to progress, and I will take the blame for the delays. Most people appreciate knowing what is going on, understand the situation, and will work with you. Sure, we want to keep everybody happy, and we try and set realistic deadlines in the first place, but sometimes Murphy gets in the way and other times changing needs reorder your schedule and priority.

I’ve found bad news is better than no news, and we do our best to overcommunicate when we have a problem.

How about the ones that won’t take “later” for an answer? Well, that is a clear measure of how you need to re-prioritize. I’m not saying you delay projects at the expense of other ones, but if you have any wiggle room you know where it is best applied.

How do I know this works? Because it works on me. When projects are running late, some of the integrators working with us are upfront about it, providing weekly reports and informing us of delays. Others just disappear, neglecting to give us weekly status reports because they don’t have enough to report. Guess which ones get called back to bid on other projects, and score higher in our integrator database?

Sure, this takes time that you may not have, but common sense tells us that it is far easier to prevent a fire than to extinguish one.

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Also published as:

First published on the Security Sales & Integration magazine website.

Bench Test: Ubiquiti Router Ramps Up Networking With Nary a Net

Thanks to widespread hacking nowadays, the sub $100 “basic” network router just can’t provide the protection needed for video surveillance systems.

THE SECURITY AND VIDEO SURVEILLANCE world has been evolving the past decade from a mostly analog-based environment to an IP-based one. Security camera systems today have changed from analog matrix switches, VCRs and CRT monitors to multiterabyte-capacity video servers, IP cameras and fiber-based system backbones. As a result of this metamorphosis, the need for strong network components to provide the security required for the video surveillance network has also evolved. With the advent of hacking as a pastime for many, the sub $100 “basic” network router just can’t provide the protection needed in that environment. Based on our experience with systems undergoing daily denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, we set out to find a robust yet reasonably cost-effective router that can provide a secure gateway to the outside world for more complex systems and applications.

Our company was first introduced to the Ubiquiti product line by an integrator we were working with on an outdoor project where wireless links were required for the remote cameras. Having never worked with Ubiquiti before we were intrigued with the company’s offerings for future security projects we might be involved with. We reviewed its website and took a look at the products we felt would be useful in future projects. As it turned out we had a project come around where we needed to provide a client with some rapid network security for sites that had to come online quickly. After reviewing the Ubiquiti routers we decided to test the EdgeRouter ER-8 for possible deployment for their project sites.

Construction
There are four different EdgeRouters in the Ubiquiti line. The smallest, the EdgeRouter Lite, has three ports for the system network. Next in the line is the EdgeRouter PoE, which has five ports and, as you guessed, has PoE available for the connected components that require such. The full-size EdgeRouter is the “big brother” to the smaller units. This is a 19-inch 1U rack-mountable unit and there are two versions of this chassis, the ER-8 and the PRO. Both models have eight front-mounted RJ-45 jacks that can be configured with different parameters for the network connections. There is also a separate RJ-45 jack that can be utilized to interface with the router utilizing a serial cable and command line interface (CLI) communications.
The EdgeRouter PRO has an advantage over the ER-8 as it has an additional two SFP ports to allow direct fiber connections to the network router. The casing and materials used for the EdgeRouter Series is solid and doesn’t have a flimsy appearance as some less expensive units do. There is a power socket on the rear of the unit for the power cord as well as two cooling fans to keep the unit operating within parameters. The fans are easily accessible; three screws on the bottom of the router get you inside and changing them is simple, if the need arises.

Features
The EdgeRouter ER-8 is designed to provide multifunction performance on a system’s network. The unit, for example, has the ability to provide structured settings for different network connections in a location. This would be particularly effective for someone who had to manage and administer Internet access to different tenants in an office environment as an example. The unit also has a robust suite of firewall settings as well as other programming parameters that would make a network IT person feel like a kid in a candy store.

One of the main reasons we selected this device for deployment at our customer’s sites was the robust firewall that the EdgeRouter ER-8 provided. One of the main problems we had noticed at our customer’s sites was the repeated DoS attacks that were being bombarded on the routers provided by the site’s Internet service. The EdgeRouter ER-8 effectively blocked almost all of the DoS attacks at the sites and kept the Internet up and running, something the service provider’s router couldn’t do.

Setup
When you first unbox the EdgeRouter ER-8 and start working through the basic system setup it seems like a fairly straightforward process. The unit is easy to connect to with minor system settings to your laptop (you must assign a static IP to your computer) and the login process is easy. The unit doesn’t ship with an installation manual so you must go to Ubiquiti’s website to get the literature. This is a good thing because here is where you also find out you must download the latest firmware for the router to ensure proper operation.

This mandatory “get the latest firmware” task to me ranks right up there in my pet peeve category of electronic components, right after those devices where you must use their software to perform any programming. I understand getting firmware updates from manufacturers for components that have been installed and operating for a period of time but to have to flash the firmware on a brand new, out-of-the-box unit just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think the folks at Ubiquiti made a great big batch of ER-8s and just let them sit in a warehouse somewhere collecting dust! But, without question, this step was vital — the router simply did not work in our application with the factory installed firmware.

Once you get the firmware flashed on the unit you can then follow the programming guide that is included with the ER-8. The main screen for the ER-8 is the dashboard that shows you the system’s status on all of the ports, transmit and receive rates for all channels, and other statistics. The dashboard also allows the administrator to individually monitor each system port and check on the bandwidth usage for each.

The subsystem menus of the EdgeRouter ER-8 almost made my eyes glaze over due to the multitude of system parameters available for deployment. I like to think I have a fairly good grasp of network programming but this unit has everything including the kitchen sink packed into it. That is a good thing for a network administrator who has the time and wherewithal to manage such a device. It could also be a bad thing for a location that has an IT administrator who knows just enough to be dangerous — this router isn’t something that needs an “experimenter” working on it.

router-internal

Testing
For this product review we didn’t perform a normal bench test per se since we have deployed them in about 20 locations or so around the country following our initial evaluation. We have also integrated them into two of our office locations and use them for our office routers. As such our “testing” has consisted of real-world product applications in different environments.

In the locations where we had specific setup parameters (static IP, subnet, etc.) the setup using the built-in configuration wizard was easy. We had a couple of locations where, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. One site’s Internet provider required the router to be set up for PPPoE and I tried for the better part of four hours to get the EdgeRouter ER-8 to work with the parameters that were provided to me by the site’s Internet provider. I knew for a fact that the Internet worked at the location as I could get Internet access with the service provider’s supplied router.

Having worn my fingers out on my laptop trying to program the unit properly, I decided to contact Ubiquiti’s support folks. This is where my experience with Ubiquiti took a very large turn for the worse. If you think you can talk to a live person and get some direct support from Ubiquiti you can forget that. Also, if you think the online chat forum can get you a quick response you can forget that too. The support network consists of online forums and also includes a lot of YouTube videos to show you how to do things.

This to me is not really support; it’s more of a self-help guide, albeit one that had nothing listed to help me with my issue. I forged ahead with the chat site in the hope of getting lucky and getting a quick response. My hopes were soon dashed as the chat site just sat there with no response at all. I did get an email that documented everything I sent to the Ubiquiti chat forum — lot of good that did me. I ended up leaving the service provider’s router in place and the EdgeRouter ER-8 just sitting in the rack.

The next day I got an email from Ubiquiti asking me to rate its support service. After I stopped laughing I thought about how bad that actually was — somewhere an automated program fired off an email in response to another automated program that didn’t really do anything for me. Classic!

Conclusions
The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter ER-8 is a very solid router for use with system networks. It is bulletproof, reliable, and has lots of little touches that make it feel like a premium product — internal power supply, MAC address on a sticker on the rear panel, and a great user interface. If you have the time and knowledge this router is very solid and a great buy for its price point.

However, there is an Achilles heel — the support is pretty much nonexistent. If you have a system that will require some tweaking and support to get things just right, you had better think twice. You may spend more time than it’s worth trying to get the router configured, ultimately buying a comparable — but far more expensive — unit, where you know you can get proper support.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the November 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

Why Security Matters for the Greater Good

When evaluating a video surveillance installation, careful attention to camera placement, image quality and timeliness of repairs could ultimately have very real and positive benefits to our communities.

One thing I find interesting about reading a blog is that they live virtually forever. If you search for a topic, click on a link and start reading, it is important to check the date it was written.

This is important with technology issues as they get stale, quickly. Social issues often remain pertinent for far longer, and sometimes older information about trends in either area show how closely — or badly — the author missed the mark. So, time will tell how well I did here, but I’m afraid this blog topic will remain relevant for a long time. Hopefully I am wrong.

We are confronted almost daily with incidents involving criminal actions, including terrorism, in public areas. In the aftermath, the first place law enforcement usually goes is the myriad video surveillance cameras that surround all of us. A great example is the footage that led to the identification and apprehension in September of suspects in the New York and New Jersey bombings. The list of incidents where private video surveillance has been used for public good continues to grow. Some may argue the social implications of a security camera on every corner, but no one argues the benefits to law enforcement.

In our consulting practice (tech-answers.com) we regularly do assessments of CCTV systems, making recommendations to improve and enhance reliability, performance and functionality. Our clients uniformly share two objectives: They want all of their cameras to work, and they want the image quality to be sufficient for the application. Their business needs are the driving force behind this, but I was recently called to task for not considering the greater good as well.

If you have cameras covering publicly accessible areas, another huge benefit to keeping them in good working order is their availability to help in solving crimes. At our office we have cameras that show the street in front of our building. We have had police come to our door twice over the years, asking to see footage during a certain time window to see if a certain vehicle drove by. In one instance we were able to help, but the second time we weren’t — the camera was down and we weren’t in a hurry to fix it as it was really a demo camera, not a security camera. Shame on us.

We should also consider the greater good when determining the image quality we need. Again, using our office as an example, we have an old analog camera in place covering our front entry area that is as good as it needs to be. If someone hits the doorbell, we can see if there’s a UPS or FedEx truck next to them and react, accordingly. But a simple upgrade to an IP camera in that area would allow us to identify faces before they get in the building. Maybe that’s not so important to us, but there are a lot of street corners in New York, Boston and other cities where higher quality could have saved lives. If you are responsible for cameras on those corners, give it some thought.

When it comes to looking out for our communities, we all want good neighbors that share a common goal. In much the same way that you might want your neighbor yelling at your kid for running into the street without looking both ways, we have an opportunity to be good neighbors in business. A neighbor is more effective at that if they are on their front porch and wearing their glasses — otherwise they may not notice your kid or yell the wrong name.

If your camera is always looking out into the street, consider the electronic equivalent of being there (in good working order) and wearing glasses (good image quality).

I’m not suggesting that you change your approach to CCTV coverage, or even that you spend more money. I’m just pointing out that paying attention to the greater good when evaluating camera placement, quality and timeliness of repairs could have very real and positive benefits to all of us.

If you’re already doing this, thank you. If not, please consider it. I know I will.

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

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First published in the October 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

Want to Increase Bid Response Success? Consider Outsourcing an Eye for Detail

Attention to basic writing skills such as grammar, spelling and punctuation may count more than your technical response in many cases. Hiring a proofreader can differentiate you from the competition.

Back in 2010 I wrote about how attention to detail in a written proposal (“Spelling Counts”) can make or break a bid response in unexpected ways. Those comments are as timely now as they were then, and the examples which I thought to be humorous are now seemingly routine.

While I don’t want to repeat myself, one paragraph stands out as particularly true, and I’d like to provide a fresh take on it here:

In fact, grammar, spelling, and punctuation may count more than your technical response in many cases. Why? Two reasons come to mind. First, the person writing the checks may not understand the technical issues but he sure knows how to spell the name of his company. Second, a sloppy proposal equates to sloppy work in people’s minds. I know it shouldn’t — the person writing the proposal isn’t the person doing the work — but it is a hard barrier to overcome.

You may have read about how people don’t communicate the way they used to, with the advent of text messages and email. Well, rest assured the people reading bids and quotations know how to communicate, and the bias against poor attention to detail is alive and well. As it should be. If going the extra mile is your hallmark, what better place to show it — or blow it — than your bid response.

There’s another factor that merits attention as well in the attention to detail department — consistency. I’ve seen proposals that promise a one-year warranty in one place and a (specified) three-year warranty in another. Pricing for indoor cameras that is higher than the environmentally-rated, vandal-resistant outdoor version of the same camera. And paragraphs inserted with different fonts or point sizes than adjacent material — a sure sign of a poor cut-and-paste job. And this is in addition to the other examples I had previously mentioned.

In fact, I’m questioning my previous recommendation about looking for a high school student to proof things if you aren’t staffed sufficiently to do the job yourself. While I’m not questioning the skills of high school students, in many cases that’s a half measure. Sure, they’ll catch some things but not the more complex issues that make a big difference in accuracy and appearance. My revised advice: Outsource it if you can’t handle it well in-house.

When you think about it, spending a little more money in that area just makes sense. You hire an accountant in most cases because of specialized skills and the need to have certain tasks done the right way. If your financial house is not in order the penalties can be pretty significant. Applying that same logic to give you an edge in winning jobs makes sense as well. And, remember, a lot of what you put in a proposal is reusable, so the actual cost per proposal to have an expert go through it for appearance, formatting, consistency and grammar isn’t necessarily as expensive as you would think.

Where do you find such a person? Ask around, check Craigslist or other websites that specialize in matching freelancers, and network. You might also look at people you know who do this for a living by day and have a parttime business on the side.

I have a friend who does this and have recommended her to some integrators who have been pleasantly surprised at the difference this can make in their success rate. A reputable person will let you “try before you buy,” showing you what they can do with one of your documents at no cost if you’re not happy with the results. Keep in mind they’ll get better as you use them more and they learn your particular style and preferences.

As many head back to school, those of us left behind in the working world shouldn’t forget the lessons we were taught when writing a term paper. Only this time it’s OK to have a friend to help you out while you get all the credit. How good is that?

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

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First published in the October 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

ISONAS IP Access Is a ‘Pure’ Pleasure

With both hardware and software components, reviewing the ISONAS IP access control system was a complicated process.

Up until now, our product reviews have been “inside the box.” That is products that came in a box, and while they tended to serve as part of a larger system they were reviewed on their own merits. A UPS supports a system. A camera is part of a system. Until now, we’ve never reviewed an entire system. But we’ve got an application for a small access control system on one of our projects, the IP infrastructure was already going in as part of the video surveillance system, so we asked ISONAS to provide evaluation product (and a software account) for its Pure IP access control system.

This was not a random evaluation; we requested the product based on our research and feedback from integrators and end users who had worked with it. We expected it to be innovative, well-constructed and to perform well. As you may know from reading past reviews, we’re not shy about calling things as we see them when we are disappointed. This time, happily, we were not.

The Pure IP system consists of hardware and software products. ISONAS provided a demo unit that consisted of a PowerNet IP reader-controller, exterior door kit, request to exit (REX) button, and electric strike. A second PowerNet IP reader-controller was also provided to support a software update that was rolled out during our testing process. The test equipment worked just fine using the three PoE network switches we tried. We also worked with the Pure Access Cloud software using a demo account that was set up for us, although there are on-premises-based software packages available as well.

ISONAS also makes an IP bridge that will integrate existing access control hardware into its system (eliminating existing panels), and a number of accessory devices including trim and weatherproofing kits, cable assemblies, and the access control credentials themselves. Readers are available with or without numeric (12-button) keypads.

Construction
The reader-controllers are extremely solidly built, with a case that has no fasteners on it and all visible components encased in a potting compound. To evaluate construction we generally take a product apart, looking for any issues or obvious points of failure, but that was simply not possible with this product. Taking full advantage of our written review policy whereby we reserve the right to abuse products to better serve our readers, we did the next best thing. We immersed the reader-controller in 2 feet of water for an hour, dried it with a blow dryer at the high heat setting, put it in a freezer for 12 hours, and dropped it onto a concrete pad from a second-story window.

After each of these misadventures the unit booted up and worked perfectly, giving credence to the -40° to 120° F specified operating temperature. In fact, the only time we could get the unit to hiccup was when we plugged in the 12- wire connector on the back while the unit was powered up, but that only happened once, and a power reset solved the problem. We couldn’t repeat the problem.

The exterior door kit is similarly well constructed, although we didn’t beat on it, and the specification sheet for the Power- Net IP Bridge tells a similar story, although we didn’t have a unit to test. Both of these products are permanently installed and generally out of harm’s way so this isn’t as big a factor for us. Readers of our reviews will attest to the fact that we care a lot about design, and attention to detail, and we were happy with what we saw there as well.

The reader-controller includes stickers that provide all pertinent information, including voltage, current draw, a pin-out (by color code rather than pin number) for the detachable 12-pin pigtail connector, and a scannable barcode with the unit’s MAC address on the side. By putting that information on the side instead of the back, the unit can be troubleshot without uninstalling it.

There are covers for the screw holes to improve the appearance, and while this is not an evaluation criteria for us, all ISONAS products are designed, engineered and manufactured in the USA. Products include a 1-year warranty from the date of original purchase and extended warranty plans are available from the manufacturer.

Features
From a system perspective, the hardware could not be simpler. You plug the reader-controller into a PoE network switch, or a standard network switch if you want to power it locally. All other hardware (door strike, magnetic lock, REX devices) connect to the reader via the aforementioned 12-pin connector and harness, and there are the expected inputs and outputs as well (lock control circuit, TTL outputs, aux input and an RS-232 interface).

That’s pretty much it; the network switch ultimately connects to the cloud-based software or the local instance of it, but there are no panels or other hardware devices to get in the way. Setup is done through a connected smartphone that scans the barcode on the reader, or by manually entering the information into the web-based or local software, and everything is extremely intuitive.

The ISONAS system kind of turns everything you know about access control on its ear by getting rid of most of the hardware. Gone are the panels and associated topology, power supplies, special cabling to doors, and all of the installation complexity and headaches. ISONAS has some anecdotal information regarding the cost savings achieved by simply running a single cable to every door, but you can form your own opinion.

Nothing is lost with this architecture; the panel didn’t go away, it just moved into the card reader. Reader-controllers function perfectly well offline, and each is capable of storing 64,000 cardholders and 5,000 alarm events, all of which are refreshed and/or uploaded when the reader-controller goes back online. There are readers available for both proximity cards (only), as well as a multicard reader that will also read smartcards (MIFARE, iClass, PIV).

If you have an existing system with panels, ISONAS offers the PowerNet IP Bridge, available in two- or three-door versions. These DIN rail-mounted devices can be installed in the panel cabinet after removing the panels and associated hardware. They connect directly to the multiwire door controls and up to 32 IP Bridges can be placed in series for control of up to 96 doors using a single switch port. This allows taking over legacy systems while expanding using the IP only configuration.

With all of the electronics and controls housed in the reader- controller, one problem I saw was the ability to rip the device off of the building, use the handy color coding guide on the back and a 12V battery, and open the door yourself, as we’ve seen in so many heist movies. The optional exterior door kit acts as a pass-through device, sitting on the secure side of the door and encrypting the signals from the reader-controller using proprietary encrypted serial data. This effectively eliminates this hacking method and one of my objections.

The PowerNet IP Bridge (above) is used to take over existing panel-based systems and connect them to Pure IP Access. Readers (right) may include an optional keyboard and feature a built-in controller.

The PowerNet IP Bridge (above) is used to take over existing panel-based systems and connect them to Pure IP Access. Readers (right) may include an optional keyboard and feature a built-in controller.

Setup
When I initially spoke with ISONAS representatives, they insisted that I take the online training before writing this review. Their reasoning was sound; they wouldn’t sell the product to anyone who hadn’t gone through training, and therefore to review it without the training would not be an accurate representation of how the product would be set up and operated in the real world. With some access control experience, I’m not sure the training is needed, but it is very simple, straightforward, and informative.

Starting with an introduction to access control and going through advanced software features, you need to take the classes in order and achieve certification when complete. Suffice it to say, I will be circling back to repeat some of the training and recommend it highly. That aside, setup was extremely simple. You scan or enter the MAC address for the reader, answer a few easy questions and you are off and running. I was able to put tech support through its paces as well; I received a demo kit and a second reader, and there were issues programming both of them into the demo software license I was given.

Josh in tech support quickly discovered that this was a function of the demo account only being permitted to use a single reader; once that was fixed, we were in business. Along the way I was shown how to upgrade firmware, customize the dashboard and tweak the configuration as needed. Josh was patient, friendly and personable, and made me feel like he had all the time in the world for me. And his command of the English language was excellent; what more could you ask from a tech support representative?

Testing
At the end of the day, testing an access control system is pretty dull. The cards programmed to open the doors did, while the ones that were not programmed to did not. Outside of the fun we had soaking, baking, dropping and freezing someone else’s stuff, everything worked exactly as it should. Kind of boring, but I sometimes think boring products are what is needed. ISONAS does not have a video management system (VMS) component, preferring to partner with companies that already do that.

The company’s list of integration partners is small but growing, and includes Milestone, OnSSI and Video Insight (Panasonic). An API has been published and the manufacturer seems enthusiastic about working with as many VMS developers as possible. This makes sense; if you’re not going to compete with them, it’s in your best interest to cooperate.

The demo kit (right) proved to be an effective way to test all aspects of the hardware. Software testing (above) was performed on several computers simultaneously to validate reliability.

The demo kit (right) proved to be an effective way to test all aspects of the
hardware. Software testing (above) was performed on several computers simultaneously to validate reliability.

Software
There are really three software categories available to ISONAS users. We tested the cloud-based software and had a hard time coming up with any “real-world” features it did not include. The interface was clean and intuitive, very customizable, and it was easy to set up restricted profiles to add users with limited capabilities. It is, however, software as a service (SaaS) and many firms do not like that model. If it works for you, it works well, and the programs are certainly dealer friendly and make it easy for an integrator to build a client base by reselling the service.

There’s also a premises-based software package that we did not test; we did call two clients that use their software and both were extremely happy. These were not sophisticated users, and both remarked that the software did exactly what they wanted, was easy to use and was “bulletproof” in their applications. ISONAS also integrates with a number of access control software vendors, allowing the ISONAS hardware to be used with more sophisticated applications. In particular, ISONAS and Open Options announced a partnership at ISC West 2016 and it is hard to imagine an access control feature or specification that this pairing could not meet.

Conclusions
This is a product I wanted to like. It dramatically simplifies the installation and management of access control systems, removes a lot of the failure points and should reduce costs for end users while improving reliability. Looking at the product at ISC West last spring, and talking to integrators that had used it, it seemed too good to be true, and I expected to be disappointed. Happily I was not. There were only two downsides I could see to this product line, and our overall score reflects that.

First, the limited design options; if you want a more pleasing aesthetic or a lower profile reader you would need to use the IP Bridge and a conventional reader. A more varied product line is on the way (I’ve seen pictures), but it’s not here yet. Second, this is a proprietary technology protected by a number of patents, and despite the ISONAS clarion call to integration, you are limited to a single vendor for the key components of your system.

While ISONAS has been around since 1999, our industry is littered with the ghosts of proprietary technologies that went away. Personally, I’m dipping my toe slowly into this pond, starting with a small implementation and monitoring it closely. But I expect that this is the way of the future, and much as we’ve given up BNC connectors and code distribution units for CCTV cameras, we expect to make a similar paradigm shift with access control. It may be proprietary now, but it’s just too good of an implementation not to catch on.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the October 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

How to Solve a Potential Audio Dilemma Involving Your Amazon Echo Dot

Having this problem? Check out this product review of the Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II.

As we start to add more accessories to our connected home, our efforts to simplify our lives can actually complicate them. I recently ran into one such example and wanted to share my way of solving the problem.

I’ve been adding Amazon Echo devices for voice control throughout my home and office. I started with three of the standalone units and recently added two of the Echo Dot devices to rooms that already had speakers. The sound from the standard Echo is OK, but if you’ve already got a decent little sound system in the room, why not use it? The problem is that you want to vary the volume of your sound source but the volume of the Echo device should stay the same. Otherwise you run the risk of asking Alexa a question and having the response be either inaudible or loud enough to blast you out of your seat…

The answer for me was to add a Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II to each of those rooms. This device has three stereo inputs (one with a 1/8-inch jack and stereo RCA jacks, the other two with just stereo RCA jacks) and one set of stereo outputs plus a headphone jack. I’m using them both in conjunction with the aforementioned Amazon Eco Dot units in my office and bedroom. In both of these cases, the Dot is plugged into stereo input 4 while the source (XM radio in the office, TV in the bedroom) is plugged into stereo input 3. This lets me vary the volume of the entertainment source while leaving the Echo at a constant volume so I can hear responses to questions regardless of the volume level for the other source.

The mixer is extremely sturdy and well-constructed and runs cool to the touch even though I leave it on continuously. It was simple to set up and operate, there’s plenty of room on the top panel to label the input knobs (using my P-Touch label maker) and it is very quiet. While I didn’t use measurement instruments, I cannot detect any added noise, hiss or other interference, and the dynamic range appears to be unaffected — no clipping or distortion is audible.

The Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II.

The Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II.

The only oddity is that all of the input knobs have detents just to the right of the 12 o’clock position (almost straight up). This makes it easy to match the level of two inputs in that position but seems kind of arbitrary to me. Also, the default for phantom power is on; while I haven’t plugged a microphone into the unit, this seems like a risky setting. If a dynamic microphone is plugged into this input and there are any shielding issues with the cable, you’ll likely hear crackling noises as the microphone is moved around and the cable flexes. Moving the jumper to the off position should solve the problem.

All in all, this is a great little tool to add to your toolbox if you find yourself adding audio to home or small business automation.

WE HAVE TESTED AND REVIEWED keypad access locks in the past, including models from Schlage and Kwikset, most recently the Kwikset SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Deadbolt (securitysales.com/ kwikset_deadbolt_locks_reliable), and are big fans. After looking at promotional material for the Yale nexTouch keypad access lock, we asked for a test model but were really expecting a product that was functionally similar to the Kwikset 916. Well, they both have touchscreens (and are available with pushbutton keypads as well) and unlock doors, but they are otherwise pretty different. The question of which would work best for you really depends on your application.

The nexTouch lock is available in three versions: standalone, Data-on-Card and Z-Wave/ ZigBee. The standalone version is the base model, and while any version can be ordered from Yale, Data-on-Card, Zig- Bee or Z-Wave functionality can be added by installing a color-coded plug-in module. This allows the lock to be upgraded as the user’s application and needs change. We tested the Z-Wave version and cannot comment on the Data-on-Card version for this review as we did not test it.

Construction

The nexTouch is a solidly built, as befits its ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 certification. This grading system, developed for the American Nation Standards Institute (ANSI) by the Builder’s Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) ranges from 1 (the highest grade) to 3, factoring in longevity and durability. Grade 1 is usually used for commercial applications and is tested to 1 million opening and closing cycles. It is also able to withstand five strikes of 75 pounds of force. Clearly solidly built, the nexTouch is intended for commercial applications, and it shows.

There are a number of configurations available, including the aforementioned choice of touchscreen or pushbutton as well as the underlying technology. There are three different lever designs, including a flat lever and two types of curved levers. A lock cylinder override is available, and a number of Yale interchangeable cores can be used. There are also four finishes available, including bright brass, satin bronze, satin chrome-plated (our test model) and flat black powder coat. There are even kits to adapt other manufacturers’ cores to fit this lock; it is hard to imagine more flexibility in construction. We did not install the lock on a door, as it came on a “mock door” for testing purposes. Interestingly, it was installed in the test rig with the latchbolt backwards; perhaps this was a test to see if we’d notice. We did take the unit apart and put it back together again, and the operation was constant with our experiences installing other brand locks.

Features

The nexTouch is really an access control system for smaller facilities, and is designed for a large number of users and a “jack of all trades” maintenance person. Think apartment building or multifamily residences, small businesses or small office buildings. The standalone unit handles 500 user codes and each code can be four-eight digits. There are a number of features that support these applications, and we tested as many of them as we could.

The first feature that really jumps out is the voice guidance. It walks you through all of the programming in your choice of three languages, confirms operations and allows a maintenance person or administrator to easily change settings without referring to the manual (which is really just a poster). A pleasant chime confirms operations, letting you know when the door is locked and unlocked. Certain modes are annunciated, like “Privacy Mode,” which allows you to lock out the keypad from the inside. To do this you need to install the optional door position switch and associated magnet, which allows the lock to know when the door is closed. Opening the door automatically disables the privacy mode.

You can also set the lock to unlock at the first valid keypad entry and relock either manually or after a preset period (configurable from 1-180 seconds). Relocking manually can require a valid PIN code or one-touch locking can be enabled that allows a simple touch of the keypad to relock the door. There’s also a keypad lockout feature that deters tampering by disabling the keypad for a default period of 180 seconds after five successive wrong code entries.

Powering the lock is also carefully thought out. The unit is battery powered with the four included AA batteries, or can be outfitted with a remote power source through an electronic pass-through hinge. If the internal batteries are used and they fail, two contacts on the front of the lock allow you to press a 9V battery up to the lock that will provide enough power to enter an access code and open the door to change the batteries. A belt and suspenders, indeed!

Setup

As with other locks we have seen, the installation and operation manual is a poster and it has everything you need. Once installed, inserting the batteries provides you with a voice prompt (“Welcome to Yale”) and touching the screen prompts you through entering the master PIN code and subsequent user codes. Visual and audible prompts confirm almost all actions, and the programming is very simple.

Testing

We went through the poster and tested each feature with no issues. We liked the door position switch and privacy mode and wish other locks had that feature. The keypad is extremely sensitive and responsive, shows up well in direct sunlight, and the audible confirmation was a nice touch. There are two volume settings for audio, and it can be disabled as well if you find it annoying over time.

We also tested Z-Wave functionality using a SmartThings hub. We had to try a few times; that isn’t uncommon with Z-Wave devices and the nature of home automation networks. Once set up, the lock worked flawlessly, locking and unlocking with about 3 seconds’ latency. We have other Z-Wave locks in our test setup, and the speed in which the Yale lock responded was consistent with our experiences. We did notice that the SmartThings application showed the lock as locked about 5 seconds before it had relocked itself, so there may be some software or integration issues. This did not impact operation, and reporting on home automation applications is not universally instantaneous. We did not test the ZigBee version, although we can’t imagine that it would be different than the Z-Wave functionality and performance.

Conclusions

If you are looking for an attractive lock for home use, this may not be it. It is definitely a commercial design and may be out of place in residential applications. That being said, for the intended applications, it is hard to imagine a better implementation and feature set. We gave a perfect rating to the similar Kwikset product, and we give the Yale lock the same high marks.

That is not to say the products are the same; each has different strengths and we did not take off points because of differentiating features. However, we think it is safe to say that, no matter what the application, there’s a perfect fit for you.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the March 2017 Security Sales & Integration magazine.

TRENDnet Industrial Network Switch

The TRENDnet TI-PG1284i network switch is an attractive solution for locations that are less than ideal.

TRENDnet has introduced a new industrial-grade hardened network switch that promises to become a “go-to” component for installers when they have network locations that don’t have the best environmental conditions.

TRENDnet has been involved in the electronics world since 1990 and was founded in Torrance, Calif. The company has been building network solutions for the consumer, commercial and industrial markets, and today supplies many different solutions for its markets.

Today’s electronic networks whether they are designed and utilized for CCTV, access control, voice over Internet or some other network function, rely on several key components to complete their system designs.

Increasingly the network switch is installed in locations that can best be described as “less than friendly” to electronics. This review covers a switch that is designed to roll with the punches.

Construction

The TI-PG1284i network switch is constructed with a hardened metal casing and about the size of a hardback novel. The unit has a solid feel to it, shows good construction and has an IP30-rated enclosure that protects the internal components from external dirt and dust intrusion.

The unit is not immune to liquids so mounting it exposed outdoors is out of the question! The switch is designed for harsh environments and can withstand temperatures from -40° to 75° C / -40° to 167° F.

The switch has 12 network ports and one RS-232 port on the front panel. Of those 12 network ports eight are gigabit RJ-45 connections and four are GB SFP ports. The top of the unit has connections for the external power supplies (both primary and redundant) and the external alarm.

There are also addressable DIP switches that allow the end user to customize the notification alarms from the switch for every port and power connection. There is also a grounding terminal on the top of the case to provide greater protection from static shocks.

The TI-PG1284i relies on an external power source of 48VDC; the input voltage has a range of 48 to 57VDC with a rating of 240+ watts. This voltage can be supplied from a master power source or from a standalone unit.

For our testing, we were provided a complementary component power supply, Model TI-S24048, to provide the required input voltage. This unit, just like the switch, is designed to mount to a DIN rail to provide a secured installation.

The electrical wiring for the power unit connects to a Phoenix connector that allows the unit to be easily disconnected from its 120VAC power source should servicing be required.

Features

The TI-PG1284i can supply up to 30W of PoE/PoE+ power for its network ports. The power to each of these ports can be turned on and off via the web-based graphical user interface; this allows the user to remotely reset a device, which can be very effective for troubleshooting or refreshing field devices.

The inclusion of four SFP ports allows the switch to be connected to different devices via fiber-optic connections. This can allow the switch to be used as a hub or repeater for a fiber network; this can be very handy when there are different connection requirements for a network’s construction.

The inclusion of alarm outputs for each network port (as well as the power supply) provides an alert to the user that there is a system problem that requires immediate attention.

The switch is constructed to resist shock and vibration damage and has been rated for durability by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). It also has a freefall rating which is one I have a hard time understanding since the unit is designed to be firmly mounted to a DIN rail!

The TI-PG1284i is also rated by the IEC to resist electrostatic discharges and electromagnetic interference. This makes the unit a perfect fit for installation in a congested environment where there might be heavy electrical interferences.

DIP switch configuration of the TI-PG1284i’s alarm outputs (left) makes setting up failure notification a breeze. The separate power supply (right) allows for redundant power where needed.

DIP switch configuration of the TI-PG1284i’s alarm outputs (left) makes setting up failure notification a breeze. The separate power supply (right) allows for redundant power where needed.

Setup and Testing

Upon unpacking the contents from the box, I found the unit is supplied with a six-foot RJ-45 to RS-232 cable, a quick installation guide, and a CD containing the full product manual and the quick reference guide.

For my examination and testing I performed a basic installation utilizing the switch, power supply, computer and PoE network camera. I used a fixed dome IP camera to test the PoE port switching that allowed me to switch the camera on and off as needed.

As noted, having the ability to reset a device remotely is a wonderful thing — think of the time and effort that can be saved by being able to remote in to the switch and perform this reset.

Compare this to grabbing your eight-foot ladder, slugging it through a back hallway and climbing up to a field node just to unplug a camera or other network device. This feature is worth its weight in gold to me.

The embedded GUI of the TI-PG1284i allows for many system settings within the network. While my networking experience is fairly extensive and has been put to the test many times, I must confess that I was not completely familiar with all of the arcane system settings of which this device is capable, according to the manual.

In addition to the web-based GUI for programming and control of the TI-PG1284i, the unit can be controlled via RS-232 commands from your computer for those “old-school” system administrators.

While I am not one who is well versed in command line interface (CLI) commands, I understand its usefulness for network professionals. Again, this switch provides the user with a plethora of options and protections.

Conclusions

The TI-PG1284i is a robust switch that will perform well in any system’s network. Its size, design and durability makes it a great unit for installation in varied environments, from a small field node in a hazardous location to a network closet with many switches configured together.

The TI-PFG1284i will make a welcome addition to any installer’s repertoire.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the March 2017 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

11 Common Types of Security Cameras

Bullet, dome, covert, outdoor, varifocal and night vision are just some of the common types of surveillance cameras. Here’s a quick reference list.

Selecting a type of security camera is simple, right? If you want a camera that follows people as they move, you want a pan/tilt/zoom or PTZ camera. Otherwise you want a fixed camera. Right?

Well, yes and no. PTZ and fixed cameras used to be the only types of cameras out there, but today it can get a lot more complicated. There’s a difference between the type of security camera and the type of housing or extra features you can add to it.

Types of Security Cameras:

  • Fixed
  • Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ)
  • Virtual PTZ or 360-Degree

Types of Security Camera Housing:

  • Outdoor
  • Dome
  • Bullet
  • Discreet

Extra Features:

  • Resolution
  • Day/Night
  • Infrared
  • Varifocal
  • Remote Zoom
  • Auto-focus
  • Wireless
  • Thermal Imaging

I often say we’re in the “golden age of cameras.” Cameras are uniformly good at the basics, but by over-simplifying things you may not be making the best choice for your application.

This guide will outline some of the variations on those two themes, and suggest some enhancements that you might want to consider for your application. The chart below shows some common, popular features of security cameras compared to the three camera types to consider.

Choosing the Right Security Camera

Fixed Camera

At the heart of the matter is the fixed camera. It is positioned to capture an image and can be optimized for the application with different housings and features as we’ll cover later.

With few moving parts, fixed cameras are inherently more reliable than PTZ cameras and they are always pointing in the intended direction.

PTZ Camera

Remotely positionable cameras are typically called PTZ cameras for their ability to pan, tilt and zoom in on a subject. This is a specially designed fixed camera wrapped in a cocoon of motors and gears which allow an operator to remotely move it.

Higher end cameras may have a greater zoom range, with 32X being fairly common. A higher zoom range is helpful when you are covering a large area, but isn’t always needed.

While a PTZ camera will follow a person or object through an area, they do have a few disadvantages. A PTZ camera may be set to automatically patrol an area, but they are oftentimes most effective when manually controlled.

If a CCTV system is used for forensics, determining what happened after the fact, Murphy’s Law pretty much guarantees that a PTZ camera will invariably be looking in the wrong direction when something happens. The greater the magnification being used, the smaller the area being covered, and this type of camera can only be facing one direction at a time.

360-degree Camera

This has led to a third type of camera, the virtual PTZ or 360-degree camera. This is several high resolution fixed cameras in a single (usually dome) housing. The images are stitched together and you can zoom in after the fact, up to the limits of the cameras being used.

Since all the images are being recorded, it can face in all directions and can be a great forensic tool. The biggest challenge facing 360-degree camera acceptance is that they are often oversold as a universal solution. Few rooms allow an unobstructed field of view in all directions, so you are generally not utilizing the full field of view.

A standard fixed camera can easily be paired with a lens to give it a 120-degree to 140-degree view, and many rooms are better served with cameras in corners which only require a 90-degree field of view. Still, in the applications where this type of camera is needed, it can really shine.

 

Choosing the Right Housing

After selecting the type of camera, the next level of choice is the type of housing. With a PTZ camera you are pretty much limited to indoor or outdoor, as they are mostly dome cameras except for a limited number of specialty applications.

Outdoor

Outdoor cameras will be more weather resistant and include heaters and blowers to allow for environmental variances.

Dome

Dome housings are designed to conceal the orientation of the camera, with some doing a better job than others. This is a high priority in most applications, and is our default selection as it is generally the best deterrent.

When someone can’t tell which way the camera is pointing, they often assume it is pointing in all directions. So, a fixed dome camera covering a door at the end of a hallway is assumed to be covering the entire hallway.

Bullet

We’ll call the cameras that resemble a box on a post bullet cameras, named for the sleek cylindrical shape that many of them have. Whether a small unitized design or a camera/housing combination, these clearly show the direction of orientation and generally provide a better picture.

The front of the housing is close to the camera lens, cutting down on reflections and making it easier to keep clean. They are a deterrent as well, although not as effective as housings that mask the orientation.

Discreet

Sometimes you want to hide the entire camera using covert or discreet housings. These can be designed to look like something else (smoke detector, motion sensor) or nothing at all, with pinhole lenses or flush mount lenses mounted on a wall or ceiling.

These are not designed to be deterrents but are often preferred by architects seeking to achieve a certain aesthetic within a space.

All types of housings can be made to be vandal resistant, a step up from weather resistant. These types of housings (most commonly the dome type) are designed to withstand unfriendly environments while still providing a usable image.

 

Choosing the Right Features

Once you’ve selected the camera type and form factor, you might want to consider tweaking the feature set for the application.

Resolution

The possibilities are varied, with resolution being the most common upsell. Resolution is measured in millions of pixels, or megapixels. The higher the resolution, the more space required to store the images and processing power to manipulate it.

For perspective, an old analog camera is about 1/4 megapixel, your giant HDTV screen is a little over 2 megapixels, and the highest resolution projected image in your local movie theater is called 4K and has 8.8 megapixels.

Higher resolution cameras do not respond as well to low light situations as lower resolution cameras, so, it is possible to buy more resolution than you need and needlessly drive storage costs up and performance down.

Low Light Performance

Beyond resolution, low light performance is often a requirement.

Cameras with day/night capabilities switch into a different mode in low light situations, with various technologies allowing usable images in near total darkness.

Cameras with infrared illuminators provide their own light source, allowing better images in dark areas as well. As previously mentioned, be prepared to sacrifice some resolution to get better low light performance.

Lens Features

We are seeing more fixed cameras with advanced lens features as well.

While varifocal lenses have always been popular, allowing the installer to manually adjust the image magnification when installing the camera, many fixed cameras now come with remote zoom and focus. This allows the user to adjust the camera without physically going to the camera site, a big cost savings in many applications.

At the ISC West security show in 2017, several manufacturers were showing fixed cameras with auto-focus as well.

Advanced Options

Beyond features and functionality, there are other considerations such as wireless signal transition, ultra-high resolution, thermal imaging, explosion proof housings and more.

While the proliferation of available options can make the selection process more difficult, the good news is that no matter what your application is there’s likely the perfect tool for the job — for far less money than you might have thought possible just a few years ago.

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Also published as:

First published on the CEPro website.

Robert Grossman has spent more than 20 years in the industry — giving him plenty of opportunity to learn from his mistakes! He is president of R. Grossman and Associates Inc., a consulting group specializing in electronic security products and projects. Bob has spent time as an end user, responsible for security, surveillance and low-voltage electronics at Bally’s Park Place, a major Atlantic City casino. As a senior project manager for Sensormatic Electronics’ Enterprise Accounts group, he learned first-hand the difficulty in translating ideas into reality while staying on schedule and under budget. He has worked for both Vicon Industries (as vice president of Customer and Technical Services) and American Dynamics/Tyco Safety Products (as director of Product Line Management), with responsibilities that included pre- and post-sales support, project design, product line management, customer service and sales. Bob is a frequent contributor to CE Pro and sister publication Security Sales & Integration. For more information, visit www.tech-answers.com. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Bob at rdgrossman@tech-answers.com

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Minuteman PRO1500RT UPS Has Few Downsides

This uninterruptible power supply bests comparable units in both price and performance.

Minuteman Power Technologies’ power protection products are manufactured by Para Systems, based in Carrollton, Texas.

Now in its 35th year, the company’s product line is well supported and respected, and we tested its remote power management system in August 2016.

Our positive experiences with that product raised our expectations, and we were not disappointed. For this review we tested the PRO1500RT, a member of the PRO RT family that includes both 1000VA (700W) and 1500VA (1,050W).

These are line interactive units with six battery backedup outlets and surge protected outlets and two surge protected only outlets.

All outlets are 15A, appropriate given the power rating.

Construction

Believe it or not, our favorable impression began with the packaging.

Rather than making the user wrestle with preformed top and bottom pieces of Styrofoam packing material, the PRO- 1500RT arrived in a box with eight corner pieces (four top and four bottom) and three side pieces.

Unpacking was extremely simple, and there were no larger pieces of Styrofoam to be broken up when it was time to discard the packaging. We found this packing configuration to be ingenious.

As with the previously tested Minuteman product, construction is extremely solid. The inside is easily accessible with a standard Philips head screwdriver and looks to be fairly easy to service.

Batteries were relatively easy to change, although lining up the long-yet-flimsy screws that hold the front bezel on was more difficult than it needed to be.

The RT designation at the end of the product model number stands for Rack/Tower, another clever design trick.

The supplied rack mount ears can be screwed on the front for rack mounting, or flipped over and used on what becomes the bottom for stabilizing the unit when used in a tower configuration.

al supplied with the product.

An abbreviated single-page quick install guide explains how to connect the batteries and equipment, and turn the unit on, but you need to go to the manual for the other mounting configurations, display reorientation, and an explanation of the various alarms and display information.

It should be noted that this UPS, like others we have tested, is made in China. Unlike others, Minuteman has clearly taken a leadership role in product line management, particularly with regard to documentation.

The manual was well written, free of typos and grammatical errors. We understand that few people actually read the manuals, but those that do will not be left scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Features

The PRO RT Series is marketed as “a value-priced, yet feature-rich UPS,” and that it is.

With an easily read backlit LCD display, simple to use software (more on that later), and displays with alarms for fault, low battery, weak/bad battery, fault and other modes.

The UPS self-tests every two weeks, and overcharge protection is also incorporated into the software. The UPS also checks for an improperly wired wall outlet, indicating a problem on the front panel display.

There is no programming to be done from the unit; not even an option to run in “silent” mode, bypassing audible alarms. You have to go to the software for that.

The scroll buttons take you through the various display options, and the manual explains them (fairly intuitive).

There’s a serial port on the back (RS-232 communication and simulated contact closures for low battery warning and AC failure), a USB port for the included software that also works with most operating systems (e.g. Windows), and accessory slot for an optional SNMP card or dry contact relay card.

There is also a pair of RJ45 connectors for surge protection of a telephone (RJ11) or network connection. In short, this UPS is bare-bones if programming or advanced features are required, although the software provides some additional “tweaks.”

However, the PRO1500RT is quite full-featured in terms of the majority of applications for this price class and configuration. We would have liked to have seen a way to mute the alarms from the front panel, but that’s the only shortcoming that we saw.

Software

The PRO1500RT ships with a CD that includes Minuteman SentryPlus software and the associated (again, well written) manual.

The software is designed to support other Minuteman products and there are a few options that do not apply to the PRO1500RT, such as monitoring three-phase power.

Surprisingly, the software adds quite a bit of functionality, including the ability to silence alarms, run a number of more comprehensive tests, log line and load voltages, graph operation, and indicate battery voltage, battery level, loading level, input frequency, and input voltage.

It should be noted that the software is purely optional. If you just want to use the UPS to shut down a PC automatically, Windows will handle all of that.

In fact, that was our only issue with the software; on the splash screen it noted that the software only worked with Windows versions through XP. In fact, it worked just fine on our freshly updated Windows 10 test bench configuration.

Our least favorite software feature was the constantly scrolling Minuteman UPS logo on the main screen.

Our favorite feature? When Broadcast Message is enabled, unplugging the UPS will result in a very British (think Elizabeth Hurley) voice calmly saying, “Power failed. The UPS is operating on battery power,” and “Power restored. The utility power restored” when all is well.

For those who are interested, the voice announcements (there are 24 of them) are stored as WAV files in the software directory and can be repurposed if desired.

The PRO1500RT’s internal components are protected with heat-shrink tubing rather than common electrical tape, and replaceable automotive-style 30A fuses ensure the value of components protecting the circuit will never change, albeit at the expense of changing a fuse in a failure.

The PRO1500RT’s internal components are protected with heat-shrink
tubing rather than common electrical tape, and replaceable automotive-style 30A fuses ensure the value of components protecting the circuit will never change, albeit at the expense of changing a fuse in a failure.

Setup

Because of the limited options available on the UPS, setup is a breeze. Remove four screws, connect the batteries, mount the unit as needed, plug everything in and away you go.

The manuals are fine, but I doubt many will need them. The software is optional unless you want to silence the internal alarms.

This is as it should be; a versatile UPS with plug-and-play operation.

Testing

As expected, the UPS performed without a hitch. The voltage measurements were off by more than we usually see on a UPS, registering almost exactly 3V low on both input and output (we used three separate meters when testing and got uniform measurements from all of them).

The surge protection RJ45 connectors are specified as 10/100 Base-T in the manual, and our testing bore that out; they worked fine in the specified range but would not pass a Gigabit signal, even at a reduced speed.

This is noteworthy, as most current generation PCs include 10/100/1000 ports and will not work when connected through the PRO1500RT.

As this is explained in the manual, it did not impact our score, although we think Minuteman should either mark it on the rear panel or consider upgrading the port to 10/100/1000 to be in line with commonly connected devices.

Conclusions

One of the first filters we use when selecting products for review is “bang for the buck.” A product can be spectacular, but if it is priced outside of the market range for similar products, it may not warrant our consideration.

After all, we all live in the real world, and comparably performing products should generally be comparably priced. To that end, the Minuteman PRO RT line is a winner.

It beat the comparably rated unit from a major manufacturer in almost all categories — slightly more efficient power conversion (1,050W vs. 1,000W), better surge protection (1,140 Joules vs. 459 Joules) and a significantly lower price.

Construction, warranty, ease of use, software, simplified battery changes and display functionality make this a product worthy of your strong consideration.

As far as we’re concerned, Minuteman has once again delivered a winner.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published on Security Sales & Integration magazine website.

How to Keep Customers Happy When Overworked

An improving economy means more work for integrators, but do they have the time?

As we start the year with high hopes and expectations, I wanted to bring up a topic that impacted many of us last year. Too much work and too few resources, including time and manpower, to complete that work.

Sounds like a great problem to have, right? Not necessarily, and for two reasons.

First, being overworked doesn’t mean you have more business than you can handle. We all know the past few years have been brutal, that the days of having “extra” people around to lend a hand are long gone (if they were ever there).

We’ve all had to work smarter, work harder, do more with less, and so forth. Sometimes it is austerity measures, while at other times you are able to hire more people, but you just can’t hire the right ones.

Or, it very well could be that you have more work than you can handle. The economy is improving by most measures, and virtually all of the integrators I talk to have plenty of work. We’ve even had integrators decline to bid on projects because they are too busy. Good for them, and good for the economy overall.

Regardless of the reason, the result is the same. There are delays in meeting the agreed-upon schedule, customers get frustrated (and vocal about it), and there is often a hit to your reputation. It’s a shame when you work so hard to bid and win a project, it starts out well, and winds up slipping its milestones due to manpower issues.

We all strive for referenceable projects, yet delays are the primary cause of customer dissatisfaction that we hear about when checking references.

This all sounds pretty grim, and, unfortunately, by the time this situation is upon us, it’s usually too late to act. The typical solutions are to add more people, which is easier said than done and doesn’t usually solve the immediate problem, or take on less work, which doesn’t help you today (and good luck convincing anyone to take on less work).

So, if you can’t solve this problem, can you at least mitigate it somewhat? When I am in this situation, and sadly it happens more often than I care to admit, my answer is to overcommunicate. I will call or email clients, tell them about the anticipated delays, and give them revised dates that are “worst case,” internally.

I will provide updates as to progress, and I will take the blame for the delays. Most people appreciate knowing what is going on, understand the situation, and will work with you. Sure, we want to keep everybody happy, and we try and set realistic deadlines in the first place, but sometimes Murphy gets in the way and other times changing needs reorder your schedule and priority.

I’ve found bad news is better than no news, and we do our best to overcommunicate when we have a problem.

How about the ones that won’t take “later” for an answer? Well, that is a clear measure of how you need to re-prioritize. I’m not saying you delay projects at the expense of other ones, but if you have any wiggle room you know where it is best applied.

How do I know this works? Because it works on me. When projects are running late, some of the integrators working with us are upfront about it, providing weekly reports and informing us of delays. Others just disappear, neglecting to give us weekly status reports because they don’t have enough to report. Guess which ones get called back to bid on other projects, and score higher in our integrator database?

Sure, this takes time that you may not have, but common sense tells us that it is far easier to prevent a fire than to extinguish one.

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Also published as:

First published on the Security Sales & Integration magazine website.

Bench Test: Ubiquiti Router Ramps Up Networking With Nary a Net

Thanks to widespread hacking nowadays, the sub $100 “basic” network router just can’t provide the protection needed for video surveillance systems.

THE SECURITY AND VIDEO SURVEILLANCE world has been evolving the past decade from a mostly analog-based environment to an IP-based one. Security camera systems today have changed from analog matrix switches, VCRs and CRT monitors to multiterabyte-capacity video servers, IP cameras and fiber-based system backbones. As a result of this metamorphosis, the need for strong network components to provide the security required for the video surveillance network has also evolved. With the advent of hacking as a pastime for many, the sub $100 “basic” network router just can’t provide the protection needed in that environment. Based on our experience with systems undergoing daily denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, we set out to find a robust yet reasonably cost-effective router that can provide a secure gateway to the outside world for more complex systems and applications.

Our company was first introduced to the Ubiquiti product line by an integrator we were working with on an outdoor project where wireless links were required for the remote cameras. Having never worked with Ubiquiti before we were intrigued with the company’s offerings for future security projects we might be involved with. We reviewed its website and took a look at the products we felt would be useful in future projects. As it turned out we had a project come around where we needed to provide a client with some rapid network security for sites that had to come online quickly. After reviewing the Ubiquiti routers we decided to test the EdgeRouter ER-8 for possible deployment for their project sites.

Construction
There are four different EdgeRouters in the Ubiquiti line. The smallest, the EdgeRouter Lite, has three ports for the system network. Next in the line is the EdgeRouter PoE, which has five ports and, as you guessed, has PoE available for the connected components that require such. The full-size EdgeRouter is the “big brother” to the smaller units. This is a 19-inch 1U rack-mountable unit and there are two versions of this chassis, the ER-8 and the PRO. Both models have eight front-mounted RJ-45 jacks that can be configured with different parameters for the network connections. There is also a separate RJ-45 jack that can be utilized to interface with the router utilizing a serial cable and command line interface (CLI) communications.
The EdgeRouter PRO has an advantage over the ER-8 as it has an additional two SFP ports to allow direct fiber connections to the network router. The casing and materials used for the EdgeRouter Series is solid and doesn’t have a flimsy appearance as some less expensive units do. There is a power socket on the rear of the unit for the power cord as well as two cooling fans to keep the unit operating within parameters. The fans are easily accessible; three screws on the bottom of the router get you inside and changing them is simple, if the need arises.

Features
The EdgeRouter ER-8 is designed to provide multifunction performance on a system’s network. The unit, for example, has the ability to provide structured settings for different network connections in a location. This would be particularly effective for someone who had to manage and administer Internet access to different tenants in an office environment as an example. The unit also has a robust suite of firewall settings as well as other programming parameters that would make a network IT person feel like a kid in a candy store.

One of the main reasons we selected this device for deployment at our customer’s sites was the robust firewall that the EdgeRouter ER-8 provided. One of the main problems we had noticed at our customer’s sites was the repeated DoS attacks that were being bombarded on the routers provided by the site’s Internet service. The EdgeRouter ER-8 effectively blocked almost all of the DoS attacks at the sites and kept the Internet up and running, something the service provider’s router couldn’t do.

Setup
When you first unbox the EdgeRouter ER-8 and start working through the basic system setup it seems like a fairly straightforward process. The unit is easy to connect to with minor system settings to your laptop (you must assign a static IP to your computer) and the login process is easy. The unit doesn’t ship with an installation manual so you must go to Ubiquiti’s website to get the literature. This is a good thing because here is where you also find out you must download the latest firmware for the router to ensure proper operation.

This mandatory “get the latest firmware” task to me ranks right up there in my pet peeve category of electronic components, right after those devices where you must use their software to perform any programming. I understand getting firmware updates from manufacturers for components that have been installed and operating for a period of time but to have to flash the firmware on a brand new, out-of-the-box unit just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think the folks at Ubiquiti made a great big batch of ER-8s and just let them sit in a warehouse somewhere collecting dust! But, without question, this step was vital — the router simply did not work in our application with the factory installed firmware.

Once you get the firmware flashed on the unit you can then follow the programming guide that is included with the ER-8. The main screen for the ER-8 is the dashboard that shows you the system’s status on all of the ports, transmit and receive rates for all channels, and other statistics. The dashboard also allows the administrator to individually monitor each system port and check on the bandwidth usage for each.

The subsystem menus of the EdgeRouter ER-8 almost made my eyes glaze over due to the multitude of system parameters available for deployment. I like to think I have a fairly good grasp of network programming but this unit has everything including the kitchen sink packed into it. That is a good thing for a network administrator who has the time and wherewithal to manage such a device. It could also be a bad thing for a location that has an IT administrator who knows just enough to be dangerous — this router isn’t something that needs an “experimenter” working on it.

router-internal

Testing
For this product review we didn’t perform a normal bench test per se since we have deployed them in about 20 locations or so around the country following our initial evaluation. We have also integrated them into two of our office locations and use them for our office routers. As such our “testing” has consisted of real-world product applications in different environments.

In the locations where we had specific setup parameters (static IP, subnet, etc.) the setup using the built-in configuration wizard was easy. We had a couple of locations where, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. One site’s Internet provider required the router to be set up for PPPoE and I tried for the better part of four hours to get the EdgeRouter ER-8 to work with the parameters that were provided to me by the site’s Internet provider. I knew for a fact that the Internet worked at the location as I could get Internet access with the service provider’s supplied router.

Having worn my fingers out on my laptop trying to program the unit properly, I decided to contact Ubiquiti’s support folks. This is where my experience with Ubiquiti took a very large turn for the worse. If you think you can talk to a live person and get some direct support from Ubiquiti you can forget that. Also, if you think the online chat forum can get you a quick response you can forget that too. The support network consists of online forums and also includes a lot of YouTube videos to show you how to do things.

This to me is not really support; it’s more of a self-help guide, albeit one that had nothing listed to help me with my issue. I forged ahead with the chat site in the hope of getting lucky and getting a quick response. My hopes were soon dashed as the chat site just sat there with no response at all. I did get an email that documented everything I sent to the Ubiquiti chat forum — lot of good that did me. I ended up leaving the service provider’s router in place and the EdgeRouter ER-8 just sitting in the rack.

The next day I got an email from Ubiquiti asking me to rate its support service. After I stopped laughing I thought about how bad that actually was — somewhere an automated program fired off an email in response to another automated program that didn’t really do anything for me. Classic!

Conclusions
The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter ER-8 is a very solid router for use with system networks. It is bulletproof, reliable, and has lots of little touches that make it feel like a premium product — internal power supply, MAC address on a sticker on the rear panel, and a great user interface. If you have the time and knowledge this router is very solid and a great buy for its price point.

However, there is an Achilles heel — the support is pretty much nonexistent. If you have a system that will require some tweaking and support to get things just right, you had better think twice. You may spend more time than it’s worth trying to get the router configured, ultimately buying a comparable — but far more expensive — unit, where you know you can get proper support.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the November 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

Why Security Matters for the Greater Good

When evaluating a video surveillance installation, careful attention to camera placement, image quality and timeliness of repairs could ultimately have very real and positive benefits to our communities.

One thing I find interesting about reading a blog is that they live virtually forever. If you search for a topic, click on a link and start reading, it is important to check the date it was written.

This is important with technology issues as they get stale, quickly. Social issues often remain pertinent for far longer, and sometimes older information about trends in either area show how closely — or badly — the author missed the mark. So, time will tell how well I did here, but I’m afraid this blog topic will remain relevant for a long time. Hopefully I am wrong.

We are confronted almost daily with incidents involving criminal actions, including terrorism, in public areas. In the aftermath, the first place law enforcement usually goes is the myriad video surveillance cameras that surround all of us. A great example is the footage that led to the identification and apprehension in September of suspects in the New York and New Jersey bombings. The list of incidents where private video surveillance has been used for public good continues to grow. Some may argue the social implications of a security camera on every corner, but no one argues the benefits to law enforcement.

In our consulting practice (tech-answers.com) we regularly do assessments of CCTV systems, making recommendations to improve and enhance reliability, performance and functionality. Our clients uniformly share two objectives: They want all of their cameras to work, and they want the image quality to be sufficient for the application. Their business needs are the driving force behind this, but I was recently called to task for not considering the greater good as well.

If you have cameras covering publicly accessible areas, another huge benefit to keeping them in good working order is their availability to help in solving crimes. At our office we have cameras that show the street in front of our building. We have had police come to our door twice over the years, asking to see footage during a certain time window to see if a certain vehicle drove by. In one instance we were able to help, but the second time we weren’t — the camera was down and we weren’t in a hurry to fix it as it was really a demo camera, not a security camera. Shame on us.

We should also consider the greater good when determining the image quality we need. Again, using our office as an example, we have an old analog camera in place covering our front entry area that is as good as it needs to be. If someone hits the doorbell, we can see if there’s a UPS or FedEx truck next to them and react, accordingly. But a simple upgrade to an IP camera in that area would allow us to identify faces before they get in the building. Maybe that’s not so important to us, but there are a lot of street corners in New York, Boston and other cities where higher quality could have saved lives. If you are responsible for cameras on those corners, give it some thought.

When it comes to looking out for our communities, we all want good neighbors that share a common goal. In much the same way that you might want your neighbor yelling at your kid for running into the street without looking both ways, we have an opportunity to be good neighbors in business. A neighbor is more effective at that if they are on their front porch and wearing their glasses — otherwise they may not notice your kid or yell the wrong name.

If your camera is always looking out into the street, consider the electronic equivalent of being there (in good working order) and wearing glasses (good image quality).

I’m not suggesting that you change your approach to CCTV coverage, or even that you spend more money. I’m just pointing out that paying attention to the greater good when evaluating camera placement, quality and timeliness of repairs could have very real and positive benefits to all of us.

If you’re already doing this, thank you. If not, please consider it. I know I will.

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Also published as:

First published in the October 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

Want to Increase Bid Response Success? Consider Outsourcing an Eye for Detail

Attention to basic writing skills such as grammar, spelling and punctuation may count more than your technical response in many cases. Hiring a proofreader can differentiate you from the competition.

Back in 2010 I wrote about how attention to detail in a written proposal (“Spelling Counts”) can make or break a bid response in unexpected ways. Those comments are as timely now as they were then, and the examples which I thought to be humorous are now seemingly routine.

While I don’t want to repeat myself, one paragraph stands out as particularly true, and I’d like to provide a fresh take on it here:

In fact, grammar, spelling, and punctuation may count more than your technical response in many cases. Why? Two reasons come to mind. First, the person writing the checks may not understand the technical issues but he sure knows how to spell the name of his company. Second, a sloppy proposal equates to sloppy work in people’s minds. I know it shouldn’t — the person writing the proposal isn’t the person doing the work — but it is a hard barrier to overcome.

You may have read about how people don’t communicate the way they used to, with the advent of text messages and email. Well, rest assured the people reading bids and quotations know how to communicate, and the bias against poor attention to detail is alive and well. As it should be. If going the extra mile is your hallmark, what better place to show it — or blow it — than your bid response.

There’s another factor that merits attention as well in the attention to detail department — consistency. I’ve seen proposals that promise a one-year warranty in one place and a (specified) three-year warranty in another. Pricing for indoor cameras that is higher than the environmentally-rated, vandal-resistant outdoor version of the same camera. And paragraphs inserted with different fonts or point sizes than adjacent material — a sure sign of a poor cut-and-paste job. And this is in addition to the other examples I had previously mentioned.

In fact, I’m questioning my previous recommendation about looking for a high school student to proof things if you aren’t staffed sufficiently to do the job yourself. While I’m not questioning the skills of high school students, in many cases that’s a half measure. Sure, they’ll catch some things but not the more complex issues that make a big difference in accuracy and appearance. My revised advice: Outsource it if you can’t handle it well in-house.

When you think about it, spending a little more money in that area just makes sense. You hire an accountant in most cases because of specialized skills and the need to have certain tasks done the right way. If your financial house is not in order the penalties can be pretty significant. Applying that same logic to give you an edge in winning jobs makes sense as well. And, remember, a lot of what you put in a proposal is reusable, so the actual cost per proposal to have an expert go through it for appearance, formatting, consistency and grammar isn’t necessarily as expensive as you would think.

Where do you find such a person? Ask around, check Craigslist or other websites that specialize in matching freelancers, and network. You might also look at people you know who do this for a living by day and have a parttime business on the side.

I have a friend who does this and have recommended her to some integrators who have been pleasantly surprised at the difference this can make in their success rate. A reputable person will let you “try before you buy,” showing you what they can do with one of your documents at no cost if you’re not happy with the results. Keep in mind they’ll get better as you use them more and they learn your particular style and preferences.

As many head back to school, those of us left behind in the working world shouldn’t forget the lessons we were taught when writing a term paper. Only this time it’s OK to have a friend to help you out while you get all the credit. How good is that?

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Also published as:

First published in the October 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

ISONAS IP Access Is a ‘Pure’ Pleasure

With both hardware and software components, reviewing the ISONAS IP access control system was a complicated process.

Up until now, our product reviews have been “inside the box.” That is products that came in a box, and while they tended to serve as part of a larger system they were reviewed on their own merits. A UPS supports a system. A camera is part of a system. Until now, we’ve never reviewed an entire system. But we’ve got an application for a small access control system on one of our projects, the IP infrastructure was already going in as part of the video surveillance system, so we asked ISONAS to provide evaluation product (and a software account) for its Pure IP access control system.

This was not a random evaluation; we requested the product based on our research and feedback from integrators and end users who had worked with it. We expected it to be innovative, well-constructed and to perform well. As you may know from reading past reviews, we’re not shy about calling things as we see them when we are disappointed. This time, happily, we were not.

The Pure IP system consists of hardware and software products. ISONAS provided a demo unit that consisted of a PowerNet IP reader-controller, exterior door kit, request to exit (REX) button, and electric strike. A second PowerNet IP reader-controller was also provided to support a software update that was rolled out during our testing process. The test equipment worked just fine using the three PoE network switches we tried. We also worked with the Pure Access Cloud software using a demo account that was set up for us, although there are on-premises-based software packages available as well.

ISONAS also makes an IP bridge that will integrate existing access control hardware into its system (eliminating existing panels), and a number of accessory devices including trim and weatherproofing kits, cable assemblies, and the access control credentials themselves. Readers are available with or without numeric (12-button) keypads.

Construction
The reader-controllers are extremely solidly built, with a case that has no fasteners on it and all visible components encased in a potting compound. To evaluate construction we generally take a product apart, looking for any issues or obvious points of failure, but that was simply not possible with this product. Taking full advantage of our written review policy whereby we reserve the right to abuse products to better serve our readers, we did the next best thing. We immersed the reader-controller in 2 feet of water for an hour, dried it with a blow dryer at the high heat setting, put it in a freezer for 12 hours, and dropped it onto a concrete pad from a second-story window.

After each of these misadventures the unit booted up and worked perfectly, giving credence to the -40° to 120° F specified operating temperature. In fact, the only time we could get the unit to hiccup was when we plugged in the 12- wire connector on the back while the unit was powered up, but that only happened once, and a power reset solved the problem. We couldn’t repeat the problem.

The exterior door kit is similarly well constructed, although we didn’t beat on it, and the specification sheet for the Power- Net IP Bridge tells a similar story, although we didn’t have a unit to test. Both of these products are permanently installed and generally out of harm’s way so this isn’t as big a factor for us. Readers of our reviews will attest to the fact that we care a lot about design, and attention to detail, and we were happy with what we saw there as well.

The reader-controller includes stickers that provide all pertinent information, including voltage, current draw, a pin-out (by color code rather than pin number) for the detachable 12-pin pigtail connector, and a scannable barcode with the unit’s MAC address on the side. By putting that information on the side instead of the back, the unit can be troubleshot without uninstalling it.

There are covers for the screw holes to improve the appearance, and while this is not an evaluation criteria for us, all ISONAS products are designed, engineered and manufactured in the USA. Products include a 1-year warranty from the date of original purchase and extended warranty plans are available from the manufacturer.

Features
From a system perspective, the hardware could not be simpler. You plug the reader-controller into a PoE network switch, or a standard network switch if you want to power it locally. All other hardware (door strike, magnetic lock, REX devices) connect to the reader via the aforementioned 12-pin connector and harness, and there are the expected inputs and outputs as well (lock control circuit, TTL outputs, aux input and an RS-232 interface).

That’s pretty much it; the network switch ultimately connects to the cloud-based software or the local instance of it, but there are no panels or other hardware devices to get in the way. Setup is done through a connected smartphone that scans the barcode on the reader, or by manually entering the information into the web-based or local software, and everything is extremely intuitive.

The ISONAS system kind of turns everything you know about access control on its ear by getting rid of most of the hardware. Gone are the panels and associated topology, power supplies, special cabling to doors, and all of the installation complexity and headaches. ISONAS has some anecdotal information regarding the cost savings achieved by simply running a single cable to every door, but you can form your own opinion.

Nothing is lost with this architecture; the panel didn’t go away, it just moved into the card reader. Reader-controllers function perfectly well offline, and each is capable of storing 64,000 cardholders and 5,000 alarm events, all of which are refreshed and/or uploaded when the reader-controller goes back online. There are readers available for both proximity cards (only), as well as a multicard reader that will also read smartcards (MIFARE, iClass, PIV).

If you have an existing system with panels, ISONAS offers the PowerNet IP Bridge, available in two- or three-door versions. These DIN rail-mounted devices can be installed in the panel cabinet after removing the panels and associated hardware. They connect directly to the multiwire door controls and up to 32 IP Bridges can be placed in series for control of up to 96 doors using a single switch port. This allows taking over legacy systems while expanding using the IP only configuration.

With all of the electronics and controls housed in the reader- controller, one problem I saw was the ability to rip the device off of the building, use the handy color coding guide on the back and a 12V battery, and open the door yourself, as we’ve seen in so many heist movies. The optional exterior door kit acts as a pass-through device, sitting on the secure side of the door and encrypting the signals from the reader-controller using proprietary encrypted serial data. This effectively eliminates this hacking method and one of my objections.

The PowerNet IP Bridge (above) is used to take over existing panel-based systems and connect them to Pure IP Access. Readers (right) may include an optional keyboard and feature a built-in controller.

The PowerNet IP Bridge (above) is used to take over existing panel-based systems and connect them to Pure IP Access. Readers (right) may include an optional keyboard and feature a built-in controller.

Setup
When I initially spoke with ISONAS representatives, they insisted that I take the online training before writing this review. Their reasoning was sound; they wouldn’t sell the product to anyone who hadn’t gone through training, and therefore to review it without the training would not be an accurate representation of how the product would be set up and operated in the real world. With some access control experience, I’m not sure the training is needed, but it is very simple, straightforward, and informative.

Starting with an introduction to access control and going through advanced software features, you need to take the classes in order and achieve certification when complete. Suffice it to say, I will be circling back to repeat some of the training and recommend it highly. That aside, setup was extremely simple. You scan or enter the MAC address for the reader, answer a few easy questions and you are off and running. I was able to put tech support through its paces as well; I received a demo kit and a second reader, and there were issues programming both of them into the demo software license I was given.

Josh in tech support quickly discovered that this was a function of the demo account only being permitted to use a single reader; once that was fixed, we were in business. Along the way I was shown how to upgrade firmware, customize the dashboard and tweak the configuration as needed. Josh was patient, friendly and personable, and made me feel like he had all the time in the world for me. And his command of the English language was excellent; what more could you ask from a tech support representative?

Testing
At the end of the day, testing an access control system is pretty dull. The cards programmed to open the doors did, while the ones that were not programmed to did not. Outside of the fun we had soaking, baking, dropping and freezing someone else’s stuff, everything worked exactly as it should. Kind of boring, but I sometimes think boring products are what is needed. ISONAS does not have a video management system (VMS) component, preferring to partner with companies that already do that.

The company’s list of integration partners is small but growing, and includes Milestone, OnSSI and Video Insight (Panasonic). An API has been published and the manufacturer seems enthusiastic about working with as many VMS developers as possible. This makes sense; if you’re not going to compete with them, it’s in your best interest to cooperate.

The demo kit (right) proved to be an effective way to test all aspects of the hardware. Software testing (above) was performed on several computers simultaneously to validate reliability.

The demo kit (right) proved to be an effective way to test all aspects of the
hardware. Software testing (above) was performed on several computers simultaneously to validate reliability.

Software
There are really three software categories available to ISONAS users. We tested the cloud-based software and had a hard time coming up with any “real-world” features it did not include. The interface was clean and intuitive, very customizable, and it was easy to set up restricted profiles to add users with limited capabilities. It is, however, software as a service (SaaS) and many firms do not like that model. If it works for you, it works well, and the programs are certainly dealer friendly and make it easy for an integrator to build a client base by reselling the service.

There’s also a premises-based software package that we did not test; we did call two clients that use their software and both were extremely happy. These were not sophisticated users, and both remarked that the software did exactly what they wanted, was easy to use and was “bulletproof” in their applications. ISONAS also integrates with a number of access control software vendors, allowing the ISONAS hardware to be used with more sophisticated applications. In particular, ISONAS and Open Options announced a partnership at ISC West 2016 and it is hard to imagine an access control feature or specification that this pairing could not meet.

Conclusions
This is a product I wanted to like. It dramatically simplifies the installation and management of access control systems, removes a lot of the failure points and should reduce costs for end users while improving reliability. Looking at the product at ISC West last spring, and talking to integrators that had used it, it seemed too good to be true, and I expected to be disappointed. Happily I was not. There were only two downsides I could see to this product line, and our overall score reflects that.

First, the limited design options; if you want a more pleasing aesthetic or a lower profile reader you would need to use the IP Bridge and a conventional reader. A more varied product line is on the way (I’ve seen pictures), but it’s not here yet. Second, this is a proprietary technology protected by a number of patents, and despite the ISONAS clarion call to integration, you are limited to a single vendor for the key components of your system.

While ISONAS has been around since 1999, our industry is littered with the ghosts of proprietary technologies that went away. Personally, I’m dipping my toe slowly into this pond, starting with a small implementation and monitoring it closely. But I expect that this is the way of the future, and much as we’ve given up BNC connectors and code distribution units for CCTV cameras, we expect to make a similar paradigm shift with access control. It may be proprietary now, but it’s just too good of an implementation not to catch on.

Verdict

  • Features 12345
  • Construction 12345
  • Setup 12345
  • Performance 12345
  • Overall 12345

Click here to download this product review in PDF format.

First published in the October 2016 issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

How to Solve a Potential Audio Dilemma Involving Your Amazon Echo Dot

Having this problem? Check out this product review of the Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II.

As we start to add more accessories to our connected home, our efforts to simplify our lives can actually complicate them. I recently ran into one such example and wanted to share my way of solving the problem.

I’ve been adding Amazon Echo devices for voice control throughout my home and office. I started with three of the standalone units and recently added two of the Echo Dot devices to rooms that already had speakers. The sound from the standard Echo is OK, but if you’ve already got a decent little sound system in the room, why not use it? The problem is that you want to vary the volume of your sound source but the volume of the Echo device should stay the same. Otherwise you run the risk of asking Alexa a question and having the response be either inaudible or loud enough to blast you out of your seat…

The answer for me was to add a Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II to each of those rooms. This device has three stereo inputs (one with a 1/8-inch jack and stereo RCA jacks, the other two with just stereo RCA jacks) and one set of stereo outputs plus a headphone jack. I’m using them both in conjunction with the aforementioned Amazon Eco Dot units in my office and bedroom. In both of these cases, the Dot is plugged into stereo input 4 while the source (XM radio in the office, TV in the bedroom) is plugged into stereo input 3. This lets me vary the volume of the entertainment source while leaving the Echo at a constant volume so I can hear responses to questions regardless of the volume level for the other source.

The mixer is extremely sturdy and well-constructed and runs cool to the touch even though I leave it on continuously. It was simple to set up and operate, there’s plenty of room on the top panel to label the input knobs (using my P-Touch label maker) and it is very quiet. While I didn’t use measurement instruments, I cannot detect any added noise, hiss or other interference, and the dynamic range appears to be unaffected — no clipping or distortion is audible.

The Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II.

The Rolls MX51S Mini Mix II.

The only oddity is that all of the input knobs have detents just to the right of the 12 o’clock position (almost straight up). This makes it easy to match the level of two inputs in that position but seems kind of arbitrary to me. Also, the default for phantom power is on; while I haven’t plugged a microphone into the unit, this seems like a risky setting. If a dynamic microphone is plugged into this input and there are any shielding issues with the cable, you’ll likely hear crackling noises as the microphone is moved around and the cable flexes. Moving the jumper to the off position should solve the problem.

All in all, this is a great little tool to add to your toolbox if you find yourself adding audio to home or small business automation.

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