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Considering unified security vs. best-of breed

While unified security platforms that seamlessly blend all security systems into one are the holy grail of the industry, the right approach will depend on the preferences of the integrator and the unique requirements of the customer.



September 11, 2009
By Vawn Himmelsbach

Topics

While the unified security platform is relatively new and still
evolving, it could prove in time to be a more efficient and economical
option. “It’s still new, and the interface is limited in certain areas,
but when you have an upgrade or system add-on, you’re guaranteed that
all of the components within your integration package are going to be
compatible with each other,” says Kevin Parisien, project manager of
the Security and IT Systems Group with MMM Group Ltd.

With a unified security platform, system upgrades are typically less
complicated — they’re often as simple as upgrading a single server and
a few client workstations, resulting in little downtime. With one
vendor, the integrator has a single point of contact for all technical
compatibility issues between system components, he said, which is key
when it comes to lifecycle maintenance.

On the other hand, because these systems are relatively new, they may not be well known or carried by more than one
integrator, which may limit service options.

“It’s not going to have as many features, and it’s probably not going
to be as stable, but many customers would prefer a single-vendor
solution,” says Parisien. “The single-vendor systems are typically more
user-friendly to operate, upgrade and maintain, and that’s why
customers like them, but they don’t always provide the functionality.”

A multiple-vendor solution typically provides more feature-rich systems
within a standalone configuration. Most of the solutions that fit this
bill have been around a long time and have had multiple revisions of
software and hardware, so they’ve grown to become stable, with unique
functionality and a proven track record.

But they also require greater attention to ensure integration is
maintained. A common problem is that by upgrading one system in the
integration package, you often render other systems within the package
incompatible unless they’re upgraded as well. This creates a domino
effect in its impact on scope, time, budget, project complexity and
operational disruptions while the work is being completed.

“Even if you know you have to upgrade, sometimes that upgrade isn’t
available, so you run into additional costs,” says Parisien,
“especially if one company releases version 8.0 and the company that
integrates with it hasn’t written their version 8.0 interface yet and
may not have it for awhile.”

While each approach has its pros and cons, it comes down to the
customer’s requirements and migration path. “The path of least
resistance is to switch everything out to one platform, but if a
customer already has a digital video recorder system, it doesn’t make a
lot of sense to swap it out,” says Robert Burns, vice-president of
systems integration with Total Security Management Services.

Unified security platforms typically have a particular strength in one
area, such as access control or CCTV. If a customer is heavily reliant
on CCTV, it makes sense to deploy command-and-control software that’s
CCTV-based. A casino, for example, with thousands of cameras and only a handful of doors may consider a
platform where the command-and-control software was based on video surveillance.

With multi-vendor solutions, the customer gets best-of-breed products,
says Burns, but the downside is there are multiple throats to choke.
While working with a single vendor is more convenient, most customers
are sophisticated users of security systems — into their second or
third generation — so they face a long-term migration path toward a
unified security platform. But, down the road, this can be used as a
way to utilize existing investments (such as their network, for
example) and reduce the amount of servers and storage required.

But that takes time and money. Typically customers are looking to solve
their immediate needs, such as sorting out an access control issue, and
other components are added as budget becomes available.

This is the same debate that’s gone on for generations in the IT world:
best-of-breed products versus suites. And there are proponents of both,
says Steve Hunt, an analyst with SecurityDreamer. Those who like
best-of-breed products believe they’ll get the best performance by
picking the best individual components. Others believe a package of
pre-integrated components will be easier to deploy and maintain, and
may offer a better cost for performance.

But, as in the IT world, the debate has yet to be resolved. IT security
vendors such as Symantec offer a variety of products they’ve developed
or acquired over the years. “Symantec has learned they can build a
suite, but they still have to sell the components individually,” says
Hunt. “This is really a religious question more than a technical
question — it depends on the philosophy of the integrator and the
comfort level of the customer.”


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