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IP surveillance and security pose VAR opportunity

Networking VARs adding IP surveillance and security expertise to their services see opportunities but also competition with established providers.

Networking VARs fighting margin erosion might want to think about entering the world of physical security systems. At least that's what some experts in the distribution channel advise.

Proponents contend that there's a huge amount of federal stimulus money for securing plants and other facilities that currently run relatively ancient analog cameras and VCR-type storage devices. There are funds, too, for companies that have no surveillance or monitoring appliances at all. Those non-digital infrastructures are ripe for upgrades, and federal stimulus dollars can cover some of that work.

John O'Shea, for one, wants VARs to jump on this IP surveillance and IP security bandwagon. "We want to drive complementary solutions around the network … physical surveillance and monitoring is complimentary," said O'Shea, vice president for networking product marketing at Tech Data Corp.

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The thinking is that networking VARs, with their knowledge of cabling, servers, routers and -storage devices, are the most logical candidates to loop digital video feeds from IP cameras to monitors and storage devices.

Moving from analog security, or nothing, to IP surveillance equals big opportunity

Tech Data estimates the market for IP surveillance cameras is now $1.1 billion. But, O'Shea said, the installed base of analog cameras is many times that size, and the makers of that gear are moving into the IP age.

"Those manufacturers are eager to connect with our networking VARs," O'Shea told at the recent TechEDG event in Arlington, Va. "That convergence is occurring. Traditional analog copper wire is moving to IP-based technology and those analog security dealers are uncomfortable moving into the IT space. It's easier for our guys to pick up the security piece."

Some VARs disagree. Strongly. Physical security and IT security are "two entirely different beasts," said Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Corp., an enterprise security VAR in Beaverton, Ore.

"There are established companies [that handle physical security] with very established services that can provide more value than the usual networking VAR," he said. "If you want to get into that market, you need to have an established practice. You can't just go 'lalalala' and jump in. It takes a lot of money and experience to compete with companies like ADT [Security Services]."

Anitian, itself a security specialist, outsources its own physical security to a service.

Other VARs are starting to see some interest in IP security, not just from customers, but also from vendor partners who are moving into that arena.

"IP surveillance is not something huge for us, but we're starting to get into those areas now in part because several manufacturers are developing complementary product lines or are making acquisitions to get into that market. And, once you sign with a vendor, they want you to sell everything they have," said Donna Warner, vice president of sales and operations for Black Box Network Services, a Lawrence, Pa.-based VAR specializing in unified communications and infrastructure technology.

Warner said Black Box is talking more about IP security, mostly with its larger customers that include some of the larger regional or super-regional banks.

The convergence of technologies goes both ways. While some business technology companies are adding physical security devices and management to their lineups, others like Cernium, of Reston, Va., have played both sides of that fence for a while, fielding physical security lines and brands for both business and consumer use.

Other vendors in or entering this physical security include NUUO, On-Net Surveillance Systems, Inc., Pelco United Digital Technologies (UDT), Videolarm and Vivatek. Electronics giants including Panasonic, Sony, and Toshiba are also in the fray.

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