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Networking resellers need new skills for physical security convergence

Networking resellers who want to expand into IT and physical security convergence shouldn't underestimate its unique demands. Network security VARs don't always have an advantage.

Network security and physical security have the same broad goals -- to stop the bad guys from getting their hands on your most valued assets -- and the two have become cousins as physical security relies more on Internet Protocol (IP) for video surveillance and access control. But traditional networking resellers who want to expand into IT and physical security convergence shouldn't underestimate its unique demands on value-added resellers (VARs).

"You do need the expertise. What you really want [to be] is an integrator or a reseller who knows how to integrate real-time video with an IP network," said Phil Hochmuth, senior analyst at The Yankee Group. "There's a real difference in what you're trying to stop. Stopping a hacker from getting into your perimeter is different from trying to stop a thug from stealing laptops off your desks."

Network monitoring and unified communication VARs may be better suited than network security VARs to implement digital video surveillance cameras, Hochmuth said. Fluency in firewalls may do little to help customers juggle the bandwidth needs of their nonstop IP video feeds.

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"Physical security and network/electronic security are not the same. They have very different needs, requirements and complexities. And while the media -- IP networks -- may be converging, the actual realities of these two security disciplines remain apart," said Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, a network security VAR in Beaverton, Ore.

Ingram Micro, a global wholesale IT distributor based in Santa Ana, Calif., last week began marketing access control and video surveillance products to network security VARs under its new physical security division.

"They're well-suited because their understanding of IP applications gives them the advantage for designing IP security solutions," said Tom Burns, director of Ingram's physical security division. "They'll need to market themselves based on their performance on the IT side."

Yet Ingram is not the first distributor to attempt to converge these channels, as noted by The VAR Guy blog. In 2006, Tech Data Corp., a global distributor headquartered in Clearwater, Fla., made a similar pitch to IT resellers with IP-enabled security products.

Russ Johnson, director of technical service for TFE, an Ingram customer based in Hewitt, Texas, began as a networking reseller for schools and universities -- a foundation he credits for his success in expanding into network security and, about three years ago, into physical security.

"It was a natural transformation as physical security itself evolved into our world, which is IP," Johnson said. "It really becomes nothing more than another endpoint on the network."

Johnson said he wouldn't advise VARs specializing in servers or storage to make the jump into physical security, but he said that networking pros could easily deploy the "holy grail" of integrating the two practices: An unauthorized person enters a building, the network recognizes the action, a video surveillance camera automatically turns toward the person, the camera takes a snapshot and that photo is sent to a security officer's mobile device.

"I think there's a ton of IT companies that have that expertise, but they're just afraid," he said.

Dennis Broderick, vice president of security integration for Scientell Wireless LLC, a wireless networking VAR based in Lombard, Ill., said the company uses its wireless networking expertise to show customers that megapixel surveillance cameras don't have to be bandwidth hogs.

"Being a technical company, our customers never question us," Broderick said. "As [the products] get more and more digital, [it] just becomes easier for us to integrate them than it would be for a traditional video integrator."

Network security VARs face hurdles in physical security market

 An IT network security guru sitting behind a laptop managing somebody's firewall probably hasn't put on a tool belt with a power drill in a while.
Tom Burns
Director, Physical Security DivisionIngram Micro

Vendors and distributors have tried to market this shift as "convergence" between network security and physical security, to be headed by a chief security officer, but the relationship is better defined as "integration," according to Vic Wheatman, managing vice president at Gartner Inc.

Gartner estimates that fewer than 5% of large enterprises will fully converge the two divisions by 2012, but 70% of those enterprises are expected to see some overlap between the two systems while maintaining separate management.

"If you're going to use this network for data and use other things that might consume bandwidth, you'd better have someone who knows something about that," Wheatman said.

Networking resellers shouldn't count out the competition from physical security specialists, either, according to Janet Waxman, vice president at IDC. "Yes, some of this is IP-based, but it's a different channel and skill set than the IT VARs have … [and] physical security installers do understand IP," she said.

Burns, of Ingram, acknowledged that traditional networking and network security VARs need to do their homework on learning physical security products and their IP capabilities, and they may also need to add staff to do installations.

"An IT network security guru sitting behind a laptop managing somebody's firewall probably hasn't put on a tool belt with a power drill in a while and installed a camera," he said. "Also, it's likely the highly paid, highly skilled network security guy shouldn't be the guy with the drill gun on the ladder either."

Plato, who heads the Oregon-based information security VAR, has evaluated the physical security market many times but avoided it in favor of focusing on information security.

"I think it is a mistake for any business to think that expertise in one area will transfer to the other. It does not. Physical security experts rarely comprehend the dynamic and volatile nature of networks," Plato said. "And likewise, the ability to handle network security issues does not mean somebody is naturally a good fit for physical security work."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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