Cisco to Enter Physical Security Market

The networking giant's first products will be integrated security cameras sold by its Linksys division and aimed at SMBs.

Networking gear maker Cisco Systems is taking the first steps of what could be a major initiative aimed at expanding its business into the growing market for products that integrate IT and physical security technologies.

The companys Linksys consumer and small business division has launched a new wireless camera system aimed at helping customers marry their physical security tools with computer networks.

Dubbed the Linksys Wireless-G PTZ Internet Camera, the hardware also includes microphones for collecting audio signals.

The new camera, which will sell for $299, promises to feed live video and audio over the Internet that can be viewed or listened to using any Web browser, adding remote security management capabilities.

Unlike standard Web cams that must be attached directly to a PC, the PTZ Internet Camera features its own IP address so that it can instead be connected to Ethernet or wireless networks.

The new wireless security camera from Irvine, Calif.-based Linksys is just the first step in a larger effort to enter the physical security market, company officials said.

"This is really the first in a series of product offerings from Linksys, you will see a lot more in the coming months in terms of physical security solutions," said Linksys Senior Product Marketing Manager Ivor Diedricks.

"This is Linksyss first physical security solution for the small business as our other cameras were targeted at the consumer."

Diedricks said that the Wireless-G Internet Camera will not be sold at retail outlets, but rather is being restricted to the firms channel partners.

Linksys will also be providing a surveillance console application that will help allow for monitoring of up to nine cameras at the same time.

The executive said the camera has a number of important security features that Linksys hasnt offered before, including flexible controls, with a pan, tilt and zoom function controllably remotely.

The hardware also offers an infrared filter to allow the use of the camera in low light situations, and software to detect changes in motion in an area being monitored.

"This gives you maximum flexibility and has audio included," Diedricks said. "Its good for lobbies, front doors, employee entrances, back offices and warehouses."

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Linksys hasnt ignored the data security part of the cameras design. The 802.11g-capable wireless device supports both the WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) network security standards.

The company said that integrating the camera into an existing network would be simplified because the equipment has built-in support for Dynamic DNS, which makes access available by a name that is easy to remember, rather than just an IP address.

Diedricks also noted that producing high quality video was a priority for Linksys. He said that the camera accomplishes this through the use of two codecs, one for MPEG4 and the other for MJPEG.

While a number of companies are pitching such networked security products, none has the name recognition, distribution or channel clout that parent company Cisco enjoys.

And if the company has success in driving the devices into small businesses, it could someday look to expand its security efforts into the enterprise.

Industry watchers said that Web-ready security cameras are hardly a new idea, but conceded that Ciscos entry into the sector could help increase the profile of such products.

At least one analyst observed that demand for similar products launched previously by companies including IBM hasnt met vendors expectations.

In order to pique the interests of business users, said Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at Counterpane Internet Security in Mountain View, Calif., technology providers must begin to integrate powerful network security applications with such physical security products.

"Its not that groundbreaking for Cisco to sell devices that use the network, but if theres a level of real convergence with IT security being offered, their name might allow them to drive some demand," said Schneier.

"There have been a lot of products that do offer integration, and for whatever reason there hasnt been a lot of success with those, but thats not because its an idea that doesnt make sense; its been more about usability."

Systems that wont allow a businesses employee to log onto their desktop computer unless they have passed through their offices security threshold is one example of such tools, he said.

One company already marketing applications that aim to marry physical and IT security tools is San Francisco-based 3VR Security.

Company co-founder Steven Russell said recently that he believes businesses are finally ready to begin pulling their virtual and physical technologies together.

"Theres still a challenge in educating the market, and part of that is because the history with these types of products has been that available technologies only offered to solve one piece of the larger puzzle," said Russell.

"Security personnel are information workers and now that all of the pieces are coming into place to support this convergence, I dont think it will be as hard for us to make a good business case."

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...