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In The Boardroom With...

Ms. Geetha Dabir
Senior Director of Engineering Hi, Geetha, thank you for being with us today. First, please tell us a little about yourself.

Geetha Dabir: I'm the senior director of engineering for Cisco's Physical Security business unit. We develop systems for video surveillance, access control and incidence response. At Cisco, I also led the incubation and delivery of  a Cisco Data Center virtualization product and was the engineering lead responsible for the delivery of the Catalyst 3750 product line, which grew into a multibillion-dollar business and won the Cisco Innovation Award.
Prior to Cisco, I held senior management positions at companies that ranged from startups to larger firms such as Nortel, Sprint and Alcatel.

I hold a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Bangalore University, India, and a master's degree in computer science from Villanova University. We have seen a tremendous adoption of new technologies across the physical security industry, and a lot of this innovation has occurred with Internet Protocol networking technologies. How are these technologies better?

Geetha Dabir: I'll give you one example: Power over Ethernet. With POE, you can unify solutions on a common infrastructure and provide power for IP cameras, access gateways, door locks, badge readers, IP phones, wireless access points, and many other endpoints.

IP technologies bring simplicity, reliability and interoperability. You can auto-configure switch ports and endpoints, and you can auto-populate location information. You can use DHCP to automatically assign IP addresses to your networked computers.  Using the network to measure end-to-end bandwidth, latency, jitter and loss -- in other words, network features like QoS  and multicast -- can help scale endpoints and also yields a better user experience. Simplicity and reliability are certainly appealing. Physical security is getting to be pretty complicated.

Geetha Dabir: True. But integration is the key. To have a complete security solution we need to able to capture, store, view and respond. Cisco cameras and media servers (Video Surveillance Media Servers) allow you to capture and store information, while IPICS, Cisco's incident-response system, allows you to respond and share the captured information. These kinds of integration make security systems more efficient and cost effective.

In fact, integration is one of the three areas we are working on at Cisco to enable the industry to take advantage of technology innovations. The three areas are (1) the network, (2) integration and (3) the virtualization of services. OK, let's start with the network. Seems pretty basic -- is anything special going on at Cisco?

Geetha Dabir: Yes, Cisco is working on an initiative that Bill Stuntz mentioned, called Business Video. At the networking level, this involves Cisco's medianet strategy. A medianet, which is a network optimized for rich media, enables video awareness in the network. Functionalities like media tracing and media monitoring help debugability. And the user experience is enhanced because the network can dynamically alter the media stream and can reserve resources to avoid congested or degraded points.

For users and system integrators, the IP physical security systems are easier to use, deploy, debug, maintain and view. And they're much more powerful in their ability to provide services across networks, platforms and systems. How does that tie in with integration? Can you give specific examples?

Geetha Dabir: Cisco is very focused on bringing network components together. For example, with IP-based physical-access control, you can lock down network access by tying it to an employee's badge when he or she enters a building. Or you can control energy usage in a building based on employee occupancy.

Main elements of security -- capture, store and respond -- can be achieved efficiently using IPICS, video surveillance, access control and the IP network. Let's say a motion detector from a video surveillance system triggers an alarm.  Based on the policy set for this alarm, the Cisco Physical Access Monitor can automatically lock doors to prevent further entry into that area of the building and shut off all computer access. At the same time, the trigger can cause security personnel, police and management all to be patched to a common communication group even though they may use different types of radios or devices. They can also view video clips from the surveillance camera and share texts. This is what Cisco offers -- an extremely powerful integrated solution.

The point is, customers can use the IP network and end-to-end security services as a common platform for IT application integration and the delivery of services. This gives them greater physical security and cybersecurity protection, at a lower cost, with improved operations management capabilities. So the network facilitates integration. Does integration affect the network in any way?

Geetha Dabir: Integration is a path to interoperability. The whole premise is making the network more intelligent and more open. The hope is that the APIs [application programming interfaces] and SDKs [software development kits] will help application developers and systems integrators make their applications and endpoints more interoperable with the network and with each other.

Cisco products become more interoperable with each other as a consequence of doing this integration. And technology partner products become more interoperable, too. Many Cisco customers, for example, need the Microsoft Active Directory as an integral part of their identity-management solution, physical access control, and even cybersecurity. 

In addition, with the network facilitating integration, more IP traffic and applications can operate efficiently in the network. Physical security products will integrate with Cisco medianet-enabled networks to provide more benefits: easier installation, plug-and-play deployments, better bandwidth management, improved troubleshooting and fault isolation, plus network-based data security. The video monitoring experience gets better irrespective of bandwidth availability and the quality of the network.

The boundaries are becoming blurred between traditional physical security systems and other network devices, as digital signage, IP phones, tablets and smart phones also enable ubiquitous video delivery and notification. Sounds great, but there must be some drawbacks.

Geetha Dabir: The problem today is that customers are using separate networks for capturing, storing, and distributing video over their networks. For example, some customers may use a separate SAN network for storage and a different Ethernet network for operations. Two networks increase the cost and reduce the value of integrated systems. So there are real opportunities for customers to save money and be more efficient.

Geetha Dabir: The opportunity for customers lies in next-generation virtualization technologies such as the VMware and Cisco Unified Computing System platforms. Remember, virtualization is the third area of technology innovations we are focusing on for the security industry.

A virtual server is a representation of a physical machine with its own set of virtual hardware, operating system, and applications. Applications can move from one machine to another as hardware gets easily upgraded, without disruption. Virtual machines can be provisioned and de-provisioned dynamically based on demand, so customers can utilize their resources efficiently.

On the Cisco Unified Computing System, I/O [input/output] consolidation allows you to use the same networking infrastructure for network and storage traffic as well as any traffic needed for server virtualization. With technologies such as VMware, customers can flexibly scale and manage their physical security deployments. Why are more companies not taking advantage of virtualization, in that case?

Geetha Dabir: To capture and store video for 30 days on 100 streams at 30 frames per second of HD video requires about 130 terabytes of storage. To truly benefit from virtualization, computation and storage resources need to be centralized and shared. Many networks today are not built with enough bandwidth capacity to enable centralization.

For physical security virtualization,with VMware as an example, there are challenges such as the available capacity per virtual disk -- typically limited to 2 terabytes. A virtual disk storage capacity of 2 TB, although sufficient for most IT applications, is not sufficient for a video recorder. There are various ways to overcome this, but they are cumbersome or not performance friendly. How does this affect physical security?

Geetha Dabir: Physical security is going through a transition from analog to digital to IP. Corporate IT departments are starting to get more involved in security decisions. They see the solutions like Cisco's Video Surveillance Media Server and access control as applications that should be virtualized and managed along with other IT applications. That makes sense. It is more efficient and reduces the total cost of ownership.

In addition, for Cisco partners, the highly secure segmentation of virtual machines enables them to provide multitenant support to their customers. So a single hardware server can be used to support several clients. Things are moving fast. Does Cisco see physical security services migrating to cloud-based services?

Geetha Dabir: There are some cloud-based service offerings for video surveillance in residential markets already, and this is beginning to move into commercial markets.But bandwidth is still a challenge for most businesses today in a wide area network because it is limited and expensive for true cloud-based services for video-based security.

That is changing with implementation of fiber in the last mile, fiber to the home, and fiber to businesses. With Cisco Smart+Connected Communities initiatives and solutions for new cities such as Songdo, Korea, for example, the true benefits of managed services become more apparent. Can you explain a bit more how companies can use managed services for physical security?

Geetha Dabir: Many of our partners who provide managed services are asking for differentiated cloud-based solutions. For example, a clustered set of virtual servers can be hosted for video recording and analytics with cloud-based storage. Managed-services providers can have customers subscribe through portals and grow as needed. It is an interesting offering, especially for small businesses and also for enterprises that have a private cloud.

Geetha Dabir: Many of our partners who provide managed services are asking for differentiated cloud-based solutions. For example, a clustered set of virtual servers can be hosted for video recording and analytics with cloud-based storage. Managed-services providers can have customers subscribe through portals and grow as needed. It is an interesting offering, especially for small businesses and also for enterprises that have a private cloud.

Terms Discussed in This Interview

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) allows you to allocate IP addresses dynamically. This avoids the need to do manual configuration on the end hosts and allows the IP addresses to be reused when end hosts no longer need them.

A hypervisor is a type 1 virtual machine monitor. The VMM is the piece of software responsible for monitoring and enforcing policy on the virtual machines for which it is responsible. The hypervisor type 1 VMM runs directly on the hardware without the need of a hosting operating system.

Managed services generally include software, hardware, and IP networking services. The service provider either manages the network equipment and applications on the customer's premises or hosts the equipment in its own facilities and delivers the services to the customer's employees over a wide area network.

A medianet is an intelligent network optimized for rich media. A medianet can integrate multiple IP video applications together on the same network platform.

Power over Ethernet (POE) is the ability of the LAN switching infrastructure to provide power over a copper Ethernet cable to an endpoint (the powered device).

Quality of service (QoS) is a general term that incorporates bandwidth, latency, and jitter to describe a network's ability to customize the treatment of data. In other words, QoS is the set of techniques to manage network resources. For example, QoS can be used to prioritize video transmissions over Web-browsing traffic.

Cisco Unified Communications solutions unify voice, video, data, and mobile applications on fixed and mobile networks. The security, resilience, and scalability of the network enable users in any workspace to connect with each other.

Virtualization allows you to run multiple virtual machines independently on the same physical machine. A virtual machine is a software implementation of a machine (a computer, for example) that executes programs like a physical machine. The machines can have the same operating system or different ones.