- Posted by Amy Dickson
- On October 24, 2016
- 0 Comments
I am really delighted that the Mercury Technical Advice Team based are receiving enquires from the business community who use and are investing in new Building Management Systems such as CCTV systems, Intruder & Fire and detection systems with regards to Open Protocol & Closed Protocol.
If you are investing in a new Building Management System or upgrade it is imperative that you discuss with your installer what they are providing you with, in terms of Open or Closed Protocol, otherwise you could be tied and locked into a system that will not only cost you a lot of money in the initial stages but will continue to incur substantial costs for the duration of the contract.
The online Oxford dictionary defines protocol when applied to the context of computing as “a set of rules governing the exchange or transmission of data between devices”. It is necessary to differentiate this from the serial data transmission rate and voltage that is often categorised as RS232, RS422 or RS485 for example.
These RS standards were introduced by the United States EIA (Electronic Industries Association) to define the voltage levels and data rates to be used when communicating between computers and their peripheral devices and these along with TCP/IP networking have become the predominant standards for linking security industry panels to their distributed devices.
Protocols define the message types that are then sent over these serial communication lines and they can be thought of as the language used between the senders and receiving devices. In some cases, the communication may be in the form of alphanumeric messages that can be easily read and understood but in most fire detection and security systems the protocol will comprise a number of bit patterns i.e. noughts and ones whose sequence represents specific functions or messages.
A true and honest “Open Protocol” is one where the manufacturer publishes this information for anyone to see. Sometimes it may be necessary to register with the manufacturer to receive this information but it will be provided without charge or conditions.
Be very careful as some manufacturers will simply claim that their protocol is “Open” as it is using RS485, but of course, this provides no information on the messaging system in use. Others may claim that as their systems are available through multiple distributers’ that they are effectively open.
As a protocol may be thought of as the intellectual property of a manufacturer, it is not uncommon for these to be closely guarded. Over time through a combination of “reverse engineering” and informal information sharing it is not uncommon for some protocol information to be available to third parties, but this does not allow for any form of manufacturer support.
A number of security industry initiatives have been developed in recent years, most notably ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) a non-profit organisation that was founded in ONVIF currently produce profile documents describing open communication profiles for CCTV and Access Control systems operating over networks and from the initial 4 founding companies, the organisation has grown to around 500 members. Whilst not ensuring total compatibility of feature sets, this initiative goes a long way towards system interoperability.
Manufacturers of equipment using closed protocols ensure that all elements of their equipment (detectors, panels, call points, interfaces, and special detectors such as beam detectors) are perfectly compatible with each other, as it is all designed to use the same language of communication. Closed protocol systems are usually maintained by the system provider e.g. the installer.
Open Protocol systems allow for the end user to choose from a wider selection of manufacturers who supply products that talk the same language to communicate to each other. Open Protocol systems can be maintained by companies other than the system provider.
The pros & cons of Open and Closed Protocol Fire Systems.
As technologies continue to evolve, the options for fire detection and suppression systems come with increasing variety, offering today’s businesses and property owners a welcome, but sometimes mystifying, choice.
Underlying the decision of which solution to choose is the concern that the components must work seamlessly with each other to ensure that their ability to rapidly detect, notify and control a fire is not jeopardised.
A distinctive fire system works by having all its components, including detectors, call-points and sounders connected together to form a robust infrastructure that is managed centrally from a control panel.
Each component uses a particular protocol — essentially the language that electronic products use to communicate with each other. There are two types of fire system protocol, each having its advantages and disadvantages:
Open protocol systems — the manufacturers of fire detectors and control panels disclose the full technical details of their communication protocols, enabling other manufacturers to produce compatible components. And if you wish to change your system installer to save money or get a better service you are not constrained and will not have to continue to buy from your initial systems installer as in most cases is very costly.
- You or your installers are free to choose components which best meet the precise requirements of your fire, Intruder and CCTV system design.
- You can elect to use different suppliers according to their specific areas of expertise.
- You can choose to use a company other than the initial installer to service the system, or to provide upgrades to access new features.
Closed protocol systems — a single manufacturer produces detectors, control panels and other devices that all use the same protocol. The company does not disclose its protocol to other manufacturers, and access to the software is restricted to manufacturer approved installers and engineers and even though you wish to change from your initial systems installer you cannot because it would be too costly for you.
Therefore a key issue is working out which system is going to be the best long-term.
- Because the systems components all come from the same source, they benefit from a fused design approach and work together with no difficulty.
- Component upgrades are tested to ensure they work with the manufacturer’s other devices before release, ensuring they will remain compatible with the rest of the building management systems.
- It is unlikely that individual components will fail due to tampering, as only manufacturer-approved engineers can work on and maintain the system.
- You are tied for the duration of contract and even after these years if you decide to change to another systems installer you will still have to buy the components from the initial source at a very costly price. There is a complete dependency on one manufacturer for spare parts, and for access to the protocol for servicing, modification and upgrades, all of which may put a premium on on-going maintenance.
- System upgrades are restricted to the innovations of the chosen manufacturer, removing the freedom to choose from new solutions and to access the wide pool of expertise available in the marketplace.
- It is widely recognised that organisations with closed protocol Building Management Systems such as CCTV, Fire, Intruder and ANPR (automatic vehicle number plate recognition) systems are a captive market and so you may endure poor service, slow response times and uncompetitive on-going maintenance costs.
Currently, two large organisations that are consulting with Mercury are experiencing serious issues with their closed protocol systems. These organisations signed the dotted line on these systems some years ago and now wish to change to another installer. Their only viable option would be to replace their entire Building Management System. However, our research shows us that it would be considered to be too disruptive and expensive to rip out and replace their existing system. They unfortunately at this time have no choice but to stick with their original systems installer and manufacturer whilst they would rather switch in order to be more cost effective in the long term.
Mercury Security & Facilities Management will assist you make the right choice for your business. A key factor in deciding which type of Building Management System to choose is working out which system is going to be the best long-term investment in terms of initial supply and install cost, ease of maintenance, on-going support and overall cost year on year going forward.
An Open Protocol system will give you the freedom to choose precisely the components you want, both now and in the future. Opting for a solution from a manufacturer of Closed Protocol systems will give you components that have been designed to work together and will be installed by approved engineers with training bespoke for that system.
Read the small print – there are a number of questions you need to ask.
- What, for example, is the manufacturer’s upgrade policy — will it maintain backwards compatibility?
- Is there a commitment to providing new features?
- Are its solutions likely to cost you more than similar components sourced elsewhere?
Crucially, are you prepared to be tied in to one manufacturer not just now, but for the foreseeable future that could include 5, 10, 15 years plus?
By choosing an Open Protocol system, this mean that you and your system’s installer will have the freedom to select precisely the components you want, both now and in the future and design a Building Management System that is right for your needs and is not over specified.
You also need to know that your systems installer has proficiency in, and understanding of, a broad range of solutions and that they will recommend the best equipment for your property. Do they, for example, have industry accreditations e.g. NSI Gold, to tick all the boxes for you, your insurers, HSE and Police?
Finally, whether you have opted to have your system installed by the manufacturer or by an independent company, you need to investigate what levels of support and maintenance you are likely to get in future so that you can calculate the true cost of ownership for your Building Management System.
It is imperative that you don’t only talk to one company but discuss your security/Building Management System needs with a range of organisations, ask lots of questions, visit their premises and look at the infrastructure that is backing you up and read the contract thoroughly before signing. Above all, you must consider the implications of all these things well into the future.
Our hope is that by reading this document that we can educate the wider business community on the benefits and drawbacks of both Open or Closed Protocol Building Management Systems and the long term effects either system can have on their business and finances. For any further information or advice please contact us at Mercury House on +44 (0)28 9262 0510.