Daily Archives: 18/08/2014

Poor power quality: don’t take the risk

All types of irregularity in the electricity supply have the potential to impact a given business through its effects on IT infrastructure. In turn, this places both the company’s revenue and reputation at risk. Power supply conditioning is the answer for end users, as Rob Morris explains.

At some point in time most of us have experienced a computer ‘playing up’. Maybe the file we want to access is determined not to open. Perhaps a specific document isn’t printing or the computer’s simply running a lot slower than normal.

Computers in public places – for example card readers and those underpinning supermarket checkouts – can also ‘act up’. Many people will have had a bank card rejected even if they were in the black, or they might have watched the shop assistant wave a product over the scanner without it being added to the transaction.

Not only is this a source of annoyance for the consumer, but it can also be embarrassing as well. Will the customer who has been embarrassed want to return to the store in question and risk a repeat performance? Let’s not forget, either, the resultant frustration experienced by customers who had to wait in the queue behind.

What many retailers fail to realise is that this isn’t just a case of the till or Chip and PIN machine malfunctioning. It could actually be due to the electricity coming through the line. The power emanating from the grid may have been reliable enough for computers and other electronics in the past but, as equipment such as this becomes more sophisticated, it also becomes more sensitive to variations in the power supply.

All types of irregularity in the electricity supply have the potential to impact a given business through its effects on IT infrastructure

All types of irregularity in the electricity supply have the potential to impact a given business through its effects on IT infrastructure

Poor quality power can be something as big as a power cut or something entirely unnoticeable (such as a small surge or ‘spike’). Either way, all types of irregularity in the electricity supply have the potential to impact a given business through its effects on IT infrastructure. In turn, this places both the company’s revenue and reputation at risk.

What is poor power quality?

The electricity that comes from the grid isn’t always reliable. Sometimes this can be obvious, for example during a power cut. However, such events are rare. Smaller variations are much more common. Some of these variations – the power surges that blow fuses and dips that cause the lights to flicker – are less visible. Often, though, the problems caused by poor power quality are seemingly invisible.

Tiny variations in electricity can cause IT systems to be disturbed but rarely are the problems attributed to power quality. In a restaurant, for example, food orders may be lost or incorrect. If situations like this happen regularly, it might be easy to blame the Electronic Point of Sale (EPoS) system.

Not only is the power that comes from the grid unreliable, but disruption can also result from equipment already inside the building. In a restaurant, it could be caused by the flash freezers. In a supermarket, cardboard crushers may bring about variations in the power. Even a printer can send tiny surges through the power lines which serve to wear away components in other electricals.

Poor power quality manifests itself in three ways commonly known as ‘The 3 Ds’ of power quality:

Destruction
While big surges blowing up circuits might seem like something from a cartoon, there’s a distinct possibility of this occurring in real life. When a fuse blows, it’s because the electricity flowing through it generated enough heat to melt it. The design aims to protect vital equipment from power surges but it’s often the case that damage has already been done before the fuse melts.

Retailers don’t need to risk their reputation with poor power quality. Some have already seen the benefits of back-up power supplies and surge diverters

Retailers don’t need to risk their reputation with poor power quality. Some have already seen the benefits of back-up power supplies and surge diverters

Degradation
Smaller spikes don’t create the same instant damage associated with a big surge. Instead, they slowly erode internal components over time. It’s a process that eventually leads to complete failure of the component or the device.

Disruption
Computers try to interpret these tiny variations as genuine instructions that may have originated from the user. The computer then makes incorrect decisions, perhaps in terms of which items should be added to an order. It might appear to be a bug but no bug will be found. The users might ignore these symptoms once they temporarily disappear.

Poor power quality: its effect on IT systems

It’s clear that if there is a power cut, the tills and card readers will not work. The automatic doors to a store will not open. While wreaking havoc with the system, less visible variations may damage any electrical equipment on a gradual basis. Small electricity spikes can wear away the components inside the system over time, eventually leading to their ultimate failure.

In the case of tills in restaurants, they will mistake these small spikes as genuine orders that the server has orchestrated or try to interpret the spikes before discarding them. Not only can this lead to incorrect transactions, but it also makes the EPoS system work harder than is necessary and may result in system overheating. Like a laptop that cuts out when it overheats, overworked electrical systems can fail instantly.

This overworking also shortens the lifetime of the equipment and increases the cost to the user.

What amplifies the situation is that the busier the retail outlet becomes, the harder it is for the electrical system to work correctly. It places greater pressure on the equipment, in turn creating further problems.

It may not be obvious but events such as the live broadcast of Barclays Premier League matches in pub-restaurant chains can affect the quality of power each outlet receives. If you’ve ever noticed your lights flicker after a critical episode of your favourite soap, this is down to lots of people drawing on electricity by flicking on the kettle or flushing the toilet. This causes a dip in the electricity received by your home. To cater for this increased demand, National Grid generates additional electricity, sending a surge through power lines.

This flux in electricity can happen on a local scale. During half-time of a football match, fans making a rush for the bar can cause similar power issues. Opening fridges, using tills and card readers all require electricity. These dips and surges cause the IT system to act up, and the increased pressure on the system then amplifies the problem. For a pub-restaurant that’s expecting a football match to bring in a lot of revenue, the ‘power problem’ places immediate revenues at risk in tandem with future revenues if reputational damage comes into play.

Power conditioning: why it’s important

Retailers don’t need to risk their reputation with poor power quality. Some have already seen the benefits of back-up power supplies and surge diverters. These alone, however, are not enough. To fully protect the business, managers ought to control the power scenario with the aid of power conditioning.

Put simply, businesses risk their revenue, equipment and reputation by not appreciating the damage poor power quality might realise

Put simply, businesses risk their revenue, equipment and reputation by not appreciating the damage poor power quality might realise

At the very least, power conditioning should include the following key elements:
• Surge diverter to direct large surges away from the system
• Noise filter to remove small variations (similar to static) from the power
• Voltage regulator which prevents the smaller dips and spikes from reaching vital equipment
• Back-up power in the event of a power cut

RST is one of the largest resellers of EPoS systems in the UK and Ireland, with the company installing and maintaining thousands of units on an annual basis. On occasion, though, customers often found they experienced problems with the EPoS systems, particularly when a given retail outlet was busy.

RST relates the story of one of its customers – a hotel also serving as a venue for large-scale events during the summer. Staff found that their EPoS terminals wouldn’t work properly during these events. From time to time this was something that could have been put down to human error, like an item being incorrectly added to the bill. Often, the cause was more serious.

Food orders were not correctly transmitted to the kitchen, restaurant tabs were not synced with the room bill or the terminals failed completely. Initially, at least, it appeared as though there was a problem with the whole Electronic Point of Sale system.

“The members of staff thought there was a problem with the EPoS equipment,” explained Neil Bradley, RST’s managing director, “but having seen this same situation arise many times over the years, we knew it was the power.”

Understandably, end users are sceptical when told poor power is at the root of their problems. Poor power quality is a problem about which not many individuals are fully aware. Power cuts are visible and recognisable by everyone. Small spikes which erode internal components, though, are a hidden part of the power problem. When equipment does eventually fail, it’s difficult to identify the cause.

As an organisation, RST has now been using power conditioning equipment for over a decade. Witnessing its customers’ problems disappear after power conditioning equipment is installed in EPoS units, the company is totally convinced of ‘the power of power conditioning’. In fact, RST is so convinced that power conditioning will resolve the problems it actually installs the necessary equipment required by end user customers free of charge. Once the customer is also convinced of the benefits, RST would then look to charge for the service.

What effect does power conditioning realise?

As customers of RST have seen, power conditioning equipment can prevent the effects caused by power cuts, surges and dips. Keeping the electrical equipment in working order helps to maintain revenues. By reducing engineer call-outs and the need for replacing broken equipment, power conditioning has the potential to save further costs.

For a typical piece of electrical equipment, the cost of ongoing repairs and maintenance is between 4%-8%. We often find that this drops by up to 88% once the equipment has been protected by power conditioning units. Even more impressively, some power conditioning end users find their return on investment is as high as 1,148%.

Unreliable power might conjure up images of generators in rural areas that provide intermittent power. In reality, the power that comes from the grid is not reliable enough for the equipment we use on an everyday basis. At home, your computer might start to malfunction. It may well be fine after it has been restarted and it’s likely we would forget about the situation. We might work out that the computer ‘goes awry’ every time we print something, but most people would never think the printer sends small power surges through their home capable of damaging the computer.

Electrical equipment is prone to malfunctioning. We could easily find ourselves with warm beer and the wrong food order in a pub restaurant, but rarely does the company’s management recognise that this could be caused by the power. This is partly due to the hidden nature of power problems. A power cut is very obvious. Even large surges might be noticed if they melt a fuse or fry a circuit board.

More often, though, small spikes and dips in the power go unnoticed. Lights might flicker, but the damage done to the internal components of a computer cannot be seen. It’s likely that any damage will only be noticed when the computer starts to act up or fails completely. If this happens in a retail environment, the damage to revenue and reputation may have already been done.

Businesses can protect themselves against the risk to their revenues and reputation by installing power conditioning units. As an end user, RST has already seen the benefits of power conditioning. The organisation’s customers had suffered from unreliable EPoS systems but the problems disappeared once power conditioning units were installed. Importantly, the company is now convinced that poor power quality is something that can be managed effectively.

Power conditioning eliminates the problems caused by poor power quality and can also provide an excellent return on investment.

Put simply, businesses risk their revenue, equipment and reputation by not appreciating the damage poor power quality might realise.

Rob Morris is country manager at Powervar UK

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‘Vortex in my Cortex!’… James Wickes on ‘Security and the Cloud’

The security sector is only just waking up to the idea that many features offered by the cloud extend the capabilities of existing security solutions into new and lucrative markets. So what’s on offer? James Wickes has all the answers.

It’s nigh on two months since the last IFSEC International attendee left the airy corridors of the ExCeL Exhibition and Conference Centre. Show organiser UBM has hailed the event a massive success by every measurement and the security world is now retiring on the beach for its summer holidays.

During the show I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to air a short presentation to IFSEC International’s visitors on the condition that I limited my spiel to the general benefits of cloud technology and didn’t recite a Cloudview propaganda speech. Asking a salesman not to sell? That was the first challenge to be confronted.

The second challenge was somewhat unexpected. When I arrived at the hallowed halls early on the appointed day, I broke into a cold sweat. Every ‘What if?’ scenario I could dream up entered my head, and everything I had meticulously planned to orate for my compliant and grateful audience disappeared into the dark and inaccessible vortex in my cortex that no amount of rolled-up newspaper punching or controlled yoga-style breathing was going to unlock.

Once on the podium, some of my ‘What ifs’ sprang to life. There was the inevitable bloke having a chat on his mobile phone, the microphone didn’t work all of the time and, of course, there was the guy that just wanted to give me a good verbal bashing as I was wrong and he was right.

Too much to try and say

Anyway, I crashed through my Powerpoint deck like someone running across a collapsing bridge, repeating word for word what was on each slide, rendering the whole reason for actually being there in person somewhat pointless. In my 30 years in the IT Industry I’ve had plenty of experience of giving presentations on all sorts of subjects to all sorts of audiences all over the world – so why did I freak out at IFSEC International 2014?

James Wickes: director of Cloudview

James Wickes: director of Cloudview

Put simply, there was just too much to try and say. The PC, Internet and smartphones have enabled mainframe computing resources to be made available to all and sundry and its latest costume is known as ‘the cloud. Yes, it’s powerful. Yes, it’s accessible. Yes, it’s scalable… but it’s certainly not new.

Far from disrupting the security and CCTV world, cloud services are only now just about beginning to make any kind of dent in it. That’s because the security industry is only just waking up to the idea that many features offered by the cloud extend the capabilities of existing security solutions into new and lucrative markets that exist, unclaimed somewhere between itself and the IT industry. And that these can be accessed by using packaged cloud services bolted onto current hardware and software offerings.

These markets are facilitated as much by legislation as they are by technology. Health and Safety and the litigious/insurance culture we’ve all experienced in some way that demand ever larger amounts of CCTV data are securely stored for long periods of time for future reference, and ideally off-site.

Of course, the best way of doing this is through integration with an effective cloud service. For the end user there are many, many features offered by Cloudview (I’m sorry, I’ve said it now) and other cloud service providers that can augment CCTV solutions without compromising security and don’t actually require a degree in astrophysics to implement.

Channels to market

Then there’s the somewhat knotty issue of ‘channels to market’ early VSaaS (Video Surveillance as a Service) providers built their business models around in selling direct. This is fine for Hamstercam.com-type offerings but, for anything more serious, channel partners are essential not just to instigate sales and do the installation work but to specify the correct hardware solutions for the plethora of vertical markets that all require different ways of doing things.

All in all, in my humble opinion the UK security and CCTV industry is on the edge of a vast collective opportunity that can be facilitated by adding cloud services to existing and new customer solutions. It’s happening now and it’s picking up speed. So it’s worth taking a look at what’s available, what’s feasible and how it can be wrapped into existing end user offerings.

Next year, when you’re cutting a stride past Costa early in the morning on your way into IFSEC International and you see in the corner of your eye someone gently rocking back and forth, muttering to themselves and punching a copy of one of that day’s national newspapers please don’t call security. It’ll just be me getting ready for my presentation.

James Wickes is director of Cloudview (UK)

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Computer modelling project aims to improve fire prevention

A new project will bring fire-fighters and academics together to improve fire prevention by predicting where and when fires are more likely to occur.

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are working with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to develop the PREMONITION computer simulation.

The project will use computer modelling techniques to pull together geographical, demographical and behavioural data to build up a picture of an area and predict where fires and other emergencies might occur.

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are working with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to develop the PREMONITION computer simulation

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are working with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to develop the PREMONITION computer simulation

Some of this information is already available to fire services through online sources, or from local authority records, but due to the vast amount of data it’s often difficult to make sense of it. The simulation will combine all of the various strands of information and use it in real-time to support decision-making.

It will enable fire services to make better decisions about where to allocate resources and improve planning and fire prevention initiatives.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s spokesperson Nicola Smith commented: “The research we are supporting with our academic partners is a cutting-edge exploration of behaviours during our prevention and response activities. Partnerships with well-respected organisations like the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University will place us at the forefront of modern approaches to delivering improved community safety.”

If successful, the simulation could be rolled-out for use by other fire services across the country.

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LAX extends incident management to field operations with NICE Situator

The web-based GIS solution developed jointly by NICE Systems and the AECOM Technology Corporation enables security and operations teams to enhance collaboration and co-ordination for more-efficient responses to security incidents.

NICE Systems and AECOM Technology Corporation are helping Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) extend its situation management capabilities from the Control Room to the airfield. The airport’s management team has deployed the NICE Situator Enterprise Geographical Information System (EGIS) web application, which enables field personnel to view all open security and operational incidents in Situator and log new incidents on their tablets. This creates a shared environment for managing incidents, in turn leading to better collaboration between teams, increased situational awareness for all operators and more effective responses.

The web application uses the sophisticated geospatial and mapping capabilities of Esri’s ArcGIS Server to provide customised, layered views of airport buildings, property and infrastructure. All relevant incident stakeholders can visualise the same incident on a map and engage in interactive dialogue via the comments log. They can also share response plans (such as an evacuation route) by drawing on the map, annotating it and saving it to the system.

In addition, the web application will help field operators more efficiently manage day-to-day tasks, such as Federal Aviation Administration-mandated Part 139 airfield inspections. Under Federal Aviation Regulations Part 139, United States commercial service airports are required to conduct various assessments of each runway and examine pavement markings, lighting, signs and safety areas as well as oversee ground vehicle operations. If an issue arises, field operators can easily create a new incident on their mobile devices which is resolved through Situator’s workflows and recorded for compliance purposes.

Los Angeles International Airport: benefiting from a joint NICE Systems-AECOM Technology Corporation-developed security management solution

Los Angeles International Airport: benefiting from a joint NICE Systems-AECOM Technology Corporation-developed security management solution

Part of the Los Angeles World Airports, LAX has been using NICE Situator since 2011 to integrate information from various security and operational systems, like video surveillance, CCTV and access control, as well as to generate automated, adaptive response plans. With the web application, first responders and field operations personnel receive all information from Situator in real time. They can immediately pull up assets in an impact zone – for instance, a video camera within 100 feet of the incident – or use the application’s robust search engine to locate nearby geospatial assets (eg the exits closest to an incident location).

They can also create new incidents, manage ongoing ones and complete specific tasks assigned to them, thereby reducing reliance on radio communications and enhancing compliance.

Transforming security, safety and operations management

Dominic Nessi, deputy executive director/CISO at Los Angeles World Airports, explained: “The NICE-AECOM solution is allowing us to transform the way in which we manage safety, security and operations at LAX. Based on our ongoing success with NICE Situator, we sought a way to apply these capabilities to our field operations. Now, not only are we able to maximise the use of our existing PSIM, situation management and GIS technologies, but we’re also strengthening our entire security and operations apparatus.”

Kevin Carlson – vice-president of aviation systems at AECOM – added: “We’re excited to partner with NICE to bring this unique solution to LAX, and to help fulfil the airport’s vision for real-time interactive dialogue and collaboration. By combining an airport’s EGIS infrastructure with an enterprise situation management platform, organisations are able to leverage geospatial information for more effective collaboration in support of both daily operations and emergency response.”

Chris Wooten (executive vice-president at the NICE Security Group) explained: “Extending the reach of NICE Situator into the field significantly augments security operations. In a dynamic airport environment like LAX, it’s critical to maintain a direct line of communication between multiple users by providing situation management capabilities both inside and outside of the Control Room. This model for mobile situation management demonstrates NICE’s leadership and technology innovation, which can be tailored to the needs of other airports and industries as well.”

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“Don’t let fear deter you from expanding into new export markets” states John Davies of TDSi

John Davies – managing director of integrated security solutions specialist TDSi – explains the key considerations for those UK companies looking to export their products and services.

Making the leap from being a UK-only or EU-only supplier to a wider international exporter can be a daunting one. For many companies, such a move represents a significant deviation from their comfort zone and yet there are some very hungry and buoyant markets to explore around the world offering lucrative returns for UK businesses prepared to do their homework and provide the right products and services.

That said, when embracing new markets there are a number of key considerations I believe you need to investigate before launching into what can be a significant and potentially resource-consuming process.

Make sure your business is in a position to explore and leverage potential markets
It’s vital that your domestic business is robust enough to invest in new markets exploration. Much like the prospect of introducing a baby to an already strained relationship, a new export market can put a considerable pressure on a business in its early stages. Despite the promised benefits, it shouldn’t be considered as a way of fixing a failing business.

Some markets can require lots of time to research or network and this can be costly in terms of investment. Many Middle Eastern markets, for example, require direct commitments from suppliers and this will inevitably either involve regular travel to the region and/or maintaining a local office or representative to meet with clients.

At TDSi, it’s a market that we have found to be very rewarding, but also one that rewards proper investment and market understanding from its importers.

John Davies: md at TDSI and former chairman of the BSIA's Export Council

John Davies: md at TDSI and former chairman of the BSIA’s Export Council

Don’t be frightened of cultural differences
While cultural difference can be intimidating at first, the process of researching these is much like that of investigating new UK markets. There’s a lot of help to be found for most markets, whether it’s UK-based assistance from the likes of the UKTI’s (UK Trade and Investment) Defence and Security Organisation (DSO), more specific sector-focused organisations such as the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) or more localised help from regional partners or Government agencies.

The practises of doing business can vary from region to region, but good research before any initial contact will prepare your team and business for these variations.

Tweaking your offering to appeal to new markets
Markets in different parts of the world can have varying requirements or needs that could require you to change product features, pricing, specification or marketing materials to fit. This could be down to cultural differences (some product features are required in some regions and not others where they could be seen as an expensive and unwanted addition) or the financial situation of the potential market (some regions require lower-priced or simpler products or services due to the local economy and requirements). Language requirements could involve translation needs (particularly so, for example, when other alphabets are in use!).

Products and services which fail to match these will struggle to make an impact on local markets.

Make sure your legal documentation and protection is organised
Before you enter a new market it’s essential to ensure that that you have all your legal protection in place. This includes agreements/contracts, of course, but also trademarks and patents designed to protect your offering and intellectual property from misuse or corruption.

Ensure that your invoicing and payment systems are firmly in place
There are financial hurdles to jump in any new market. The obvious potential issues are local taxation laws and currency changes, but you also need to ensure that invoicing and payments can be easily performed and that you understand any banking, taxation or financial regulations that might affect your local trading as well.

Prepare to be flexible
Just because you believe you have the best product/solution, don’t expect the entire new market to accept your proposition automatically. Sometimes you will launch into a new market and immediately find traction with customers, but often it will be the case that you need to fine-tune your offering to match requirements. This can take a while to produce the desired results and is where help from localised partners can be very useful in determining the best approach and ensure that you engage the market successfully.

Don’t expect results overnight
Entering a new export market should be seen as a long-term commitment and patience and persistence are essential. Launching into a new market and fine-tuning your offering to increase market share is resource-intensive and will require finding the right local contacts.

You need to be careful to find the right local partners (not automatically working with the first company that shows an interest) and to think long and hard about any actions (such as exclusivity agreements) which limit your access to that market, even if they appear to offer attractive inroads.

While my advice is designed to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of seeking and entering new export markets, I should also stress that the potential opportunities of selling into the right market often completely mitigate any risks. Simply selling your offering to your domestic market can make sense for many businesses, but when there’s an opportunity to diversify the geographical dispersal of your customer base it’s an excellent opportunity to avoid the risk of operating in a single market.

Much of the process of entering a new market is common sense and will require a similar new business skills sets to the one you will have used to grow your business in the home market.

When you do come up against less familiar challenges, it’s the perfect time to find the right local partners who will be just as keen for you to grow their business alongside your own.

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Updated ONVIF training module hosted on Tavcom website

An updated version of the ONVIF distance learning training course has been published on the Tavcom website.

The free training course focuses on ONVIF-specific issues and includes new product and conformance process modules. It also provides information on ONVIF’s new Observer membership which offers an opportunity for architects, consultants, engineers and the media to be associated with ONVIF and use its conformance tools.

ONVIF is an open industry forum for the development of a global standard focused on the interface of IP-based physical security products. The ONVIF specification is intended to ensure interoperability between products regardless of manufacturer and, as such, defines a common protocol for communication between IP network devices.

An updated version of the ONVIF distance learning training course has been published on the Tavcom website

An updated version of the ONVIF distance learning training course has been published on the Tavcom website

“We’re very pleased to have a further opportunity to show our support for the aims and objectives of ONVIF by helping to develop and host the updated training course,” outlined Paul Tennent, managing director of Tavcom.

“We know from an analysis of our website traffic that the previous version of the online course attracted the attentions of large numbers of security professionals who are keen to learn about ONVIF. We have no doubt that this latest version of the course will be just as popular.”

Tavcom's md Paul Tennent

Tavcom’s md Paul Tennent

Review or participate in the ONVIF distance learning training course by accessing the Tavcom website

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