Case Study – Urban Digital Solutions Bridges IT and IoT-based Physical Security
Urban Digital Solutions (UDS) became an MSP and security integrator from an unusual direction: architecture and construction. Founder, President, and CEO Anthony Pisano started out in architecture. Director of Project Integration Jonathan Stallone began in construction. Pisano says IT was a natural step from all the technology in architecture and a way to continue to serve UDS’ clients. The company, based in Uniondale, N.Y., launched in 2005 and has only six full-time employees, but often manages teams of up to 50 subcontractors at any given moment.
Why did UDS get into IoT? “Because our clients asked us to get involved,” says Pisano. “They liked what we did for them in IT and wanted us to do more.”
One area that not only grows but leads to plenty of add-on business is access control. Physical security was UDS’ focus from the beginning, and when the firm discovered a vendor that allowed it to offer access control as a service (ACaaS), UDS jumped.
UDS uses products from Boulder, Colo.-based ISONAS, now a subsidiary of Allegion plc. Why ISONAS? “Because they were the only guys who came to the table with a device that minimized the number of devices I need to complete a task,” says Pisano.
Old-fashioned access control systems require a card reader, power supply, monitoring, on-site server, and lock. “We used to need five things to make the first door lock work,” Pisano says. “Then you need only one more device for each additional door in the building.” But the ISONAS PoE access control reader includes the lock and mechanisms in one device and relies on the cloud, not on-premises servers. As a result, the solution costs Pisano 75 percent less to install. “The fewer items we install, the fewer items we have to troubleshoot,” he explains.
Pisano cites a co-work space vendor called Emerge 212 as representative of UDS’ ACaaS clients. “We do many of their buildings,” he says. Each location has multiple tiny offices within the space, and each needs a smart door lock that’s easy to install and administer.
“For another client we've done over 100 co-work doors in several locations, and they're looking to expand that to over 2,000 units in about 30 locations. Every small office will be a secure site, and all can be handled from one console to the ISONAS Pure Access cloud platform.” But there are no servers in any building, just the cloud-based locks on each door. And all units can be managed from anywhere through that one console.
A second product critical for Emerge 212, an IP bridge, turns the dumb locks on data rack spaces into smart locks. “Clients don’t want to install server and router equipment in their small offices, so some also rent small personal cubbies in the IT closet,” Pisano says. A smart lock on a regular door protects the entire IT closet, and a dozen or more secure cubby spaces are accessed via key fobs.
The IP Bridge became important for a warehouse job Pisano just finished. "The standard office door was next to the giant rollup door for the loading dock. With the IP Bridge, we control them both over a single wire drop," says Pisano.
With a background in construction, Pisano and Urban Digital Solutions can always break out the toolkits and do whatever carpentry, plumbing, and finish work are necessary on a project. UDS has even been contracted by other IT firms when tools and collaboration with construction crews become part of the job. ISONAS access control products are designed to be easy enough for someone without Pisano’s background to install, though.
“ISONAS makes it possible for an IT tech to become a tradesman in a way, because they have what I call a screwdriver install,” Pisano says. “No tools needed, just a screwdriver.”
Other "secrets" Pisano has learned that will surprise those doing typical IT installations? "You need to really know the portal, such as does it have a wood frame, metal frame, or is it maybe a steel rollup door? And rollup doors in a warehouse often can't be controlled with the standard ISONAS RC04 Reader-Controller." Every rollup door manufacturer uses different relays and other mechanisms to lock the door. The ISONAS IP Bridge works with any type of existing lock and reader system, so conversion is often neater than replacment.
UDS got into ACaaS by leveraging its experience with IP networking and PoE devices like cameras and phones. The extra step into physical security via IP with ISONAS opened a new world of IoT opportunities.