Inner Range: Inventing the Future
Faced with a future as diffuse as it will be challenging, Inner Range is deploying its considerable engineering capability to offer installers, integrators and end users a greater range of ever more flexible solutions.
HUMANS are analogous beasts. When you’ve been commentating on an industry long enough, the scope for temporal contrasts becomes gravitational. There’s a danger every story you write necessarily begins with the words: “When I first visited…”.
Here, it’s a position governed by the need to provide context to a vibrant international business whose manufacturing facility was once a line of trestles in the warehouse of a Melbourne industrial estate, a row of heads bent over green glass-epoxy circuit boards as though meditating on the doctrines of access control.
The building has changed but the intensity of Inner Range’s focus remains, diffracted by the lateral explosion of digital technology – the commercialisation and expansion of the internet, the layered texture of a market which able to be anything it wants, can no longer be corralled by the application of a label.
Even sitting around the boardroom table at Inner Range is instructive. Piled across the blonde timber are circuit boards, power supplies, housings, reader bodies, controllers – the moraine of hundreds of meetings flowing in from an engineering department hungry for open space in an ecosystem populated with skyscrapers of control boards, workstation-workbenches ablink with a nightscape of LED lights.
One of the interesting things about Inner Range is the company’s caution when it comes to new releases. It took many years to understand the basis for caution was the pushmi-pullyu of backwards and forwards compatibility. And not some clunky hat-tip to tech gone by, but the electronic expression of automated functionality flowing seamlessly from a time long before my hot summer visit late 1991, towards whatever the future will be. For Inner Range engineers there is no concept of ‘now’ as an emergent property of the river of time – the past and the future are endlessly connected.
Being Australia’s leading electronic security engineering house, a position attained and maintained over many decades, gives the company’s inventions special importance. Where does Inner Range see the market in the future? Where is its R&D spend going? Where should installers focus their expertise? Where should end users invest in infrastructure?
Talking with Inner Range CSD group directors, Alf Katz and Vin Lopes, is an enjoyable business. For directors of a company this large and successful, both are highly technical and entirely immersed in their technology. Katz and Lopes have different cognitive processes but they are of one mind, answering questions together, expanding or appropriating one another’s sentences, seamlessly seizing and ceding the conversation as we rove through key solutions Inner Range has in development and pre-production.
After the successful release of IP-based security management system Integriti – a process which began in earnest 4 years ago – Inner Range has been working on a number of key solutions. In their own way, each gives a sense of the company’s feel for the future and together they suggest that while predicting the future is complicated, there is a clear shape.
For a start, the underlying technology that comprises Integriti has been woven into the Infiniti enterprise solution, a move that has taken Inner Range into the big league when it comes to major corporate and government solutions in Australia. This is big stuff for Inner Range, whose earliest solutions were site-based.
Along with Infiniti, there’s Infiniti Class 5, which offers encrypted data comms from sensor to keypad to meet AS2201.1 Class 5 and government standards. Alongside these developments, a web browser for Integriti has been developed. Another key release coming soon is Inception, a browser-based access control and intrusion panel with local intelligence and an onboard web server. Inception is designed to be simple to use and simple to install and offers remote management to installers and end users.
Next, there’s a cloud-based alarm and home automation panel that the engineering team calls SkyGuard. This is an important move for Inner Range, which has never proffered a system at this level before. SkyGuard combines 433MHz security devices with Z-wave automation devices, integrated 3G and an RJ-45 port for good measure. Management of SkyGuard is via app.
Also managed by app is an automation module that can be linked to a number of major alarm panel brands, providing Z-Wave automation capability and remote management. And behind all these is SkyTunnel, Inner Range’s proprietary cloud solution, designed to side-step the hassles of negotiating prickly firewalls.
First up, we take a look at SkyGuard, which is a Z-wave security and automation panel that Inner Range is developing in conjuction with an overseas partner. To my eye it looks very much like a networking device – a standard domestic vertical router fronted by a neat LCD keypad and an app.
“With SkyGuard, we have a technology with a high level interface compatible with existing Paradox panels and legacy panels from a number of other manufacturers,” Vin Lopes explains. “This residential alarm panel is very simple to use – all that code’s been done.
“Alarm Monitoring with SkyGuard will come into central stations through the Inner Range Multipath pipeline – so any central station with Multipath gets this as well,” he says. “The Z-wave automation notifications go out directly to the customer’s internet connected devices.”
In terms of hardware, automation is Z-wave, the PIRs are 433MHz, the keypad is Bluetooth, and there’s a 3G module option and an integrated Ethernet port. SkyGuard is expandable to 96 alarm inputs and 8 automation devices, which is about right because as Alf Katz observes, you would not want 100 battery-powered devices adding complexity and expense to what is fundamentally a traditional 8-zone panel with some remote control and management. Then there’s the takeover module. This module connects to a number of different alarm panels and will be sold through installers, turning those panels into something like SkyGuard.
“The module simply wires onto the keypad bus so an installer is required to handle that part of it,” explains Katz. “This makes the module ideal for installers who wish to sell Z-wave automation to existing alarm panel customers. We needed an offering in this space – this offering mixes security and Z-wave without the need to remove serviceable alarm panels.”
Of great interest to the majority of installers, is Inception, which has been under development for a couple of years now. The control board is buttoned up inside a grey poly housing with clearly marked terminations, which shares its design cues with the T4000 Multipath module. The controller has up to 4 doors and 8 inputs onboard, and expands to 32 doors and 512 inputs using Integriti LAN modules and according to Lopes, Inception is a product that is going to go to war in the commercial market.
“Inception is nearly ready – the hardware is finished and final refinements are being added to the software,” Lopes explains. “Release is expected in Q1, 2016, and will come after a searching round of useability tests. Inception will be available to everyone and is designed to simplify the task of installers who need to give their clients access control and alarms. The programming, including the database programming, is browser-based and it’s powerful and very easy to handle.”
Long-time users of Inner Range Concept controllers will have no trouble placing Inception in the context of the company’s product line up.
“Inception targets where you would have put a Concept 2000 or 3000,” says Alf Katz. “As long as the system is not too big, this is self-contained – no server on site anywhere, the customer and the installer can access it via browser and it’s really affordable.
“It fundamentally follows the Inner Range traditional model of integration of access control and security. You can use it as a security-only system, you can use it as an access-only system, or you can mix and match the two. It does all the intruder and access control stuff that 90 per cent of systems require and it tries to do them really well, doing away with all the corner case options and the enterprise options that make installing and managing the system harder – like high level lift interfaces and pager control.”
“Anything that’s quirky – get yourself to Integriti but for 70-80 per cent of smaller solutions, Inception is perfect and there should be very little need for tech support – the software is so intuitive,” he explains.
“With the number of corner case options kept to a minimum, it takes very little time to go through and set up an entire system. There are no instances where you need to check these 4 things to make 1 feature work. You just program your way through it out of the box and it works.
“Inception hosts its own web server onboard and can be accessed via the local network over Ethernet or with WiFi. But it also has the option of being connected to our SkyTunnel cloud infrastructure so any internet connected device can go via SkyTunnel to Inception.”
According to Katz, SkyTunnel is about connecting things together so installers don’t have the hassle of negotiating firewalls or worrying about public IP addresses.
“With SkyTunnel, you don’t need a public IP address – the device makes outbound connections to SkyTunnel like a laptop connecting to a web site and is routed in a way that removes the need to punch holes in firewalls,” he says. “This dramatically simplifies connections as well as making them more secure. We use industry standard, approved encryption and authentication methods, and the bandwidth required by our connections is minimal.”
“You are at the cutting edge with cloud – how challenging is it to get this right?” I ask.
“Doing cloud is hard and to deploy cloud technologies economically you’ve got to negotiate licensing models that need to be offset against revenue to support those fees,” Lopes explains. “You have to bear in mind that with Inception, what we are talking about is not access decisions being made in the cloud or data storage in the cloud but just connectivity to Inception via the cloud, a simpler, more secure and leaner model.
“We are also looking at a future Integriti variant, where Inner Range provides a Cloud service that allows integrators, or even end customers to manage their Integriti controllers from a piece of software in the Cloud solution. Of course the controllers would still be standalone with full functionality during those inevitable times when a cloud server cannot be contacted.
“Interestingly, we wondered ourselves whether people would want their access control and security data being managed by a third party in the cloud but we keep getting asked for it. Certainly cloud is new to the market and we have needed to do some redesigning underneath but we will market secure, stable cloud solutions very soon. Thankfully, Inner Range, with its Multipath cloud experience has a head-start in this area of technology.”
The next solution we look at is Infiniti, which according to Lopes is Integriti with a different topography that’s separated in terms of its selling model.
“Infiniti follows the selling model of larger enterprise solutions from some of our competitors in which if you are the dealer for that site you are the only person who can purchase Infiniti licenses,” Lopes explains.
“Infiniti is not a product that’s available across the counter. You still buy it through your CSD account but it’s dispatched from Inner Range.
“In terms of hardware, you get 8 doors per controller, which is similar to competitors. Infiniti has an enterprise architecture – so it’s IP between controllers, with 8 doors in the cabinet, so if a specification says the system has got to be IP, you can use Infiniti Access Controllers (IAC’s), which instead of having zones, have doors – that’s the difference in architecture.”
According to Lopes, Inner Range and CSD will only sell Infiniti to a certain grade of integrator – that integrator will need to understand IP and the product or they’ll have trouble with installations, he says.
“This sales model is actually appealing to larger users who have more complex applications and who want to limit and filter the companies that can quote for a high end tender,” Lopes explains. “It means an organisation is not forced into a position where they are obliged by a fixed tender process to take the lowest quote from an installer they don’t believe is capable of handling the job.
“If we only sell Infiniti to companies that are technically capable and large enough that it’s certain they won’t go broke half way through a job, the customer needing a very large and complex solution gets some surety and some protection – they can be certain they will get an enterprise-capable integrator.”
Alongside Infiniti, Inner Range has developed Infiniti Class 5, a solution that meets the equipment requirements of AS2201.1 Class 5, allowing it to be specified for certain government applications that demand communications be encrypted from alarm sensors to keypad.
“Infiniti Class 5 is now available and there has been serious interest in it,” explains Katz. “Again, Infiniti Class 5 is going to be limited to a small group of highly capable integration companies. It relates to a level of trust we need to maintain with the government in terms of the integrators who have access to the technology they depend on for high security applications.”
Lopes chimes in.
“Basically, government agencies have said they don’t want Class 5 available to everybody in the market so that has to be taken into account – it’s not allowed to be across the counter at CSD,” he explains. “So, Integriti, which is the basis for Infiniti, is available over the counter to anyone who has done the training but these high security paths to market are more controlled.”
When it comes to further expansion of Integriti capability, Lopes says the Inner Range team is excited about the new web interface being installed for the first time at Sunshine Coast University Hospital. The web interface virtually provides a thin client view into the Integriti server, allowing remote administration of Integriti systems via a web browser. The interface has full support for both mobile and desktop environments.
“This Sunshine Coast project is quite strategic for us as it is enterprise in scale and it incorporates 18 high-level third party interfaces and takes Inner Range to another level as a manufacturer,” says Lopes. “We have partnered with Schneider on this project and have been really impressed with the capabilities of their organisation and the calibre of their people.”
Sitting in my chair, with the beating heart of Inner Range’s engineering department visible through the window of the boardroom, the layers of old and new product across the table jolt me, in the middle of a detailed explanation of SkyTunnel, into recollection of computer scientist Alan Kay’s piercing observation: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” ♦
By John Adams