BrightBlue: Small Site Access Control

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Jun 17, 2012

Hardware giant Schlage wants to control doors in even the smallest deployments. Unlike other 'big name' access control offerings, Schage's BrightBlue is not just a small fractional version of a larger enterprise door access control system. Rather, it is a standalone system offering, specifically targeted at sites only needing to control a few doors. In this note, we examine BrightBlue, the advantages and disadvantages compared to larger systems, and compare pricing to competitive offerings including HID, Brivo and Honeywell.

Overview

This Linux-based standalone access control system is specifically marketed to installations with small door counts. The major differentiation points are listed below:

  • Small: The hardware installed in the standalone main panel is designed to control a maximum of 32 doors
  • Easily Accessible and Operable: Webpage interface, designed to be operated by office staff
  • LAN enabled: Main Panel is networked, and system includes a networked controller option
  • Flexible: Works with industry standard locking hardware, readers, and credentials
  • Low Priced: Hardware cost $750 to $2000 per opening depending on configuration

The master panel plugs into the LAN and is addressable via IP. All configuration and maintenance screens are accessible via a username/password secured web interface.

Two variants of door controllers are available: LAN connected (SBB-NRI controller) or hardwired (SBB-RI controller, as shown in the image). Schematically, the system has a Master Panel that is IP networked regardless of door controller type. However, Door Controllers can either use the LAN utility, or each controller can be 'homerun' cabled using RS-485. While the system interface and user database is contained in the Master Panel, the door controller permits 3rd party standard access control components to be controlled by the system.

Compared to larger systems, BrightBlue is unique in the following ways:

Pros

Simpler, Easier Hardware: Schlage has designed specific hardware sets (Schlage VIP and certain AD series locksets) to integrate directly to the Master Panel without any extra controller hardware. Going this route has the potential to lower the total cost of controlling a door by several hundred dollars, as the additional cost of purchasing, cabling, and installing separate access control hardware is prevented. However, this approach may not meet more stringent security requirements of access hardware. This approach integrates single point of security door hardware into the access control system, but does not incorporate 'higher security' devices like maglocks.

Simpler, Easier Interface: The system's panel based web interface is easy to use and access. Unlike larger enterprise EAC systems that require additional database servers or communications terminals, Bright Blue includes a web server in the master panel that permits easy access from a web browser. The panel can be configured for remote access if supported by local firewall. The GUI is designed to incorporate the Windows framework standard controls layout, and even users with no prior access control database can intuitively pick up on how to navigate and operate the system software with minimal training.

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Credential Support: Bright Blue supports a variety of credential types and 3rd party hardware. 26 bit credentials by default but the system can be configured to accept up to 34 bit types. The system does not read or make use of advanced credentials like those found on iClass or NFC, but most of existing credentials in the market can be used with BrightBlue.

Cons

Hard Door Count Limitation: The system has a hard limit of '32 doors'. This actually means '32 readers'. If a door needs to be 'read in/ read out' configuration, it requires two separate entities in the system. When the 33rd reader is needed, an additional, entirely separate BrightBlue system needs to be added, or the entire system has to be forklift upgraded to another access control platform.

Integration Restriction: Integration between BrightBlue and other 3rd party security systems is rare. While the system does claim to support video integration, integration options are limited: BrightBlue supports a limited number of DVR types (3VR, Dedicated Micros) or an OEM'd 4 channel NVR. All video management is performed inside BrightBlue's interface, and recorded video is not natively exportable or integrated with any 3rd party VMS platform.

Cost of Network Controller: Strangely, while Schlage has chosen to tout the economic advantages of using the existing LAN as a cost-saving feature, they price the network enabled door controller (SBB-NRI) variant to be twice the cost of the 'hardwired' (SBB-RI) version. This results in a cumbersome cost/benefit analysis that only proves the networked controller is a benefit in situations requiring extremely long RS-485 runs. Otherwise, using the non-network door controller is undoubtedly the cheaper option in almost every situation, especially given the additional materials and labor of running LAN cabling to the door will be required anyway.

Other minor details to consider:

No hardware element supports PoE powered. Even when the total power consumption falls well beneath the threshold of PoE eligibility, the full scope of equipment must be powered via 3rd party DC power supplies. This factor adds additional cost compared to other PoE enabled systems.

The online installation instructions are full of errors. While the documentation is fairly comprehensive and contains wiring diagrams for a considerable number of installation types, several portions of documentation disagree with each other, and in some cases the wrong information is given. For example, when describing how to wire certain proximity card readers, the instructions transpose several wiring contact locations and result in a system that incorrectly reads credentials. Troubleshooting this information with the phone tech support is difficult as it represents a low-level field installation issue not easily visualized over the phone. Working through a mockup installation before field installation to confirm configuration of wiring and equipment installation may be necessary to avoid costly field delays.

Competitive Comparison

HID Edge: lower cost, PoE powerable, but limited to 1 or 2 readers. Edge controlled doors cost between $500 - $900 depending on types of hardware and readers configured. Using Edge to control more than 1 door results in maintaining several discrete systems, meaning that card holders need to be enrolled more than once, and schedules /holidays must be all uniquely configured.

Brivo: When including the additional hardware and installation labor cost, a typical Brivo controlled opening costs around $750 - $1200 per opening. However, note this solution is 'hosted' and differs in the 'host-bound' solution that BrightBlue provides. However, despite the recurring monthly 'hosting fee', Brivo represents a low-cost access control product touting many of the same benefits as BrightBlue: web accessible, easy to manage/use, and most economical for small deployments. (For further detail, see our full update on Brivo)

Honeywell's NetAXS: Various NetAXS offerings match the same market intended to be served by BrightBlue. Specifically, the NetAXS123 offering is closely matched in features and performance. (For a full technical review of NetAXS offerings, see our 'Honeywell Access' update.) However, a major difference the Honeywell offering offers is forward compatibility and scalability of hardware into larger systems, where BrightBlue does not. For those installations that may scale into a large enterprise deployment this is a clear advantage. The user interface and management of the BrightBlue system is cleaner and somewhat less difficult to navigate for inexperienced users. Pricing for either system is roughly equal, and users can expect to pay somewhere between $750 and $2000 per installed door.

Many other access control systems are specifically market to the 'small' deployment market segment, but these offering are frequently fractional or repackaged versions of larger enterprise systems and carry a larger 'per-door' cost.

[Update 2012: Schlage has sold off Bright Blue.]

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