Interview: Ilia Yashmakov, Ajax Systems
a&s Adria: Mr Yashmakov, we go a long time back, since you worked for a known video surveillance provider. For those who haven’t read our magazine then, can you present your business experience in brief, with an emphasis on your move to Ajax Systems and your role within that company?
Yashmakov: Yes, we do go a long way back – I was there in 2015 for the first edition of the Adria Security Summit in Sarajevo, but my career in Security started long before that, so I guess I am as experienced as they come. But what does it mean to be “experienced” in today’s world? Experience helps you to avoid mistakes in a stable and predictable environment – but those two descriptions are no longer valid, so I think the new skillset for management should be attitude and adaptability. As many things in life usually are – my transition from Hikvision to Ajax was completely unexpected and unplanned because I was not looking to change my job. I remember I did my first Ajax interview mostly out of good manners because they invited me, so my curiosity was not so much about the job – but more about the company. My plan was to challenge Ajax with all the difficult questions that I could think about – but when the interview was over I realized that because my plan didn’t work my eyes were open to something that I couldn’t see until this point – “the future of Security”. I felt inspired by Ajax and I agreed to help built a new local team and set-up a new market structure in the Balkans&Adriatic – a region which I know well.
a&s Adria: Even though Ajax Systems has been in this business for only ten years, it has reached some impressive numbers. How did it all start for your company? What were its most important milestones, how many employees do you have now, and where do you sell your products? Last year, you reached a notable number of premises under your protection?
Yashmakov: Yes the company is around 10 years old but the first few years were tough, I mean the operational capacity was not yet at the same level as the vision and enthusiasm of the company. Our first Wireless panel was released in 2011 and at that time it was called “Страж” (meaning Guard in English). If you don’t recognize it today it means that this was not a huge success on the market. J This low point of our history is exactly what drove our CEO to go back to the drawing board and he redesigned everything: R&D, manufacturing, marketing the whole company was redesigned, even the logo of Ajax was changed to the one you know today and we added the word “Systems” after Ajax to make it clear that we provide professional systems. We have a belief in the company that there should be no compromise with quality, design and user experience, the products are just the outcome of this belief and this is why Ajax Systems is known for having “Zero Bullshit” policy. Today we have over 2000 employees out of which around 500 are local and are spread out in all major European countries, South Africa, India, UAE, America, Canada and Australia. Through our global distribution network, we sell in more than 130 countries – we are guided by common sense in everything we do.
a&s Adria: As a Ukranian company, Ajax Systems is facing a difficult time being in the midst of an attack from the Russian army. If you can share with us, what is it like for your colleagues to work in those conditions? Did you face losses in men or equipment, how did you keep your production going, and did you have to evacuate to another premises? Has your recently equipped research laboratory at the Faculty of Electronics at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and your R&D offices in Kyiv and Kharkiv been affected?
Yashmakov: This is a sensitive topic for everyone at Ajax Systems and everyone in Ukraine for that matter. Rather than focus on this ruthless and unprovoked war, I prefer to tell you about an unexpected (to me at least) side effect of this situation. Ajax lead by our CEO showed the world a masterclass of leadership, crisis management, resource allocation, re-settlement of employees, logistics of finished goods and factory equipment, exceptional planning and all this while bombs are falling and people are in panic. Within the first week almost 500 people from Ajax were relocated to the west part of the country, accommodation was arranged for them and the salaries for the next month were paid in advance to them. Within the second week of the war a new factory building (more than twice the size of the old one) was introduced and equipped with more production lines than the old one. By the third week we had our first ready products produced in the new factory and we acquired a new warehouse with more capacity than we need for now. In the meantime, more talent is being hired in R&D because simply more of it is available and is concentrated just in the west part of the country – which means that our roadmap for the new products will come ahead of the planned time. So, in between Covid; Silicon shortage; Technical challenges from suppliers and bloody war in Ukraine – Ajax is coming out stronger than before. This is because of extreme dedication, motivation and unity between everyone in our ecosystem including our users of course. Imagine what Ajax will achieve when the environment calms down a little bit.
a&s Adria: You came up with a slogan as a means of resistance to violence. What message does it send?
Yashmakov: Basically the slogan is self-explanatory – Through our products Ajax Systems offers the feeling of being safe and having peace of mind about your property and loved ones. We work against thieves, fires or leaks – therefore “We stand against evil”!
a&s Adria: Having a lot of customers, how will you continue servicing their equipment and securing their premises?
Yashmakov: Yes, we have many users I think we already passed 1.3M and this number is growing fast and all of those users have never experienced a drop in our service. The reliability aspect of what we offer to the market is a major selling point for us therefore it is important that we do not rely on open-source platforms or use outdated technology. One example is the communication between our Hub to our cloud, we created our own HTS protocol which is a binary protocol so it’s very fast and can work on small bandwidths plus we are hosted on Amazon cloud with multiple notes working in a cluster in three different locations in Europe which first of all provides excellent load balancing in order to accommodate our huge growth in the number of users and also we have one cluster always in hot back-up mode. If your readers are interested in some fun statistics, I can tell you that Amazon is giving Ajax 99.9% reliability of the cloud service, and together with our technology we can bring the availability of the cloud up to 99.99% throughout the year to our customers. To most people these numbers sound funny, but our business is based around this reliability. Our products on the other hand have a general defect rate of just 0.3% (this is a peak value) so our RMA center is not really overloaded as you can understand.
a&s Adria: As a part of your engagement against violence, you developed an app Air alert in just one day. What is it used for and how many people use it at the moment?
Yashmakov: This is a simple but very effective app made to help the Ukrainian people who live in remote areas or generally in places where the civil defense sirens are not so effective. We saw the need to have a reliable alternative tool to generate a loud alert warning of an airstrike or chemical attack or any type of danger to the public issued by the Ukrainian Government. This app supports “critical alerts” function, meaning that notifications will sound even if your phone is in sleep mode or is on silent. How many people are actually using it – I don’t know, but I think most everyone that is in Ukraine right now.
a&s Adria: Lets get back to your offerings. Your first product line is Jeweller wireless intrusion detection, fire protection, and leak detection. Can you present in detail its most important features?
Yashmakov: All of our peripheral devices are designed to detect specific threats, it could be unauthorized movement inside or outside the property with video verification for example, or detection of CO (Carbon monoxide) built-up in your garage, or water leakage in your server room, or smoke in your kitchen, or unusual temperature build-up in your warehouse or unexpected high electrical consumption – actually there are almost unlimited number of threats. Being able to detect is one thing, but being able to act on a threat in real-time is really what gives you the feeling of safety and peace of mind that we spoke about earlier. Being able to create your own specific scenario and to be part of the process yourself is what I think is the best feature of the system, for example – if water leak detected – then stop the water supply, or if fire detected -stop electricity, or if intruder detected – call monitoring company and switch on lights and so on.
a&s Adria: How far away from the hub do Ajax devices really work and how does your special energy-efficient radio protocol prolong the usage of batteries in your devices?
Yashmakov: The topic of wireless range and battery life always brings a lot of attention to the customers, because this is something easy to understand and more importantly easy to measure and compare. Unfortunately for everyone, this is far from the truth. In real life nobody uses a MotionProtect detector in open space in direct line of sight to the Hub, and nobody can predict how many alarms will need to be transmitted, what will be the temperature and how far the detectors will be installed from the hub – in order to fulfill the maximum range and battery life. So why do we give absolute values if they are never used? The answer is that there is no other way to measure in a fair and consistent way the performance of your products other than in a laboratory environment. This is why all manufacturers are following the same guidelines when making similar measurements to make sure we are not misleading the market (at least I hope all manufacturers are doing that).
To answer your question, in terms of wireless range we claim up to 2000m. To put this in perspective so your readers can have a clear picture – your average WiFi range is about 150m with very high-power requirement, then you have the ZigBee and Z-Wave networks which are made for smart home devices and are very low-power – but their range is still about 150m. So, by this comparison you can understand that we developed our own closed wireless protocol “Jeweller” to be low-power, high distance and most of all secure. Because of this, some of our detectors can run for 7 years without replacing the battery.
a&s Adria: How can a user monitor the Ajax security system?
Yashmakov: When I think about it, the answer to this question is the reason why Ajax Systems is breaking through one of the most boring, stagnant and uninteresting markets – the Intruder alarm market. So what is the answer? It’s called “User Experience”. Finally, the users are given the chance to have control of the system they paid money for, the users have the chance to help design their own system and to be informed about everything that is going on during their absence. All you need is internet connection and a smartphone. No additional fees or surprises.
a&s Adria: One of the most common requests from industry professionals is for a hybrid security system. The combination of wires and radio allows covering large and industrial facilities. The expertise developed since 2011 results in Fibra. What advantages embody the new Fibra product line of wired devices? The first release includes nine devices. What are they?
Yashmakov: I think it’s nice that you think that the most common requests from the industry is for a hybrid system, I wish this was the case. The Adria region and the Balkan region generally reacts with a small delay compared to North-West Europe when it comes to adopting new technology, but this is not a bad thing. Ajax is not trying to change the local habits of the market, we are trying to adapt to them. This is partly the reason we decided not to release “Fibra” products to the whole Europe but just parts of it, so the official release date is still pending for the Adria region.
Let me explain what’s the idea behind the Hybrid Hubs using “Fibra” communication technology. “Fibra” combines the reliability of wires with the freedom of radio connection, it is a digital-generation wired system. At the physical level, Fibra looks like a bus connection where detectors are connected to a control panel with a 4-core cable, but the benefit is actually hidden at the software level because our customers get the same user experience but in a wired connection. “Fibra” is taking all the benefits of the wireless so it is extremely low-power which means that 30 wired “Fibra” devices will run for 60 hours on a 7 Ah backup battery. This is 5 times more than Grade 2 requires, in fact it meets the Grade 3 requirements. In terms of the wired devices that you can add to the system, basically they are the usual indoor Motion detectors: MotionProtect, MotionProtect Plus and MotionCam. Magnetic door contacts: DoorProtect and DoorProtect Plus, and then you have Glass break detectors: GlassProtect and CombiProtect, then you have the StreetSiren and HomeSiren and the KeyPad.
a&s Adria: Like in Jeweller devices, data transmission within Fibra is encrypted. What anti-sabotage technologies are the devices equipped with?
Yashmakov: Yes for sure encryption is at the center of our R&D’s minds when they develop new communication methods. In the case of “Fibra” we use dynamic encryption where the Hub and devices change the encryption algorithm at every communication session, so good luck if someone is trying to decrypt the system using brute force. The Hub is always in monitoring mode and it scans all connected devices according to the settings made by the installer so the user (or monitoring company) gets notified if there is a drop in the voltage of any device or if the line is broken and power starts to drop. The latest upgrade of the system will bring the anti-sabotage one step higher as it will enable physical protection of the “Fibra” line from being broken. To accomplish this you need to connect the beginning of the line to one hub terminal and its end to the other. Such a connection creates a ring topology and in case of a line fault, the ring splits into two loops working independently of each other.
a&s Adria: Ajax Systems expanded the automation product line and developed a Socket (type G). You marketed that it has an unprecedented over-the-air communication range? And in what way are its settings more flexible?
Yashmakov: The type G socket is not really the main focus in this region because this standard is used only in the UK, Cyprus and Malta but if you are asking about the Socket in general then yes, being an Ajax device it has a range of about 1000 m but is also fully compatible with the Range extenders (ReX and ReX2) so that distance can be easily extended. The Socket gives you the ability to control appliances remotely and to monitor the power consumption of your premises, but I think its best feature is to help automate your security system. You can create scenarios with the Socket where the top power consuming devices are switched off as you leave your house so you never have to worry if you left something on, or switch off the lights in your office automatically when leaving, or turn on your coffee machine at a certain time in the morning. Those are just examples.
a&s Adria: Can you connect video surveillance cameras to the Ajax security system? With what video surveillance manufacturers’ cameras did you integrate your system with?
Yashmakov: Video verification of alarms is something Ajax really believes in, and considering the huge amount of CCTV cameras already installed it makes sense to combine your security system and video surveillance in one app. There are 3 quick ways to do that:
- Use Ajax motion detector with a photo camera – MotionCam or MotionCam Outdoor (Winner of the Intruder product of 2020 – PSI Premier Awards)
- Connect to Hikvision, Dahua, Uniview and Safire cameras and DVRs in less than a minute with no additional configuration needed (cloud to cloud integration)
- Unlimited choice of manufacturers – using RTSP stream, which is a standard protocol in most IP streaming devices
a&s Adria: Can you present or enlist some of the most complex and important installations you have done throughout the years?
Yashmakov: Over the years we’ve had very interesting projects in remote locations, unconventional design solutions, and the value of the protected properties have won respect for integrators and developers. In the spring of 2021, the Ajax security system with the FireProtect and FireProtect Plus detectors was installed at the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Base in Antarctica, the polar station plans to install even more Ajax devices. Thanks to the alternative power supplies for hubs and the Enterprise API, Ajax systems are now installed on yachts worth tens of millions of dollars. The system achieved a good track record on movable properties like mobile homes, freight transport, and food trucks, and is now confidently opening new vertical markets. This is a manifestation of great trust.
a&s Adria: What will the future of Ajax Systems look like, especially taking into account the latest unfortunate events?
Yashmakov: Pandemic health crisis, silicon shortage, technical issues from suppliers of components and now a brutal and completely destructive war in your home country – most companies will not survive. Ajax Systems however, is not like most companies, we are made up of tough people who are motivated and are willing to self-sacrifice because we all share a common belief that we are the driving force of the security market and we are pulling it forward by being different and not lead by old stereotypical views. The biggest prove that we have already changed the way people perceive security is that other manufacturers 10 times bigger than us are following our lead, some more successful than others.
I look forward to revealing our roadmap for the next 6-12 months and I can promise you that we are just beginning our journey to re-shape the market – but this will be done in the correct time and in the right venue together with our partners who have stayed loyal and have been very supportive and patient with us.