Digital Video on the Network

It's worth getting to know the IT department and their needs

A company's enterprise IT network is like our nation's Interstate Highway System – it's a more efficient means of travel, contains branches reaching into remote locations and ultimately brings us all closer together. You can go on a road trip and avoid the Interstate, but it may not be the most direct route. Sometimes, putting up with the traffic is just worth it. So too is putting up with the enterprise IT network at many companies. It's the best way to travel on the company's information highway.

In another sense, the enterprise network is the backbone of the corporation's information system, its nerve center and its lifeblood. Making security – specifically digital video surveillance – part of a company's enterprise network can also be a reflection of the ways that security is becoming more closely aligned with a company's overall business operations. For the systems integrator, using a customer's enterprise network can eventually lead to new opportunities for business.

Not all networks are equal

One consideration about putting video surveillance on the enterprise network is whether it has the bandwidth capacity to handle it. Video is famous for taking up a lot of bandwidth, which can clog a network's “pipelines” and slow down the flow of data. In some cases, IT systems are already struggling to handle an onslaught of other video applications, whether it is video conferencing, users visiting video Web sites or employees downloading instructional or marketing videos. The question is not only whether the network can accommodate the additional video data, but whether it can do so in real-time.

Video surveillance needs are immediate and often critical, so a dependable network is mandatory. The real-time nature of digital video monitoring makes it dependent on what the IT people call Quality of Service (QoS). Problems to avoid include delay in video and packet loss, (when a packet containing video data is not delivered to its destination, which can cause jitters and degrade video quality). The IT department uses QoS mechanisms to give video data flow a higher priority, thus ensuring better quality video. But everything is contingent on having a network infrastructure with enough bandwidth to deliver high-quality digital video dependably and in real-time.

If necessary, an enterprise network can be reconfigured with the creation of a virtual local area network (VLAN) to keep the video separate from the rest of the data flow. Alternately, a dedicated IP-based surveillance network can be created and connected to the enterprise network. In either case, on-demand viewing of video can be made available as needed–while the balance of video traffic is restricted to a discrete segment of the network.

Cost savings and scalability

If an enterprise network is available and has the required bandwidth for digital video traffic, then using it for a security system application is a no-brainer from a cost perspective. It is certainly cheaper to take advantage of a usable network than to create a separate, parallel network for video surveillance applications. For that matter, it's cheaper than running coaxial cable for a centralized analog system.

Cost savings also extend to maintenance and support. The IT department is already keeping the enterprise network up and running, so there is no additional expense, as there would be with a parallel digital video network, or even an analog configuration.

Scalability is another advantage of using an existing corporate network for video surveillance applications. Using the network infrastructure means that adding a camera is as simple as plugging it into an Ethernet port – no need to run wires. Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), a capability available in many of the latest network cameras, even allows the power to the camera to run along the same Category 5 cable that connects it to the network.

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