Digital Video on the Network

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.

These cost savings correlate with the users need for a centralized system. Many applications can also work with localized cameras and recording without tying up the network. It is possible to record video locally and only use the network when there is a need to view the video remotely. Remote viewing is one of the most appealing advantages of making video available on an enterprise network, in effect giving anyone access to video from anywhere in a company. The concept opens up new possibilities to leverage the value of video.

Considering use of the corporate network for video surveillance opens doors in bringing in another customer – or gatekeeper into the buying and decision-making process. The IT department oversees the nerve center of an enterprise and is a good contact to make at any company. In many cases, they have also been tasked with looking for ways to create business value and return-on-investment (ROI). Traditional security integrators, and even technology suppliers, should take the initiative to get to know this new customer. Doing so is a great way to build future business and cultivate a new advocate for your technology in an enterprise.

In a larger sense, the customer has changed historically from being the security department to being the enterprise itself­—the whole company. Given that change in mindset, smart integrators think outside the box about how video surveillance can benefit the customer's company as a whole.

We're all familiar with the interoperability of video with applications such as access control and video analytics to track individuals, enable license plate recognition and identify risk situations. Widely available digital video also has enormous potential in helping companies with issues such as risk management and business operations: asset tracking; traffic monitoring; inventory control; identity management; employee productivity; process monitoring; establishing workflow patterns; and managing liability issues. Making video available on the enterprise network is the first step to realizing these synergistic goals. The second is identifying the potential for that video to benefit the company beyond the four walls of the security control room.

Many customers are looking for ways to make security an integral part of their business operations. Gone are the days when security was a “service department” that operated independently from the rest of the company and with a different set of goals and parameters. Nowadays, security departments need to be team players, looking for ways to boost the company's bottom line. Making digital video systems an integral part of the company's enterprise information system is perfectly consistent with that trend. By doing so, today's integrators can expand their business relationships with their corporate customers, establish new partnerships with company management and even non-security departments and promote security's broad-based role in contributing to the business bottom line. It can all start with becoming a part of the enterprise network.

J.M. Allain is president of Panasonic System Solutions Company (PSSC), Secaucus, N.J.