With virtualization, a single server platform can host multiple "virtual" servers, each providing a standard Windows or other operating system environment, reducing energy consumption, complexity and equipment cost.
Physical security is going digital with open, standards-based IP technology. And like it or not, IP's here to stay.
As with any disruptive technology, IP presents a tremendous opportunity for security integrators to grow their business, delivering new opportunities while increasing value to existing customers. It also means that the end of the road is in sight for those not willing to make the jump to IP.
To be successful in leveraging this technology shift, integrators must understand the pitfalls that the digital world presents. We'll look briefly at some of the major issues, and then how to avoid each while gaining all the benefits.
Consider video surveillance. With a traditional analog solution, one or more DVRs are typically deployed, each supporting a maximum number of analog cameras (8, 16, 32, etc.) wired with coaxial cable and offering a known amount of video retention capacity for recording. That level of functional simplicity enables A&E firms, consultants and integrators to deploy projects with a fairly straightforward design.
In IP, however, there are more factors to consider, ranging from the characteristics of the new cameras, interaction with the chosen video management software (VMS) and how best to select and leverage the server and storage hardware. While the cameras and VMS can be easily mastered with technical training offered by the device manufacturers, the server and storage hardware all too often remains an ongoing challenge.
In large part this is because general purpose, commodity servers and storage are designed for IT needs and not those of the security industry.
Unlike DVRs, commodity IT servers and storage presents nearly endless choices of CPUs, memory, graphics cards, network connectivity, storage capacity and type and many other options.
Special needs for the security industry
Unfortunately for those of us in physical security, the commodity hardware manufacturer is typically oblivious to the special needs of our applications. The result is that commodity hardware must be selected, integrated and configured by the security integrator with few useful manufacturer's guidelines and with little of their own personal experience to draw upon.
By strictly following recommendations from the camera or VMS vendor's configuration tools, too often we see platforms with insufficient memory and CPU power, while the storage requirements are often overlooked or miscalculated for real world needs. The common alternative is to overbuy, adding unnecessary cost for extra CPU power, memory and storage capacity for each system. And regardless of how well designed the system is on paper, unless it is correctly configured and optimized for video workloads by the installer, the project may still fail.
One mainstream IT technology reduces equipment costs, energy consumption and overall complexity: server virtualization. Instead of installing two or three servers for a project's needs, a single physical server today often has enough CPU capacity and memory to be divided into two or more "virtual" servers or "modes."
Each of these virtual modes provides a standard operating environment to the chosen applications, just like on individual "physical" servers. In a multi-mode platform, a single server can run video surveillance software recording in one mode, live viewing in another and perhaps access control in a third.
With only one set of components, costs can be reduced for not only hardware, but also for environmental needs ranging from electrical consumption to heating and cooling. That alone often justifies the deployment of a virtualized server environment for IT users.
However, server vendors don't typically offer their servers with virtualization preinstalled and configured, leaving that to the integrator. And the virtualization interface can also be a challenge to set up, especially when seeking to optimize hardware for demanding physical security applications like video surveillance and analytics.
Another challenge that IP presents is in selecting and configuring the storage to be used for video retention. In the analog world, DVRs typically were deployed with the storage entirely in the box. Deploying the same model for an IP solution, with all storage in the server, is no longer efficient or cost-effective for any but the smallest of projects. Instead, common deployments combine servers with expandable storage in all-in-one solutions, or with a two-component solution of mix-and-match server and storage modules.
The solution in servers
Despite all of these challenges, there are several things an integrator can easily do to eliminate headaches and instead leverage themselves into new revenue opportunities.
First, choose server and storage platforms only from vendors who are 'physical security aware.' The easiest way to determine this is to view the vendor's Web site and call up the list of certified physical security vendors who have certified their products with them.
Often the list proves to be non-existent, since the hardware manufacturer hasn't tested their products with IP cameras or with software for video surveillance, analytics, PSIM, access control etc., just IT.
That means they are unaware of the challenges that multiple IP cameras writing continuously and simultaneously to storage devices can cause or other similar issues. The manufacturer won't be able to help select the right hardware for installation, offer meaningful advice in configuration, or provide useful post-installation help.
Instead, select a vendor who offers dozens or more security products that are certified with the hardware through a documented testing program, often preloaded in some manner with the device. Joint testing is best of all, with both the platform vendor and the camera or software manufacturer participating in order to ensure the installation will be straightforward and that future problems can be quickly resolved.
Second, choose a vendor that offers built-in multi-mode or server virtualization technology, preconfigured for security needs. The savings in installation complexity and ongoing support challenges can rival the savings in hardware and energy consumption the technology delivers.
There is no reason a security integrator should have to learn all of the complexities of virtualization, when products exist that offer the technology preinstalled and configured specifically for physical security project requirements.
Finally, ensure that your selected vendor includes a storage component that is easily expandable and optimized for the needs of physical security for demanding applications like video surveillance-without having to add servers every time you need more capacity.
Having video surveillance optimization technology built in ensures that disk drives don't fragment when recording from multiple IP cameras over a long period of time and eliminates the risk of dropped frames. That can ensure long-term success, something not possible with commodity IT hardware alone.
By leveraging these areas, you can generate new revenue to profit from the continuing changes that IP brings to physical security, instead of being a victim to constant change.