Like It or Not, IP is Here to Stay

Learning the issues-and how best to avoid them-is key to profiting from the challenges that IP brings to physical security

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.

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