Cost allocation for surveillance and security in today’s gaming economy

As the gaming industry feels the woes of the world economy, mission-critical operations like surveillance and security have come under scrutiny as management looks at every expense to reduce overhead. Fortunately, professional security systems are making the long-overdue leap towards networked infrastructure and changing the way systems are managed — including both the initial costs of installation and the ongoing expense of system operation.

It is apparent that the technologies that drive surveillance and security in the gaming industry have transformed during the last decade — and with the changes come opportunities and challenges. Evaluating how new IP-based networked technologies are different vs. analog systems can lead you to discover more efficient ways to deploy video and security systems on an integrated platform — and actually save you money over the long haul.

The big picture, "Total Cost of Ownership" (TCO), is changing just as drastically and rapidly with the shift in technology paradigms, resulting in systems that actually reduce costs while improving performance.

For example, there are technical issues related to making equipment last longer, which lowers TCO. Concerns stem from the use of computer hard drives instead of magnetic tape, from leveraging IT networks instead of coaxial cable, and from how power is supplied to system components. Another issue being addressed is how to protect expensive cameras in hostile or environmentally challenging environments.

Beyond hardware and software requirements, underlying economic issues also relate to the cost structure of evolving technologies. Too often, users fixate on the price per camera rather than considering broader system costs and/or they fail to consider more economically efficient innovations such as megapixel imaging. There are also economic windfalls to be gained from strategic use of power supply systems including Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), and the benefits related to network storage (i.e., centralized vs. distributed).

Major components in TCO are equipment dependability and longevity. Here are some considerations that can boost equipment life and ensure continuous operation in the age of IP-based video systems:

Heat kills hard drives. The change from magnetic tape-based recording to hard-disk storage in a digital video recorder (DVR) or network video recorder (NVR) brings with it a new enemy to system dependability and longevity: heat. Users expect years of service from these expensive technologies; and environmental monitoring can boost longevity. High-speed hard drives in DVRs and NVRs can generate a considerable amount of heat, which is the top cause of component failure and/or shortened life span. Typically, these devices include cooling fans to minimize the impact, but an important and sometimes missing system component is a heat-sensing device to provide real-time monitoring of environmental conditions. IP-enabled heat sensors provide immediate notification when the temperature reaches a specified level and issues alarm notification. Almost as important, they enable the tracking of even slightly elevated temperatures over time, a condition that has a definite detrimental effect on DVR/NVR product life.
Is your network self-healing? Because video surveillance is so important to gaming environments, networks that carry digital video signals and data need to be as robust and resilient as possible. So-called "self-healing" networks can ensure system fault tolerance by providing alternative transmission paths for video and data signals in case of a network problem. For example, SONET (Synchronous Optical Network) ring architecture enables network traffic to be routed in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction within a ring in order to restore connectivity in case of a network element failure. Mesh network topology is an approach that provides multiple redundant interconnections between network nodes to provide alternate communication paths if any cable or node fails. These approaches make networked video systems more reliable and adaptable in real-time to ensure continuous system operation.

Use your power wisely. Use of an appropriate power supply to provide system components with adequate and regulated power levels can prevent possible damage to downstream system components. It can be expensive when excess power “fries” a delicate networking component. The sheer variety of system components in networked systems requires diverse power supply components to satisfy electrical current needs. Power supplies also contribute to system reliability in the form of uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), short circuit and overload protection, and fused or circuit breaker-protected outputs. And with the continued migration to IP systems infrastructure, the use of PoE greatly reduces costs. More on PoE can be found later in this article.

Protecting cameras in hostile environments. Video cameras have to keep functioning despite what goes on around them on the gaming floor, in back areas where cash is handled, offices, guest areas, parking lots — virtually everywhere in and around gaming facilities. Cameras enclosed by vandal-or bullet-proof dome housings can withstand whatever happens even in hostile environments. For cameras installed outdoors, the use of environmentally resistant domes can keep cameras operating dependably despite humidity, dust or other environmental challenges.

Dealing with changing cost structures. Often, when a user considers economic justification or return on investment (ROI), they do so in the context of yesterday’s technology paradigm rather that today’s (or tomorrow’s). Hardware and software innovation can transform cost considerations and strategies.

Here are some suggestions for end-users:

Reevaluate how you calculate TCO. If "cost per camera" was ever an effective measure of system expenses, it certainly isn’t so with networked systems. Network cameras may be more expensive than analog cameras, but the network infrastructure that supports the cameras can be less expensive. One reason is because existing networking infrastructure can enable a camera or any edge device to be installed inexpensively at any point along the network — thus saving the cost of running coaxial cable and providing localized power at the location. Networked systems can also use generic network equipment, to some degree, to minimize equipment expenditures compared to analog infrastructure, which was often proprietary. Taking a broad-based approach to assessing system costs can provide a better comparison when choosing between analog and IP-based systems. It is also helpful to look at the system’s ongoing costs over time.

Megapixel video can actually save money. Some IP cameras offer higher resolution in the range of millions of pixels. Megapixel cameras provide images with far more detail than their analog cousins. In fact, one megapixel camera can cover a larger area and take the place of several analog cameras or cameras that use mechanical pan-tilt-zoom. Users can electronically zoom in on any part of a megapixel image and have sufficient detail to see what is happening, whether in real-time or on stored/recorded video. At the same time, the larger image is still being recorded, so there is no risk of losing video evidence by missing an important event happening in one area because a camera is zoomed in or focused on a different area. The ability to use fewer cameras helps to offset the higher prices of megapixel cameras. Megapixel cameras also facilitate video analytics at a much higher level given their accuracy and detail. These factors alone can dramatically reduce system-wide equipment costs.

Centralization of power. PoE technology enables power to be transmitted along network cables to any edge device on the network; and low-voltage current travels along wire pairs that are part of the network connection. PoE eliminates the need to provide a separate power source, such as a wall-pluggable power adapter for each camera in an IP-based system and the need for the wall outlet itself. Instead, a centralized source provides power to many network nodes. PoE can save dollars when a system is installed, and centralized power sources can be monitored more easily to ensure continuous system operation. Centralized power also reduces the need to locate additional "closets" to contain power systems across a network. In addition, the use of uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) can also be applied more easily in a centralized system to ensure that cameras are always operating even in the event of a power failure or brownout.

Maximizing storage space. New disk-based technologies provide more options to store video in IP-based systems. Video can be stored at the edge of the network, for example, on a local DVR/NVR attached to the network, where even high-bandwidth, real-time, full-motion frame-by-frame video can be stored without having any negative effect on network bandwidth capacity. Alternatively, there are multiple technology choices to store video at a central location, including SANs (storage area networks), RAID (redundant array of independent disks) and iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface). These technologies provide flexible options for high-capacity network-wide storage. Various system design strategies enable users to employ the storage configuration that fits the specific needs of an application. For example, high-resolution video could be used locally to preserve forensic video evidence for possible use in a court, and lower-resolution video could be sent across the network to enable real-time response. Alternatively, lower-resolution video could be captured routinely with higher video frame rates and resolution triggered only in case of an alarm.

Management and video analytics software are changing the landscape. Perhaps the biggest development affecting how video and integrated security are being designed and installed for gaming operations is a direct result of new software applications. New management and control software delivers functionality and interoperability between previously unrelated hardware and software that is simply not possible with analog. Integrated systems tie many facets of video and security with point-of-sale systems, HVAC systems, elevator and people movers, lighting and more. Software-based systems offer so much versatility that the topic is simply too vast to cover in this article. The bottom line is that software-based systems need to be evaluated when considering a system enhancement or new installation. The economies of scale and scalability simply change conventional TCO evaluation criteria and models.

It’s worth the time and effort to take a critical look at new network technologies and how they best apply to your specific needs. You may quickly come to the conclusion that your investment pays long-term dividends.

Steve Malia is Director of design and production for M. Malia & Associates Inc.