A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action

If you have read anything I have written over the past two years, you know I've been pushing the idea of designing and installing IP cameras. The reasons I advocate the use of this technology are fairly obvious.

First, IP was the snowball at the top of the hill. It's been rolling downward at an alarming rate, and frankly, it's gotten quite large. Second, in the middle of a frenzy to compete in the DVR market, the manufacturers of IP cameras, switching and recording technology remained steadfast and focused. Their objective was to improve the quality, understanding and general acceptance of a future market. Last, there has been no indication that the world is staying with or going back to analog technology.

In my writing on this topic I've spoken quite a bit about the applications of IP technology, but I haven't really touched on the "how-to." Let's cure some of this and speak about the progression from analog to digital and some of the equipment involved.

All Aboard!
Say you spent $50 thousand on an analog camera system just two years ago. Now you want to update to an IP camera system without trashing your existing, long-term investments. Or maybe you have a very small existing system and a very small budget, but you still want the advantages of the IP network. Or maybe you have a DVR and you think your system is now IP based. I'm sorry; it just isn't that easy in most cases. Most DVR recorders are not digital recorders. They are glorified analog recorders with a hard drive to record on. Most DVRs on the market cannot accept a digital signal.

Regardless of your current situation, if you are upgrading or just want to take advantage of the improved communication of IP networks, your first step is to include your IT folks. This should be done up front to avoid major confrontations in the future.

Plug It In
Once your IT folks are on board, your first consideration is the high-speed video switcher or server. There is no magic to this unit. You connect it, in line, to your existing analog cameras without disrupting your existing system, and you are suddenly able to jump onto the existing computer network.

If you use a high-speed switcher, you will be required to indulge in some operations software, usually included with the switcher. This is a minor concern. It's like installing Word or WordPerfect. If you use a high- speed analog-to-digital server, you will not be required to install software, because the server will have everything you need.

The bottom line is that you are now able to access your analog CCTV system via any PC within your network. The only requirement is that your PC has a Web browser. Yes, you should have firewalls, passwords and other such things to protect your privacy. However, these are topics for your IT personnel, not an old camera dog like me.

Set It Up
If you are starting from scratch with your IP system, you have several options for configuration. The first is to connect your cameras directly to an existing or new network via a standard ethernet junction. You may also have the option to power the cameras over the ethernet so you don't even have to run power lines. The savings in cabling alone can be huge.

A second configuration option is to group or bunch your cameras in the field and then attach them to your network. This is done in the same way as adapting an analog system. We take two, three or 20 cameras from one section of your system and tie them into a high-speed switcher or server. Then you simply attach a multiplexed output from your switcher or server to your network. The advantage of this configuration, again, is a potentially huge reduction in cabling costs.

Replace Your Cameras
The next step in converting to an IP camera system is replacing your existing analog cameras with IP cameras. You may still be in a position that dictates the use of existing coaxial cable to return the video to your central control point. This is not a problem. You will need to purchase and install IP cameras that have multiple output capability. This is a huge advantage of the IP camera over the analog unit. Since some IP cameras provide you with both an analog and a digital output, it is a simple matter of pulling down your existing analog camera and replacing it with the updated IP unit.

Connect the existing BNC connector to the appropriate output of the camera, change or verify your power connections, and you are back in business. (See Figure 2.) No fuss, no extra cabling, no problems. Six weeks or six months later, when you update your network cabling, you simply change the connection output from the camera to the ethernet.

Another possible approach to this upgrade solution is to replace one of your analog cameras with a dual- output IP camera and connect to the existing video system and the network simultaneously. This way you have the control and advantage of accessing the camera directly from the network, but you are still including the video in your existing recording process.

To get this far, you will need to have your IT personnel assign IP addresses to the cameras and/or switcher/servers. The IP address is a unique group of numbers assigned to every piece of equipment within a computer network. It's just what it sounds like-it is the address. It gives you the ability to single out, control, command and/or view any piece of equipment that is in your network. Again, this is not a difficult process, but it should be handled in advance of installing your IP network. Advance assignment of IP addresses allows you to have structural organization without headaches down the road.

Get Your Own Line
Along the way to an IP system, you may hear mumbling or complaints from your IT personnel about the system's impact on bandwidth. This is a valid concern that needs to be considered from the outset. One way to deal with the bandwidth issue is to set up a network specifically for the IP cameras. One advantage of upper-level IP cameras is that they are actual computer servers. This means you can create a whole new network using one or more of your cameras as the network server. The advantages are limitless. Your entire security system can run on its own LAN or WAN without interrupting the business network.

Additionally, will be upgrading your security by adding one more firewall between you and the outside world. In many cases, companies are using the upgrade to IP camera systems as an excuse to upgrade their existing ethernet networks from 100MB to 1GB. These newer, high-speed, high-volume network systems are fabulous for both business and security. Everyone wins, especially if you are able to split your budget by having other departments absorb some of the costs.

Then you need to plan and design all new additions or sections of your surveillance system using only IP. It's an obvious next move, and since everything else is already initiated, it is a simple process.

Use It to Its Fullest
Finally, you can start to explore the advantages of your new systems. Since IP cameras are digital or have digital output capabilities, they can record directly to hard drives instead of going through DVRs. This is really big. DVRs tend to restrict the amount of information you can record in direct proportion to the number of cameras you're recording. This is because the DVR is restricted by the size of its memory. Once the memory is full, you have two choices: record over the existing data or add another DVR.

By recording directly to a server, you can categorize, file and log images in association with several different types of data. The amount of data, visual or otherwise, that you can store is limited only by your hard drive capacity. If you exceed your memory space, it is easy and financially advantageous to increase the size of your hard drive or add additional memory. In addition, server configurations tend to adapt to the constantly changing world of video and information compression codecs. DVRs are most often restricted to a single, proprietary language, and so become outdated fairly quickly.

Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks
Upgrading to IP-based cameras while maintaining your existing analog processes is actually very easy. Yes, there are pitfalls along the way, bandwidth being the most apparent. However, careful planning, forward thinking and a long-term commitment will usually override such problems. Two things to remember. One: IP network video is here to stay. It is expanding, improving, and taking our industry into a plug-and-play world.

Two: Like any other technology, IP-based video systems come with a hefty learning curve. It is not, however, a curve that is beyond us. If this old dog can muster up enough gumption to learn this new art, you should have no problems at all. Jump onto the Internet. Splash through the various sites and surf away. You do not need to be heavily into computers to make these simple systems work or to understand the basis behind them. Camera theory in security is still intact.

The fact is, our IP cousins are opening doors for us that didn't exist 10 years ago. If in the end you are still lost or confused with the process of digital, call me. I would be happy to talk with you and help you take that next step to your future.

Charlie Pierce is president of LeapFrog Training & Consulting, a company dedicated to training the professionals of the CCTV industry. Visit its Web site online at www.LTCTrainingCntr.com.