Ten Steps to a Successful IP Surveillance Installation: Step 10

Today, there are well over a million network cameras and video servers installed worldwide. These installations range in size from just a single camera to thousands of cameras -- and are found in almost every type of industry application. No matter the size, every installation benefits from a simple set of best practices that will ensure all network video equipment is optimized. These tips range from basic camera placement and lighting conditions to working with IT departments and technicians to figure out issues such as the peak times for network usage.

Take Inventory

When first installing IP-based surveillance, it is important to take note of any existing inventory. For example, there may be analog cameras currently installed or the IT department may have a standardized server platform in place, such as a certain type of HP server and Windows operating platform. Also evaluate the speed of your network and work with the IT department to determine how much bandwidth is available or whether network video can be piggybacked onto other infrastructure, such as that for Voice over IP (VoIP) applications. Security professionals are often surprised as to how much equipment their organization already has at its disposal for an IP-based video system.

Although existing analog cameras can often be upgraded using video servers, it is sometimes necessary to make a total migration to network cameras in order to simplify the installation. A large retailer recently changed its analog closed-circuit television (CCTV) system to an IP-based system for about 200 of its stores. Although the company already had some analog cameras in place, it decided not to digitize them with video servers. Instead, the retailer switched everything over to network cameras to simplify what the IT industry refers to as MACs -- Moves, Adds and Changes related to IT equipment. When all hardware is standardized, it limits maintenance, reduces the need for spare parts, and makes adjustments to the system simpler and more cost effective. For many installations however, it is typically not necessary to replace all analog cameras with network cameras, so video servers are more viable.

Evaluate Site Conditions

Conditions at the camera locations will largely determine which type of network camera should be purchased. Just as with analog cameras, factors such as placing a network camera in an area with very little light or exposing it to extreme heat or cold, will dictate which equipment will work best.

Electrical outlets are another important consideration. Although it may seem like a minor consideration, it costs an average of $300 to install power to a single location. Today, network cameras are often installed in areas where power outlets do not exist -- such as on building exteriors, in parking lots, or on bridges. In these cases, cameras with Power over Ethernet (PoE) functionality will be a major time and cost savings because they can receive power directly from their network cable connections. The PoE feature should be in 100 percent accordance with the IEEE 802.3af standard, otherwise it will lock the buyer into proprietary systems that are likely not compatible with equipment from other vendors.

Determine Camera Usage

In addition to site conditions, camera usage also dictates the necessary specifications. Network cameras range from less than $200 for an entry-level model to professional equipment that functions under a broader range of conditions and offers improved functionality. For example, a camera that will be used to capture objects moving at high speeds -- such as moving cars -- need a progressive scan sensor that will reduce blur. Pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) will be necessary for looking at objects at a distance or to set up automatic patrols of an area. Megapixel cameras provide higher resolution and help reduce the number of cameras needed.

Make Friends with IT

Beyond just taking inventory of available networking equipment, the IT department can be helpful in making sure that network video runs smoothly and does not interfere with other applications. While communicating with people in IT jargon may seem intimidating at first, it is very important to build these relationships to ensure that the integration of security and networking is smooth. The IT department will have a vast knowledge base that will ensure an IP-surveillance system is installed properly, but that will only happen with good collaboration between the two departments.

For example, the IT department will know whether bandwidth is genuinely a concern. In most cases, video traffic is only detrimental for older networks. In this case, it will be time to upgrade the network according to company protocol. The amount of bandwidth has increased exponentially the last few years, so standard network ports today are one gigabit a second, and backbones are typically 10 gigabits a second or higher. For these networks, IP-surveillance creates no bandwidths issue whatsoever. Because today's corporate networks are highly regulated, the IT department can also ensure that Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) and Quality of Service (QoS) agreements are supported. If bandwidth is still an issue, network cameras have enough built-in intelligence that they can be programmed to only send video based on triggering events such as motion or time of day.

The IT department can also help establish a separate network for the video. This does not require running a separate set of cabling, but simply segmenting the video traffic from the rest of the network using a network switch. The switch routes data to different network ports and boosts overall performance.

The Eastchester Union Free School District, located in Westchester, N.Y., successfully used network switching to utilize extra bandwidth from its existing VoIP network. Select Telecom Inc., the integrator for the project, worked with the district to set up virtual local area networks (VLANs) for the video traffic, separating the voice network from the video network.

"By piggybacking the video network onto the voice network, we were able to save significant amounts of time and money," said Anita Better, director of information technology for Eastchester. "The cameras are so bandwidth efficient that the video does not slow down or degrade the voice network."

Security will also be a primary concern for the IT department. Anything that connects to the network opens up the possibility of new attacks and security breaches. Although the Internet regularly transfers all types of sensitive information, it is necessary to use security safeguards, including VPNs (virtual private networks), encryption, port-based network access control (IEEE 802.1X), and password protection.

Manage and Budget the Project

Besides managing equipment and the relationship with the IT department, it is essential to select the right systems integrator and understand the cost structure of an IP-surveillance system. This will help in establishing -- and sticking to -- a budget and managing the project roll out.

One of the most important items to ask a systems integrator is how many other IP-based surveillance systems have they successfully installed. Talk to their customers and understand whether the integrator embraces new technology, or if the end user had to push for the latest equipment. Integrators and consultants who are not familiar with new technology sometimes over-specify systems, and customers end up with equipment and functionality they never need.

In terms of budgeting, it is important to understand that the cost structure of an IP-surveillance system is quite different from that of a CCTV system. Although the price of a network camera is usually higher than that of an analog camera, the total system cost must be considered in order to generate a correct comparison. For example, network cameras include considerably more functionality than analog cameras, such as built-in digitalization, image compression and intelligence. IP infrastructure -- including cabling, storage, and recording -- is also considerably less expensive than analog infrastructure and provides more functionality. (See figures 1 and 2 at right, explaining surveillance cost structure.)

IP-surveillance is rapidly gaining momentum. However, the technology is still frequently misunderstood, which can lead to frustration for security professionals and IT departments that try to support them. Following the basic best practices outlined above can help simplify IP-surveillance rollouts and ensure that the systems operate as smoothly as possible.

About the author: As the general manager for Axis Communications, Fredrik Nilsson oversees the company's operations in North America. In this role, he manages all aspects of the business, including sales, marketing, business expansion and finance. He can be reached via email at Fredrik.Nilsson@axis.com.