Our Man in the Field: The Process of the IP Solution, Part I

Solving IP integration challenges while implementing a CCTV solution

Now for the problem. I had already decided that the client should drop their DVRs in exchange for a hard drive and IP controlling software. Why this drastic change? Simple, the client was planning on doing 11 sites and bringing them all home. They needed the features and flexibility of a software solution, as opposed to the restrictions of a DVR. So, I found a two terra-byte NAS deck and got ready for business. I had already chosen and recommended a specific system. However, I did not understand that each of the three styles of IP cameras that I had chosen had their own protocol. I was thinking "Plug and Play". I wasn't thinking about introductions, a couple of drinks, perhaps some friendly conversation around the digital cooler. I was thinking PLUG and PLAY! Consequently, you can imagine my chagrin when I found out that the software solution that I had from the onset would only work with two of them. Total bummer! I had no idea this was coming up! Everyone I have spoken with in the digital world has always assured me that IP cameras were plug and play. I didn't know that what they really meant was that all the kids had to be from the same block too. So, after a frantic three days of speaking with anyone who would listen, I was referred to a solution that fit. I got lucky, very lucky. My only alternative would have been to have two separate systems or go back to analog.

So what caused this incompatibility? Simple. Each totally digital camera had its own protocol and Codec. What does this mean? It means that one spoke French, one spoke German, and one spoke Drunken English. It meant that the original software spoke two of the languages, but not the third. It meant that I had to come up with a software program that would:

1. Provide me with the features that I required for the job.
2. Work with and translate the digital video information being transmitted by the cameras.
3. Be user-friendly and quick to respond.
4. Be affordable.

Like I said, I got lucky! I know ... Why not use different cameras? Because three of the cameras were mega-pixel units. This means high resolution over a very wide area. It meant putting cameras in three locations as opposed to seven. It meant French. One of the cameras was an ultra-low-level, B/W intensified analog unit. It was analog only because, to date, I couldn't find a digital unit that was small, compact, under $8,000.00 USD, and had a sensitivity below .000005 Lux. I was stuck. This meant that I needed an analog to digital converter (switch). Minor, but another language ... German. The last set of cameras were a new IP series with general attributes. However, the manufacturer that I originally wanted to work with did not offer a small, vandal proof dome unit yet, so I had to pick up Drunken English.

The final step was to pry the original software solution from my clients, tightly clenched fist. They liked the original; they had tested it; they felt comfortable with it. The idea of a new software, by a newer kid on the block, for their still-newer concept was a hard nut to crack. However, once presented, the nut crumbled and the client went forward to the digital world of CCTV.

Overall, the above doesn't sound so bad. Of course not. That's because I didn't speak about hardly anything, at least nothing inside of the process of investigation and questions. I didn't speak about the process of verification of application requirements. I just gave you a nice story to demonstrate that not all software controlling systems can manage all cameras. We have stepped back 20 years for a higher level of controller. I am not complaining, just warning you.

The second situation followed directly on the heels of the first. Now I found myself with a group of highly educated individuals, each with their own speciality, each with their own agenda, each with a potential chunk, of a very large pot of bond money. This group was working with a fully digital or IP solution for 100-plus locations. They had in place: the Contractor, IT manager, Police, Service Group and of course, the money. The first problem here was that each was speaking a different language and each group had a fully different idea about what this system would be able to deliver after the fact. The second problem was that they had put their idea out to the world for suggestions and ended up with about 30 or so proposals for complete system management and equipment from 30 different manufacturers and/or their representatives. In some cases, as many a five different people responded with the same product. What a mess. The third problem was that these folks did not know about the design process for CCTV and went straight for the cart. They didn't know that you should plan your route and pick your horse before you jump into the cart. How could they know? It wasn't their job. They were being trained on the run, by folks with limited understanding of the process of CCTV design and big designs on the money. They were about to fall off the side of the mountain when someone (blush) suggested that they get a horse and pick a route right away.