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

Overall, as most folks are well aware there is a major revolution going on -- the move from analog to IP. I know this personally, because I have been promoting and fighting it for the past five years. Promotion from the perspective of the advantages of the whole idea of digital. Fighting it because of the unorganized lack of truth presented in the majority of the promotional hype surrounding it. The bottom line is that the more that I delve into this wondrous, newer technology, the more problems I tend to uncover. The deeper I look into the new, it's the broader the reflection of the old that I see. OK, that's a great philosophical opening to get your attention. So where do we go from here?

Over the past few weeks, I have bounced from one situation to another while in the middle of designing what should have been simple IP solutions. The first situation re-taught me a lesson that I learned 25 years ago. That lesson was this: "Not all controllers are compatible with all cameras. Equally, not all cameras are compatible to each other."

The second situation took me back 20 plus years ago as well. The lesson was that, "There is a process to the design of a CCTV system. It was developed within the analog era and will long survive the digital rush." Since I have always been a stickler for the process of learning through investigation, I have decided to take both lessons learned and turn them into a series about designing and managing IP solutions. The process will be built with a major emphasis on the theory of design and application. As we go, I will do my best to get technical without being boorish. Whom will these articles be written to? Designers, Sales people, Installers, IT Folks, Field Service Personnel, Security Directors and End Users. Why such a diverse crowd? Simple, I have yet to find a single group that could go the distance without the others. The sooner that everyone realizes and respects this fact, the sooner we will get past this phase of change between analog and digital.

In this particular column, I will concentrate on the situations that have led me to realize the need for the development of the series. This little recount of two separate situations should make a large majority of you feel less alone. For others, it may slow you down a bit and help you to become better IP developers ... I know that it has for me.

So what happened? The first situation was easy. I was asked to do a simple update and layout for an existing CCTV system. So I did. I added six visual positions to an existing five-camera system. I relocated three of the existing five cameras to present better angles of view. Overall, it was a very quick design that included about three field hours and two office hours to complete. Once finished, I took a good look at my design and decided to suggest that the client throw out the whole mess and take a serious look at a total IP solution. The client jumped for it. About 20 hours later, I had the start to the solution. Notice that I said the start to the solution. So why so much time? Surely, we were only looking at replacing some cameras, a recorder, and updating wiring, right? Wrong. The camera portion was fairly easy. After all, I already had all my notes from the analog portion ... purpose, lighting, lensing, and fields of view.

However, in the process of "going digital" with the cameras, I found myself having to do a bit more research than I intended. I didn't want to create a design that equipment couldn't match, so I jumped on the Internet, the telephone, and into a whole pile of specification sheets. Keep in mind, that after all these years, I still do not sell equipment. I also do my best to remain neutral for recommendations of manufacturers, so picking equipment from my limited awareness is not my developed forte. At any rate, I ended up having to use three manufacturers to come up with camera equipment that would meet the needs and requirements of the application.

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.

OK, the very next article in this column will go through the process of designing IP solutions. The how to's, the where to's and the what to's. After that, we will take one column for each process of the system and slowly, over the next few weeks, we will design a fairly in-depth IP solution. Will this make you an expert? Probably not. But it will open your eyes up and make your job easier and more profitable. See ya in a couple of weeks.

About the Author: Richard R. "Charlie" Pierce has been an active member of the security industry since 1974. He is the founder and past president of LRC Electronics Company, a full service warranty/non-warranty repair center for CCTV equipment. In 1985, Charlie founded LeapFrog Training & Consulting (Formally LTC Training Center), a full service training center specializing in live seminars, video-format certification training programs, plain language technical manuals and educational support on CCTV. He is an active member of: ASIS, ALAS, CANASA, NBFAA, NAAA and SIA. He is the recipient of numerous security industry awards, and is a regular contributor to Security Technology & Design magazine. Look for his columns to also appear regularly via SecurityInfoWatch.com and this website's e-newsletters.