Fredrik Nilsson is general manager of Axis Communications and an authority on IP surveillance.
Many security professionals believe that IP-based surveillance will not be able to meet the requirements of enterprise installations. The main reason given is usually the management and bandwidth required by the large number of network cameras. At an enterprise install, this could be anywhere from 50 cameras to several thousand cameras. With so many cameras, security professionals often begin to wonder how they will scale and administrate such a large camera system. Concerns such as degrading network quality with too much video traffic or managing firmware upgrades on each camera often take center stage and prevent enterprise-level installations from moving forward.
In reality, the larger the installation and the higher level of performance desired, the more competitive â€“ and impressive â€“ IP-based surveillance becomes. Because it is based on standard IT components, network video is inherently more scalable and flexible than analog systems, which are still largely based on proprietary technology. These IT standards make IP-based surveillance ideal for enterprise-level applications because they enable users to easily scale their networks to any size and reduce the amount of time required to maintain and monitor the system.
No Installation Too Big
One of the many advantages of IP-based surveillance is the scalability of the systems. Enterprise-level network video installations today regularly have 200 or more cameras. There are also several installs with thousands of cameras deployed in educational, governmental and retail environments. Such a large system would not be practical in the analog world.
Exactly how does IP surveillance technology accommodate so many cameras? The answer goes back to IP surveillanceâ€™s basis in IT networking. Just as e-mail systems can accommodate one user or thousands of users, so too can IP surveillance systems scale to handle thousands of cameras. Internet Protocol is the most common computer communication protocol today and is the basis for almost every newly installed network. One of the reasons it is so popular is scalability â€“ it works just as well in small installations as it does in very large ones.
Here are a few more reasons IP surveillance systems scale much more easily than their analog counterparts:
Incremental Increases: In network video systems, cameras can be added one at a time. DVR systems typically require cameras to be added in multiples of 16 or more, because of the number of inputs on a DVR. For example, if a site has a need for 17 cameras, then a second DVR box will need to be added, even though 15 of the ports will go unused.
Storage and Server Technology: As more cameras are added to a system, additional processing power and storage can easily be added with standard IT equipment. Servers, network attached storage (NAS) systems and storage area networks (SANs) are all reasonably priced and readily available off-the-shelf. Because network video systems are standardized with Internet Protocol, they will work with any other IP-based equipment, regardless of the vendor. This means that users will not be locked into a system from a single company, which is unlike most analog-based and DVR-based systems today.
Storage and server technology also makes it easy to back up network video systems. In fact, the servers used in IP surveillance systems are often the same as those entrusted to back up banking transactions.
Camera Intelligence: Traditional analog systems are much like mainframes from the 1970s. It creates an environment in which the centralized computing power is a scarce resource that compression, recording, video management and intelligent algorithms are all forced to share. This makes it difficult to operate any video system with more than about 20 cameras and severely limits scalability.
However, todayâ€™s network video systems build intelligence into the camera itself, revolutionizing video in much the same way that PCs revolutionized computing. With intelligence pushed out to the camera level, individual cameras can decide when to send video, at what frame rate and resolution, and when to send alarms. This means that users can set the camera to alert system administrators of unusual activity, for example, if movement is detected in a hallway at 3 a.m. on a weekend.
Camera intelligence also allows users to obtain more "actionable" information from their video. Intelligent video algorithms can be run at the camera level, instead of at the system level, creating an opportunity to run more advanced functions across a larger number of cameras. This makes it possible to manage and analyze video from hundreds of cameras.
Power: In an enterprise installation, network video systems are also easier to power than their analog counterparts. An IT standard called Power over Ethernet (PoE) is rapidly gaining ground in the security industry. PoE combines power and data into a single network cable, which eliminates the need for local power at the camera level and creates a simple, cost-effective solution for installing the network and power supply.
By using PoE, security professionals do not have to worry about installing power outlets at each camera location. In an enterprise application, this can save thousands of dollars in installation costs. It also means that cameras can be easily moved and that the security system can continue to operate even during a power outage, using backup power available in the server rooms.
Being a Better (Video) Manager
With so many cameras required in enterprise installations, security professionals often wonder how they can manage and administrate a system of that size. Fortunately, IP surveillance allows users a unique level of control over the system that analog systems do not.
For example, camera management software is available to simplify the administration of an enterprise network video installation. Camera management software can enable users to perform sequential or simultaneous firmware upgrades for multiple network video products and can be scaled to handle hundreds of network cameras and video servers. This allows users to manage cameras remotely without having to administer individual cameras. It also uses secure protocols to enable users to locate video products on a network, to set IP addresses and to show whether devices are reachable.
Most video management systems provide remote access to video via the Internet or a local area network (LAN). Security managers can also use the systems to control or limit other usersâ€™ access. This means that some users will just be able to view video, while others will be able to make administrative changes. Most video management systems are just as scalable as the cameras themselves, by providing support to an unlimited number of users, across an unlimited numbers of cameras and facilities.
In an enterprise installation, integrating network video with a broader security and surveillance system is often a necessity. Network video devices have an open application program interface (API), which makes it possible to integrate video with systems such as access control and intrusion detection devices from a wide range of manufacturers. Such integration is not easily done with an analog system.
For example, the Michigan State Police worked with Honeywell to design and install a security system for an off-site facility. For the installation, Honeywell integrated network video with its Digital Video Manager surveillance system and a Cisco fiber-optic network infrastructure. Because of the openness of the video system, Honeywell was also able to link the video with access control and intrusion detection data.
This integration allows video to be taken whenever an employee uses a proximity card to access restricted areas. Video of the person accessing the room can be matched against images of the actual cardholder, providing visual proof that the person using the card is authorized to do so. In addition, the Honeywell intrusion detection system notifies police when a door is left open, whether accidentally or otherwise, and the networked video technology allows them to determine whether a security breach has occurred.
When building a network video system with more than 50 cameras, IP-based surveillance has proven time and again that it is the easiest system to scale, manage and integrate. In fact, there is typically an easy solution for every concern regarding enterprise-level network video applications, which makes a compelling argument for the implementation of the technology.
About the author: As the general manager for Axis Communications, Fredrik Nilsson oversees the companyâ€™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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.