Bob Eskew RCDD, is the founder and chief executive officer of Automated Systems Design Inc. (ASD), Alpharetta, Ga.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of SD&I magazine
Network infrastructures are fast evolving, which means systems integrators must also evolve to keep pace. Numerous advancements in technology are affecting today’s network performance, including the transition from analog-based network infrastructures to digital Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructures. In addition, copper cables are losing ground to high-performance fiber optic cables and the decreasing cost and increasing reliability of wireless systems means many organizations are moving to wireless IP-based security systems instead of traditional wired networks.
Network infrastructures are also being impacted by the rapidly improving resolution of security cameras. IMS Research forecasts that by 2015 more than 70 percent of video surveillance network camera shipments will be megapixel resolution. At the same time the resolution of surveillance video cameras is increasing, more systems are being added to network infrastructures. As a result, outdated network infrastructures are struggling to keep up with demand.
As security and surveillance systems continue to become more dependent upon network infrastructures, they play an increasingly important role in the performance of security and surveillance systems. Without a reliable, robust network infrastructure, the performance of surveillance video is compromised.
Here are five best practices for efficiently and cost-effectively building a network infrastructure to support video surveillance now and in the future while maintaining peak network infrastructure performance.
Best Practice 1: Plan Ahead
Network infrastructure cabling often has a lifespan of 15 to 20 years or more, which is why it is important to plan ahead to prepare for network growth and future technologies. Are you planning on converting your analog system into an IP-based system? Will your network infrastructure transform into a wireless system over time? Is your system prepared for the fast growing influx of mobile devices? Considering all of these factors will help you create a long-term plan to maximize the lifespan of your network infrastructure and reduce costs associated with ripping and replacing technology prematurely.
Prepare for IP-Based Infrastructures
It is inevitable that network infrastructures are transitioning from analog to IP-based systems, but what is not so clear is how and when organizations plan to make the switch. Due to the recession, many companies are making it a priority to extend the life of existing analog systems while slowly upgrading to IP-based technology. With a little planning, it is possible to implement a hybrid analog-IP system to ease into the transition. This is a cost-effective way to upgrade your technology over time without breaking the bank.
Prepare for Wireless
The cost of wireless networks is decreasing and, at the same time, the security and reliability of wireless networks is increasing. Even mission critical systems, such as healthcare network infrastructures, are relying more heavily on wireless technologies.
This means wireless IP-based security solutions are more accessible than ever before, but proper planning must take place before making a transition to wireless. Before a wireless network is even installed, the existing network infrastructure may need to be upgraded to handle the pending wireless demand. Instead of making the necessary upgrades all at once, build a plan that relies upon incremental upgrades over time based on a realistic schedule and budget.
Prepare for Mobility
Is your network infrastructure prepared to handle the growing number of mobile devices accessing your organization’s shared network infrastructure? Even security professionals are using more mobile devices than ever before to connect remotely to secure virtual private networks to monitor video, manage card access and control locks in real-time, as well as access archived information on-demand. However, more access means more data is being pulled from the data center and this means today’s network infrastructures must be built with an eye toward the future to anticipate the ongoing influx of mobile-data traffic generated by mobile devices.
Best Practice 2: Prepare for Convergence
Convergence in the security and surveillance industry traditionally refers to integrating access control panels, video management systems, alarm sensors and the like into a cohesive IP-based solution to achieve system-wide interoperability of IP security devices. However, the best practice of convergence when it comes to network infrastructures involves assimilating all systems within an organization onto a common network infrastructure. In many ways, traditional security and access control departments have operated independently of various other departments within an organization, but the security and access control systems of today are no longer the only building system on the network.
Today’s network infrastructures support multiple systems from numerous departments on a common network that is managed by a single IT department. As a result, the security and access control department is being forced to share its network infrastructure with numerous other departments, including ventilation, lighting, power systems, communications and data technologies.
In order to successfully collaborate with other departments and systems on the network infrastructure, security professionals need to adopt the best practice of converging and integrating with non-security departments, as well as building a solid partnership with the IT department. Converging allows all systems to be viewed from a holistic perspective so the network infrastructure can be optimized to operate at peak performance.
Best Practice 3: Adopt an Open Standards Platform
Building a network infrastructure using an open, standards-based platform allows you to use the latest and greatest technology from multiple manufacturers instead of using the technology from a single manufacturer in an end-to-end system. Creating an open system also increases your bargaining power by allowing you to request quotes from multiple manufacturers for competitive bidding, whereas, if you purchase an end-to-end system, you are restricted to purchasing only a single manufacturer’s products. If you are already “spec’d in,” the manufacturer of an end-to-end system may not have an incentive to offer price breaks or discounts. With end-to-end systems, you may also run the risk of voiding warranty agreements if you install another brand of technology in the system.
Fortunately, cabling technologies are designed to be used in interoperable, open systems. All structured cabling manufactures must comply with cabling standards from Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek Group (ETL) and National Electrical Code (NEC), as well as the design and engineering standards of the EIA/TIA Commercial Building Wiring Standards, which means you are free to choose any brand of cable and components as long as it meets industry standards. The TIA’s Commercial Building Wiring Standard (TIA-568) was established to encourage interoperability by allowing diverse manufacturers the opportunity to build equipment and components that interoperate instead of mandating end-to-end systems.
Best Practice 4: Manage Bandwidth
One of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is managing bandwidth and surveillance video can exacerbate bandwidth challenges. Network infrastructures are continuing to become more capable of transmitting larger amounts of data; however, the resolution of security cameras is also increasing rapidly and continuing to test the limits of network infrastructures.
The bandwidth provided by Category 5e cables is already proving to be obsolete as demand for bandwidth continues to increase. In fact, Category 5e cables may no longer be recognized as a standard for horizontal cabling if proposed recommendations are approved for the TIA-942-A standard, which is expected to be finalized sometime in 2012. The bandwidth of a Category 5e cable is 87 percent utilized with gigabit Ethernet, which doesn’t leave much room for error. Though Category 5e may be capable of carrying gigabit Ethernet, these cables limit the future uses of an infrastructure, especially as it relates to surveillance video. Currently, Category 6 and Category 6a cables are the recommended standard, but fiber optic systems show the most potential for providing enough bandwidth and reliability at a low enough cost to meet bandwidth demands for the next decade, especially as the use of video increases. When possible, install one category of cable higher than your current needs to stay ahead of bandwidth demand.
Best Practice 5: Choose the Right Cables
Unlike the electronics used in network infrastructures that have to be upgraded every couple of years, your cable infrastructure is designed to last at least 10 years to accommodate three to four generations of electronics. For this reason, it is best to opt for high-performance cables that can handle the increasing need for speed and high-volume data transfers. High-performance cables also promote energy efficiency and have a long lifespan, which means fewer cables will be abandoned in the future. Abandoned cables not only mean excessive waste, but if left in conduits, they block airflow, resulting in increased heating and cooling costs.
Since all manufactures must adhere to the same cabling system standards, make your purchase decisions based on standards and not marketing hype. Consider the features and benefits that will best suit your needs. Also, purchase cable direct instead of purchasing cable through a multi-tier distribution channel to avoid unnecessary markups.
Building a network infrastructure for video surveillance takes preparedness, a keen eye to standards, open protocols and future thinking cabling and other connectivity. Done right, it’s an investment that is sure to pay off long term for the end user.