Video/Networking: Generic vs. Application-Specific Surveillance Solutions

Feb. 10, 2012
What's the difference between generic and application specific surveillance?

When it comes to configuring surveillance solutions, it all comes down to one important factor— customization. Like humans, each surveillance environment is unique and as such it’s vital to equip each end user with an overall solution tailored for their needs. And that is where ‘application-specific’ solutions come to play.

In the surveillance market, I always see discussions on the best IP cameras or how to utilize the cloud in surveillance, but I rarely see anyone addressing the issue of ‘generic’ systems and ‘application-specific’ systems. But it’s something that needs to be addressed to both the integrator and the end user, especially in the buying process.

What’s a generic solution?

As the name suggests a generic solution is, well, generic. With generic systems, there is often a limitation on the system’s abilities in the surveillance environment. One common restriction is scalability. When end users are in search of a surveillance solution, we (for the most part) think about their requirements for today, but it is just as vital to define what they might need for the future. This may be a problem for generic solutions, where the system is not optimized for the typical surveillance environment.

Common upgrades like replacing old cameras with high megapixel units or adding to the overall quantity might be too much to handle for a generic system that is not built or tested to withstand high levels of video streams. If that’s the case performance may be negatively affected, forcing the end user to either deal with performance issues or take out their wallet and purchase another video storage unit.

Another big difference between generic and application-specific is that generic solutions handle mostly read-applications. In traditional IT environments, data servers and storage are mostly utilized for reading purposes like retrieving archived files or other important resources. This, in general, does not fare well with surveillance where camera streams need to be not only be read, but written to on a continual basis.

What’s an application-specific solution?

That brings us to application-specific surveillance solutions. With a focus on understanding the environment requirements and the particular applications utilized, application-specific solutions are optimized for the surveillance conditions. In general, these solutions deal with two main factors that ensures system compatibility and high performance: optimization and testing.

Optimization is a key component in building a surveillance system, especially in the IP market. The video management software (VMS), cameras and video storage need to work together seamlessly to manage the environment appropriately. With that said, it is vital that the video storage unit be optimized to handle the number of camera streams. I mentioned before that camera streams need to be ‘written’ on a continuous basis, which means as new video footage is generated it needs to be written on the local storage disk. And although generic systems are able to write, they are not optimized to deal the levels of video writes that need to be stored. This is what differentiates application-specific solutions from any other solution. It is able to not only handle the amount of video writes onto the local hard drive, but it does it in a way that is efficient and can be retrieved on the fly.

In conjunction to optimization, constant testing is an essential component in developing high quality surveillance solutions. Testing various VMS and cameras onto a storage system in a variety of configurations are important in developing a benchmark on the limitations of a surveillance system. For example, if an end user needs a system that is able to administer sophisticated analytics and install 100 high-end megapixel IP cameras, it is up to the video storage to handle these complex requirements. And if the storage system is not tested vigorously to ensure compatibility, then the overall performance of the entire surveillance system is compromised.

Things to consider

As an integrator or a reseller in the surveillance market, there are a few things to consider when selling application-specific solutions; and it all centers around the end user. One is to understand and define their environment. Is the end user a small retailer that is more concerned with monitoring theft, or is it a big office that is interested in checking with their employees? Each end user’s circumstance depends on what surveillance equipment needed.

Which brings on the second consideration: Discovering the needs, expectations and limitations. This may be the most important factor to look for. Asking the end user what they are looking for in a surveillance system may be the determining factor from making the sale or not. With understanding their requirements and limitations (such as their budget, time constraints and area space) will direct you to a solution that will satisfy the customer at all angles.

Finally, figure out what the customer may need in the future. Will the end user need to upgrade the number of cameras in a few years? Or will they need 24-hour support? Questions like these keep you ahead of the game. With all this talk about generic versus application-specific surveillance solutions it’s important to keep in mind that you do not need to know everything about the mechanics of the systems. That’s what manufacturers are for.