The Essential Elements of An IP-Based Video System

With the transition to IP-based systems comes a whole new set of concerns and challenges related to system design, integration and budgeting. This article examines the elements of a successful IP-based video system and suggests approaches to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the pitfalls when adopting the newer technologies.

Without question, the primary basis of a successful networked video system is the network itself. Proper network requirements are essential, and an adequate network enables users to sustain defined video performance parameters. For example, a single, uncompressed, real-time video signal from one megapixel camera can require up to 21 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth. Even with the latest compression algorithms, a real-time signal will absorb almost 1.5 Mbps. Similarly, motion detection features may also affect bit rates and bandwidth usage. In any event, most implementations require a minimum of 4CIF resolution for reasonable quality, and the network has to accommodate the resulting bandwidth needs.

A comprehensive audit of the existing network backbone will help determine what cabling upgrades may be required. Because most network cameras (fixed) support PoE, installation of these cameras on a single Cat-5e cable can reduce installation costs. An in-depth review of the network topology will also reveal any configuration and performance alterations that may be required. This type of upfront preparation helps ensure implementation success and lessen the number of problems after the system becomes live.

Even with a seemingly large bandwidth size such as 100 Mbps, aging network infrastructure sometimes cannot accommodate the image resolution, size and transmission rate of digital video. Almost 50 percent of the bandwidth is lost to system overhead, leaving only about 54 Mbps for video, data and voice. High-bandwidth applications such as surveillance require a dedicated network. This includes separate paths for recording and viewing as well as dedicated storage area networks and/or IP subnets, to enable scalability and ease of management.

Developing a dedicated IP-based video surveillance system additionally involves other network devices, such as network switches, servers, virtual matrices, encoders and so on. These devices drive the video network. For example, the network switch isolates processes so that bandwidth is more guaranteed. Unlike conventional switches, the network switches used in digital video allow proper camera, recording and viewing requirements to match safe levels of bandwidth capacity.

Once a network is established, it can be expanded with cost efficiencies as each component in the system can be set up, operated and monitored independently. Some advantages include devices that can be monitored at multiple locations and not restricted to the single pointto- point of coaxial cable.

Compression levels can be changed to match system limitations. Access to the system via user names and passwords can be achieved from any point on the dedicated network using standard TCP/IP so that any networked computer can be used as a viewing and operation center. Standardization of databases and protocols also allows for interaction and interfacing with other security components such as access control.

Ensuring Smooth Operation
While IP systems have great convergence possibilities, the expertise of a system integrator is needed to research and test various vendors' products prior to installation.

Standardization of key technology applications can help create simpler, more robust systems that are easier to maintain, upgrade, expand and manage. This standardization can be driven by an owner-established requirement, generally accepted industry standards or the system integrator's own internal controls.

Industry efforts, such as the ONVIF and PSIA, are starting to emerge. In the near future, more video surveillance systems will also likely use the HD standard, which currently makes consumer products plug-and-play. Users now expect open technologies that can be integrated into a total system, and suppliers are working to meet that expectation with APIs, SDKs and strategic partnerships to ensure easier integration of products from various vendors. The user is, thus, not locked to a single vendor.

As networking continues to gain traction for video surveillance, the demand for higher levels of integration with related systems such as access control and PoS systems continues to grow. A system integrator's expertise in these technologies can help establish parameters for a new system build or existing system revision to maximize interoperability and lower the TCO.

Matching System Size to User Needs
Project size is an important consideration and often determines whether a video system should use its own network or share the building/enterprise network. In either case, the network infrastructure must be matched to the needs of the system, be it small-, mid- or large-scale.

System integrators can help bridge the gap between the client's internal staff — most commonly the physical security and IT teams — by identifying critical issues and designing a solution that meets the needs of both. The nature of that IT/security interface is often dependent on project size; larger installations are more likely to have more stakeholders involved, which complicates the picture. At issue might be a separate and dedicated network for video surveillance and securitybased systems, or the segregation of programming and operational functions between the two disciplines. For example, some clients may require that the IT staff control all network-related aspects, and that security management controls all functions related to surveillance, access control and intrusion detection systems.

Any product on a network must be properly connected and managed, and the responsibility for this lies initially with the system integrator. Because security and surveillance implementations provide information and data and the network is the means of transferring, accumulating and storing that data, a collaborative approach from the system integrator helps ensure the best possible solution. Working with security and IT management, the system integrator designs, delivers and supports a sustainable security system that fits with the client strategy.

Training is always a big issue, and it is especially critical for a market in transition. End users need to be able to depend on their integrators to have a working knowledge of the latest technologies, and to be able to interface knowledgeably with corporate IT professionals who are now part of the integration process. A crucial step in planning an IP-based surveillance system is to find an IT-centric system integrator with network knowledge and experience. End users involved in smaller installations are less likely to have expertise available in-house, which makes the system integrator's role all the more important.

IP-based systems provide expanded capabilities compared to those offered by analog technology, but it takes greater technical knowledge on the part of the integrator to deliver the highest system functionality. Part of system flexibility is the ability to be attentive to a seemingly endless stream of variables related to system design and installation. Ensuring that the various elements on an IP-based system are in place can maximize the capabilities of networked technologies.

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