Internet Protocol (IP) video is security technology's new frontier. It offers new functionality, extends enterprise command and control, and economizes on installation costs. While roughly 80 percent of the surveillance cameras on the market are still analog, the world is heading toward full IP. The question is: Are you ready?
The question confronting organizations is how to migrate sensibly from analog to IP. They are looking for a migration path that does not force them to abandon existing investments in analog technology, but that does not prolong their commitment to it either.
IP devices have many benefits, first among them cost. Cost savings begin with infrastructure. A length of Cat-6 cable costs up to 50 percent less than a bundle of coaxial cable, fiber, audio wire, control wire, alarm input wire, relay output wire and power cable. If a security director wants to wire a new building or a new section of the building, it is almost always more financially advantageous to use Cat-6 with UTP conversion devices. If installed equipment uses power over Ethernet (PoE), the savings are even more substantial.
Once the IP local area network (LAN) is in place, it is easy and inexpensive to install or relocate equipment. Cameras can reside anywhere on the LAN as they require no special wiring or programming. The technology is plug-and-play. Benefits go beyond cost savings, however. Digital video technology can deliver exceptional image resolution. Security directors have the flexibility to choose from several megapixel rates and formats.
IP cameras also integrate far more easily with other devices on the LAN than analog cameras. Most of today's security technology resides there: motion detectors, panic buttons and access control devices. Building controls, voice, data and business applications all reside there as well. Integration among these systems enable exciting new applications. For example, if a breach triggers an alarm, a security director might be able to locate the breach on the building automation system's floor plan and stream video to the closest officerˇs PDA or cellular phone.
IP pushes the boundaries of enterprise command and control. When security footage is available anytime, anywhere over the Internet, it becomes possible for a central command center to assume primary responsibility for monitoring a remote site.
Ready to Migrate?
Regardless of its benefits, evaluating whether or not to begin migrating to IP requires sober planning. The security director must weigh the pros and cons of IP equipment in the context of his organization. There is an expression in the United States: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It may be trite, but it contains a valuable nugget of wisdom. If an organization's analog infrastructure performs well, secures facilities adequately, will continue to meet projected needs for the foreseeable future, and has a lifespan that extends out another 10 or more years, there is little need to replace it.
Thus, the decision whether to migrate begins with a simple needs analysis. What are the current needs? How will those needs change in the future? If a security director answers yes to any of the following statements, it is time to start down the road to IP:
- My existing cameras do not meet my current needs.
- My existing cameras are reaching the end of their useful life.
- I will be expanding my network of cameras to provide additional cameras.
Hybrid: The Path to IP
Fortunately, migrating to IP does not mean abandoning existing investments in analog equipment. A hybrid system represents the most feasible path from analog to IP. The key to successful hybrid installations is to seize every opportunity to advance toward digital as occasion arises. Organizations should install Cat-6 cable when wiring new sections or constructing new facilities. They should purchase new IP cameras instead of analog whenever feasible.
Not every security installer/integrator has acquired expertise with IP equipment. Migrating to IP may mean shopping for a new technology partner. A good security integrator will get involved early in the planning process, acting as a consultant in identifying current and future security needs. If the integrator has expertise across the entire spectrum from analog to hybrid to IP, he can recommend a solid migration plan tailored to the organization. The plan will make a business case for migration, identifying new investments' cost advantages as well as the new functionality they provide.
The information technology (IT) department should also be engaged. IP equipment resides on a standard network. Security equipment may or may not share infrastructure with voice, data and other systems depending on bandwidth constraints. Either way, the IT department will likely have an ongoing role in servicing and maintaining the infrastructure backbone on which new IP cameras reside.
Meanwhile, it is not necessary to tear out existing analog cabling either. Select DVRs can convert received video to digital. Then video analytics and security management software can make use of all the organization's surveillance video regardless of whether an analog or IP camera captured it or whether a LAN or coaxial cable carried the signal to the DVR.
Organizations rightly worry that migrating to IP video will force them to abandon their investments in analog infrastructure and equipment. An experienced integrator can help them adopt a hybrid strategy that allows analog and IP equipment to coexist seamlessly within a single facility. Done correctly, the hybrid approach enables a gradual, deliberate and sensible migration from analog to IP. It delivers new functionality while conserving costs.