Access control has been offered in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for years and is not limited to installation size. Video surveillance is a different story. Bandwidth and storage limitations have plagued IP-based video, and with managed or hosted services, these issues become more prominent.
Generally, software-as-aservice (SaaS) works well for smaller facilities, but if users require more than eight cameras, on-site infrastructure is needed to manage bandwidth and storage, said Steve Roskowski, CEO of Viaas.
Vendors are careful not to over advertise, and most agree that users should connect no more than four cameras to an Internet connection per site. "If users need more than four cameras, we integrate with DVRs or NVRs, though this means that the system is then subject to all the problems of traditional systems such as maintenance, repair and replacing hardware, and so on," said Steve Van Till, President and CEO of Brivo Systems.
Van Till continued, "It's not a global limitation on bandwidth — we're using data centers that have gigabits worth of fiber optic connectivity. The limitation is imposed by the ISP that goes out to each connection, via cable, DSL and so on. Depending on when the facility was provisioned and how old the technology is in that area, the bandwidth available is not something we can control for."
Using fewer than four cameras and normal network connections like cable or DSL is reliable and yields good quality real-time footage.
Other experts claim standard DSL or cable connections do not limit a system to four cameras if configured properly. "Video analytics, edge devices and new compression algorithms can help with bandwidth limitations," said Bill Bozeman, President and CEO of PSA Security. "Most of the time you aren't going to be sending video at 30 fps over 10 or more cameras on a DSL line. You just need to stream the important footage and the rest of the time you don't have to stream at all."
Normal specifications are anywhere from 5- to 30-fps for four cameras on any box, at either CIF or D1 resolution, said Alan Avidan, President of OzVision. Other experts have pegged 15-fps recording for standard Wi-Fi cameras in the home.
A system typically records once motion is detected. Once recorded, footage will be uploaded to the remote site, which normally takes a couple seconds, said Fredrik Nilsson, GM of Axis Communications. Fluid video can be viewed once uploaded. If users have sufficient bandwidth, they can watch it in real time.
Some vendors are codec-specific, which allows for better bandwidth partitioning. "We typically run a full D1 video stream at 300 kilobits per second (kbps), while most cameras are much closer to 800 kbps," Roskowski said.
Video is data-intensive, and users must choose to store video on-site or off-site. Even with good compression, the system still has footage from multiple locations streaming over various networks to a single location.
Ideally, users would not worry about hardware devices as the service would store their video at data centers. In reality, many users opt for backup storage on-site. On-site options include using secure digital (SD) memory cards. More cameras feature built-in storage, so users can choose to purchase SD cards that can store several days of footage, Nilsson said.
The SD card can be built into the camera or exist in an external local device. OzVision developed a hosted video recorder, which is essentially an encoder with an SD card that can administer analytics as well as store footage, Avidan said.
Off-site solutions typically involve NAS servers housed in data centers. Stringent measures are taken to protect these servers, including layers of redundancy such as RAID-6 configurations, Avidan said. Each rack has backup servers, which can be housed at multiple locations.
Using both on-site and off-site storage will allow more cameras at a given installation without constraining bandwidth. Servers off-site can record at a lower resolution, whereas high resolution recording would be stored locally on the NAS, said Brian Lohse, Director of Business Development at Secure-i.
Current integration capabilities are still basic. Hosted or managed video and access control services can be integrated for functionality, either under a single vendor or through partnerships.
Partnerships require server-to-server communication, where vendors must negotiate between protocols, and software development is done in tandem. "This means that engineers from both companies must sit down to share and fill in the gaps across each other's software," Avidan said. Procedurally, this is a time-consuming setback.
Integration with other systems, such as mass notification and intrusion detection, is at a "sharing of information" stage, Avidan said. However, vendors are working tirelessly to move to "sharing databases" in the future, merging into a single, seamless system.
One problem today is integration lacks openness with different camera models or access control edge devices and panels. Only a handful of network camera providers are suited for hosted video applications, and analog cameras require encoders from an equally small pool of manufacturers.
Megapixel cameras are not considered to be SaaS-compatible in the near future. "There is simply too much data for almost any ISP connection," Van Till said. The limitations indicated now may be few and far between, but as megapixel technology is more widely adopted, SaaS vendors will be compromised if unable to keep up with technology trends.
SaaS is based on the plug-and-play concept of devices automatically detecting the server, when it is traditionally done the other way around. This means not all hardware manufacturers are qualified to accommodate SaaS, which requires devices to actively seek the data center and eliminate the need for IT involvement. "Ninety percent of our customers never have to get an IT department involved," Van Till said.
To this end, a prerequisite for integration partnership is made on a product basis. Rather than integrating on-site by project, SaaS vendors often ensure that a potential partner's products will not be bogged down by IT configurations and requirements before signing on, Van Till said.