In the past, upgrading and expansion of sites meant huge changes in the control room, including increasing monitors, guards, cabling and so on, which often resulted in capacity limitations. A&S discusses how the available technology today makes for smoother transitions during multiple site expansion.
Now, however, with IP-based solutions available and, provided that the system architecture is sophisticated and up-to-date, there is no need to make substantial changes in the control room when expanding the system, said Per Johansson, Senior Product Manager for Southeast Asia, Bosch Security Systems. This does not mean expansion and upgrading are easy.
A proper design of a multisite solution should ensure that the upgrade process for individual sites within the formation is independent of one another. It should not require a simultaneous upgrade of all sites, as that would mean immense downtime in the entire formation, and efforts to coordinate maintenance operations would be huge, said Barak Israel, Product Manager of Nice Systems. It is difficult enough to set a downtime period in a single site, let alone a complete multisite, which can include dozens of different sites located in different time zones, Israel continued.
For expansion, customers require migration to a new system to be seamless, with the existing system running until the new system is ready for the switchover. It might be simply replacing the video surveillance equipment in the control room, or it could require a new, bigger control room with proper IT and storage facility setup. In either case, for minimum downtime, there will be a need to prepare the new system in parallel, while ensuring the existing system remains operational, Johansson said.
In simple terms, there is a transition period where dual technologies are being run, which potentially means dual outputs within the control room. This situation is frequently driven by the end user looking to reduce capital outlay during the upgrade, and while on short term, it is cheaper to keep the existing system running for as long as it is practical, seamless integration is restricted until you do bite the bullet, said Stuart Gilbert, Security Sales Leader of EMEA and India, Honeywell Building Solutions.
System switchover must be well-planned and communicated to all involved parties across the organization, including stakeholders and IT and safety departments. With proper planning, the required facilities, tools, system interface and communications within house or external parties can be located within the control room and, if required, a disaster recovery site provided, Johansson said.
Physical limitations, resulting from the sheer number of required displays, can be daunting, said John Centofanti, National Sales Manager, Security Systems, Americas, Panasonic System Solutions Company. To solve this, during expansion, rather than increasing the number of monitors for however many cameras added, rear projection video walls or displays are much more flexible and provide a better fit for continuous usage. While many consumer-grade displays provide cost-effective alternatives, typical "TV" monitors were not designed for 24/7 usage and will often suffer from issues ranging from image burn-in to fast image quality degradation and high failure rates, said Robert Wu, Senior Director of Market Strategy at Barco. Display solutions help reduce the amount of downtime and improve the overall TCO (including saving on power and cooling). Finally, to accommodate space restrictions in existing buildings, front access rear-projected display cubes are best for 24/7 applications. In truly tight spots, however, specialized LCD panels can be used — the key is not to have static images displayed on the same area for too long a period, such as maps, borders, timestamps, camera IDs and so on, Wu said.
For display flexibility, major areas include customizing views, viewing different inputs and sharing views. Consider a traditional control room full of monitors, each displaying one camera image feed from a matrix switch. At anytime, regardless of situation, the size of the content being displayed is fixed. During an emergency, perhaps only a handful of the images are relevant, resulting in wasted display space. With controllers placed between the matrix switch and monitors, individual images may be resized to span across multiple displays to create a better and more detailed view, Wu said.
Physical limitations, resulting from storage media capacities and the physical footprint these devices can occupy, have been a longstanding issue, Centofanti said. With added sites, onsite storage gets crowded and increases energy usage, which could mean more investment in air conditioning as storage banks need to be kept cool, Gilbert said. One way to solve this is to take the stored hub data and store it at the central site, but this can be costly and not in every user's budget.
Cost and Interoperability
Corporations need solutions built for the real world. They must look to deploy open, future-proof solutions that easily integrate with existing systems and eliminate the need to "rip and replace," said Rafi Bhonker, VP of Worldwide Marketing and Sales at Orsus. "One of our clients, for example, was faced with an unexpected merger that required security operations to find a way to integrate a handful of new, unrelated sites."
With old buildings that have existing infrastructure, adding new devices to buildings means multiple technologies. It may be difficult because sometimes users already have analog systems and want new bits added to become IP. This means different transmission streams, recording media, storage racks and so on. "None of this is technically difficult, but it comes down to cost," Gilbert said. "Another challenge for integration is protocol. A lot of integration is happening, but this doesn't mean you can integrate with everyone." There has to be a degree of willingness to allow this to happen, especially with analog systems.
Rarely can customers, even under normal credit conditions, afford to replace a system outright. Modern multisite solutions, therefore, have to provide interfaces to traditional legacy equipment as a smooth convergence point with new equipment — essentially hybrid solutions, Johansson said. Running systems in parallel has also been a big problem in multisite central control rooms without a management station capable of supporting legacy. More and more video vendors are already supplying support equipment such as hybrid DVRs or multichannel encoders to help bring legacy analog into the IP domain, said Neville Miles, VP, Systems and Products, Security Solutions, Siemens Building Technologies. This will make sure video streams are available where they are needed and help spread out the cost, over time, of moving to a full IP solution.
Choosing management stations for central command rooms with comprehensive operator privileges and partitioning, then carefully planning workgroups and access rights is imperative to make sure organizations meet legal obligations in managing data. In terms of uptime and high availability, systems without this functionality should not be deployed in multisite applications, Miles cautioned.
Evolution under Way
Multisite surveillance is a natural evolution — once the industry has matured and reached reliable IP infrastructure, multisite surveillance will be the next step. Already in other areas of the IT world, be it TV over IP networks, voice over IP, storage and data solutions, virtualization and so on, multisite technology is common, said Udi Segall, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Nice Systems. The infrastructure, therefore, is well and truly ready for additional video surveillance services.
It is, however, a phenomenon that requires all bits and pieces of the surveillance puzzle to fall into place — bandwidth, display, storage, image resolution, network protocols, integration, cost and so on — before it can become a momentous and widespread trend. At present, multisite monitoring is a technique which should only be used where operationally feasible.