Navigating the Web of IP Video Offerings

The IP-based video surveillance realm can seem like an enchanted fairytale with its promise of force multipliers, better resource management and improved security. There is much potential all right, but challenges abound too. Discover how your campus can successfully make the transition.

Published: December 31, 2006

Time waits for no one, and the time of Internet protocol (IP)-based video surveillance has arrived. Campus police, security management, administrators and IT departments can no longer wait to start learning about this technology.

The need for sophisticated video analytics and the ability to quickly share real-time data over IP-based surveillance systems is attracting a lot of attention. But hold on. Hype and significant practical and technical challenges can and should compel campuses to prepare extensively before going down the road of IP security video. It can be tough at times to grasp the reality amid the frenzy of conflicting messages.

To make sense of it all, Campus Safety magazine engaged several IP video industry experts to interpret this sea change. What follows are frank answers to pressing questions such as: What technologies are realistically deployable now, and which ones show promise for the future but aren’t quite ready? How long will hybrid systems prove viable for hospitals, schools and universities?

Transition Has Already Begun for Some Campuses

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Undoubtedly, a migration from analog video to digital IP-based solutions is occurring. Advances in camera and surveillance technology and increased campus security concerns are fueling the propulsion. “IP video is the future of security video globally,” says Joe Freeman, CEO of J.P. Freeman Co., a market research firm for the security industry. This will be especially true, he says, for “large organizations in which the cost of operating a security program is a concern, along with the desire to achieve more remote control.”

Hospitals that are in the process of expanding, for example, are just one type of organization suitable for network video solutions. “A healthcare facility may have a requirement to open up a bunch of clinics,” says Rob Morello, senior product manager for digital systems for Clovis-Calif.-based Pelco. “History has shown that a lot of those remote clinics get really entrepreneurial in their implementation of security. They have five clinics with five different systems.”

Needless to say, managing that many different systems can be difficult. Morello says the solution could be for the organization to leverage a wide area network (WAN), which would allow for control of not only the local campus but also remote facilities.

Universities too, are discovering the benefits of network video, and not only in security applications. At stadium events, IP video can help with crowd control and traffic flow around concession stands. An IP system’s ability to centrally monitor live and recorded video via a Web client is also quite appealing. Campuses, both large and small, find it handy to view key activity areas in real-time.

Additionally, the distributed and scalable nature of some of these systems makes them attractive. “With a distributed approach, we can deal with the idiosyncrasies of campus growth,” says Morello. This approach allows a system to expand with different components and feature sets, depending on the needs of the hospital, school or university. “They don’t have to predict what kind of storage requirements and real estate they’re going to have to commit to on the front end,” he adds. “Because the system is distributed, we can use a closet in any facility.”

For many larger organizations, then, the process of upgrading analog and legacy video systems has already begun or may be close to starting. But for other campuses, a question to ask is: How fast will wholesale change come to the type of security surveillance they need? Also, are they prepared to do business in the new frontier?

Changeover to IP Is Not Yet Embraced by Everyone

According to several experts, the IP video road forward is moving less like the autobahn in Germany, and instead, at times, something more akin to rush-hour traffic on a Los Angeles freeway.

“The harsh reality is that while there has been a gradual move from analog to digital, the move is very slow,” says Dr. Bob Banerjee, product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems Inc. in Fairport, N.Y. “If you’ve got a very small area, meaning that you have a small number of cameras [16, 32 or 64 units], then it is probably more appropriate to simply stick with a conventional digital video recorder [DVR].”

For smaller campuses as well as multicampus environments, bandwidth issues can be significant hurdles to deploying IP video. Both large and small organizations may have network infrastructures that need upgrades to handle the heavy load required by video. Even newer backbones can, at times, find the amount of video being transmitted overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are numerous technologies that can help to overcome these challenges. Local/dispersed storage is one option. Compression also reduces the amount of bandwidth consumed. Video analytics, which will be discussed later in this article, can also be used to moderate the amount of traffic.

Hybrid Systems Help Ease Migration Process

Before a campus’ video system goes completely IP from analog, however, there are many solutions available to bridge the gap. A common misconception exists in the IP video space that suggests a security camera system must be all IP or all analog. The reality is there are appropriate applications for each technology, and sometimes a system needs to be designed as a hybrid.

For those campuses looking to slowly transition from an analog to IP system, there are many manufacturers that provide these types of solutions. “The capability to integrate existing fixed and pan/tilt/zoom [PTZ] cameras into an IP backbone is attractive to campuses because it allows the customer to keep their existing investment, such as their field equipment,” says Cindy Downing, global accounts manager, education for Honeywell Integrated Security based in Louisville, Ky. According to Downing, her company’s hybrid solution means that, “Only the head-in equipment would need to be replaced, which significantly reduces costs.”

IT Personnel Must Participate From the Beginning of a Project

For those campus police or public safety agencies wishing to adopt IP or hybrid video solutions, it is important to involve the IT department at the onset of the planning process. Increasingly, as the IT folks assume more decision-making responsibilities, they will have the ability to quash any proposed solution.

Because the IT realm is for the most part standards based, its personnel often are concerned about proprietary systems being deployed on their networks. Although these types of solutions are sometimes necessary, the more a system relies on them, the greater the chances it will have interoperability issues.

Still, open standards have their drawbacks. Pelco’s Morello advises campuses to keep a balance between open source and proprietary systems. “The more proprietary the solution is, the fewer the phone calls the end user or integrator needs to make if there is a problem,” he says. “The more open an architecture and the more vendors involved, the more probability there will be pointing of fingers.”

A well-trained integrator can be extremely helpful in achieving the proper balance and marrying the disparate systems so they can work together.

New Technologies Promise Greater Efficiencies, Security

Integrators can also help campuses make decisions regarding new, unfamiliar technologies.

One particular aspect of security video that has received a lot of attention lately has been video analytics. With any type of surveillance operation, there usually are too many video streams for any individual to monitor all at once. Additionally, with remote feeds, it may be unnecessary for all or a most of the footage to be transmitted to a central location for viewing.

Video analytics or content analysis uses software to identify footage of events that deserve further scrutiny. Images that are not “tagged” are not streamed to the central location for viewing by security personnel. This reduces the amount of bandwidth used by the video system.

Experts rec
ommend, however, this technology be deployed with the assistance of a trusted integrator that can determine if video content analysis is truly appropriate for the specific application. Still, most in the IP video manufacturing world, believe its future is promising.

Streaming Video to Mobile Products Is Still a Challenge

Campuses should also not forget about mobile video and its potential. Many would like for campus vehicle laptops and foot or bike patrol PDAs to be able to view streaming real-time video taken by fixed and mobile security cameras. Still, many believe its practical application isn’t quite there yet.

“[Streaming video to a mobile PC or PDA] is entirely possible,” says Joe Martin, senior business development manager for Panasonic’s Toughbook Arbitrator line of mobile video products. “It’s dependent on what kind of infrastructure you have wirelessly. Most campuses I would think are going to a private 802 or data infrastructure, and I highly recommend that. Right now the public wireless carriers, such as Sprint, Verizon and Cingular, tout they can stream video over the network, but I don’t think they are really ready for that huge bandwidth. That’s a lot of data.”

Still, despite these limitations, mobile video has its place on campus, especially when one considers the fact that it provides protection from nonmeritorious lawsuits. (Complete coverage of mobile video technology will appear in the next issue of Campus Safety.)

Overall, hardwired and wireless networks are going to become more prevalent and cheaper as time goes by. Additionally, video compression methods will improve, requiring less bandwidth.

Soon, the type of streaming video campuses only dreamed of a few years ago just might become reality after all. For campuses with robust networks, they are already experiencing the benefits. Will you be prepared?

                      Rodney Bosch is a contributor to Campus Safety magazine and can be reached at rodney.bosch@bobit.com.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine and can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

For the unabridged version of this article, please refer to the January/February 2007 issue of Campus Safety Magazine. To subscribe, go to https://www.secure-mag.com/CSM_Subscribe/.

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