Thursday, March 4, 2010

System Redundancy

In my last post I started the argument that IP video surveillance, in general, has no real advantage over its older brother, analog CCTV systems. Pelco, Bosch, Panasonic, OnSSI, and most others are still using a server centric system, which leads me to the purpose of this post… system redundancy.

With more and more systems integrating with video surveillance and more and more facilities and security managers relying heavily on their video surveillance it is becoming essential to have some fail safes in place to keep the system up in case of failure. One of the critical components of this is the DVR/NVR. Most systems (named above) require the camera to talk the NVR. The video is recorded, analytics (motion recording is an analytic) is performed at the NVR, compression, user access, masking, audio integration, text inserting etc, is all performed at the NVR. But what happens when the NVR fails…? The entire system dies. The cameras cannot be viewed, nothing is being recorded, you’re dead in the water until some tech decides to make some time for you and charge you $250 per hour to replace a $60 power supply.

So, this is where a properly designed and implemented IP based video surveillance system comes into play. There are a couple of systems out there that have complete system redundancy. This is done on several levels and several different ways.

1.       Not server centric – a system that does not rely on the NVR to tell it how to work is the first step to reducing a single point of failure.

2.       Hardware Redundancy – most servers available today have redundant NIC and power supply options. NIC and power supplies are the most common part to fail on a server, other than the hard drive.

3.       Software Redundancy – this is a good feature, some video management systems allow a NVR to fail over to another NVR automatically. When a NVR fails it automatically sends the video feeds to a designated NVR to continue to record with no down time.

4.       Hard Drives – get a server with a video surveillance rated hard drive. Server grade hard drives are designed for heavy read activity, in a video surveillance application there is a whole lot more writing to the hard drive, this is what causes them to fail. There is now, video surveillance rated hard drives designed to have huge amounts of data written to them. Also, have a system with a RAID 5 (or some level of RAID, RAID 5 is preferred) with hot swappable hard drives. This allows for a hard drive to fail without losing the video and you will be able to replace the hard drive without  having to turn the system off.

These are just a couple of ways to build in redundancy into your video surveillance system. Again, a properly designed system is key to providing a system that will be operating when you need it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

CCTV No More!

CCTV, Close Circuit Television. This used to be (and still is) the most widely used descriptive word for video surveillance. Originally, that is what video surveillance was, cameras running to a central location being viewed on special monitors and at times having the video recorded. Then came the PC, video compression and capture cards and we entered the DVR age. Adding audio recording features, digital processing (which is supposed to be better… it’s not), alarm inputs and network connectivity.  Now the DVR age is coming to an end… IP Video Surveillance is all the rage with IP cameras, virtual matrix, megapixel, open platforms, NVRs… etc. Yet we still use CCTV to denote video surveillance. At first I would argue that we need to change how we describe video surveillance, however, if one were to take a hard look, beyond the flashy advertisements, glossy brochures, and the sales reps pitch, one will find that the truth is, it is still CCTV. It just now costs more… follow my thoughts if you dare.

Traditional CCTV systems connected first with a camera -> to a coax cable -> to either a multiplexer or matrix switch -> to a DVR or VHS for recording. The feed from the multiplexer and matrix switch goes than to the monitors. The only way to access the system, view the cameras or manage the video is by sitting at the DVR. The system is closed.

Now, we are in the technology age, IP Video Surveillance. We now have an IP camera -> to a CAT5  cable -> network switch -> to a NVR. Tell me, what is the difference from this and the system above? All we have done is change the mode of transmission from Analog to IP, from coax to CAT5 and instead of a DVR we now use a NVR (it is the same thing!). We now charge for software upgrades, licensing fees, and only have a small handful of cameras that can integrate with any given software package.

Yes, there is network connectivity, but that is performed the exact same way on both systems. The CCTV system is connected to the network, when a user wants to access the system, they log into it like they would log into a server on their network. Between Analog and IP CCTV systems there is no difference. I ask you, how is this different? What advantages are there to go to IP and yet continue to use this topology?

I like IP Video Surveillance, there are true advantages to it. But there are only a small handful of manufactures that are get it. So over the next couple of weeks I will attempt to describe what a TRUE IP, Video Surveillance system should look like.
-          System Redundancy
-          Distributed Topologies
-          Large Enterprise Deployments
-          Video Analytics
-          True Scalability
-          Service and support 

Monday, November 23, 2009

IP Video Surveillance

There is a lot of interest in IP video surveillance. Most all major manufactures have developed some form of an IP system, NVR (Network Video Recorder) and camera. However, there are a LOT of misconceptions with IP Video Surveillance.

I cannot tell you then number of horror stories I have heard with organizations that attempted to deploy IP video surveillance with integrators that did not know the difference between static and dynamic IPs. In other words, most of today’s CCTV integrators do not have the skills nor experience to properly install and implement an IP based video surveillance system.  As a result, the extra benefits that you should get for the extra cost for IP is not seen, In fact, most of the time it ends up being worst than an old MPEG2 DVR system.

The next couple of posts I am going to dedicate to IP Video Surveillance. As way of introduction I am going to start with the misconceptions of IP video surveillance. Please understand, I do think IP is the next generation of technology and over 90% of the projects we do are IP. However, there are several misconceptions that need to be addressed!

-          IP Video has better video resolution.
o   On the surface this does seem to be true. With the use of Megapixel cameras the resolution has improved, noticeably. However, for 98% of the projects I work on, megapixel cameras are not used. The reason, cost and bandwidth! They are more than double the price of a typical, hi end analog camera. Also, they require massive amounts of bandwidth which most networks would never be able to handle. In some applications they fit, but in most general surveillance environments they do not.
o   Other than the 2% that may use megapixel cameras, IP cameras typical do not have better resolution; in fact, most of them have lower resolution, due to compression, and image quality than their analog counter parts. The reason for this is manufactures have spent years and millions of dollars in developing the technology behind analog cameras. IP cameras have not quite caught up. I do see this changing which I will address in future posts.
-          IP Video has higher ROI (Return on Investment)
o   Again, this is a push by manufactures trying to push their products into the market. There is the ROI for having a system that is on the leading edge of technology, but what most manufactures do not tell you is, there are huge recurring, maintenance, software, licensing and service costs with their systems. I have seen some systems cost as much as $30,000 per year for software updates.
-          IP Video can sit on your existing network
o   If anyone tells you this, politely ask them to leave and never call them back. They have NO idea how IP works or the consequence of putting video onto your network. I watched a school go through this, they chose the lowest bidder and they installed the cameras on the network… and the network crashed! They are can hardly run 1ips without crashing the school’s network. This does not work!

These are a few of the misconceptions, there are more. As I continue I will address these issues specifically as well as provide a foundation for a proper system design.  

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tactical and Emergency Wireless

Tactical and Emergency Wireless is the most underused forms of wireless. We have yet to fully see and realize the potential of using wireless in both tactical and emergency applications. And when wireless is used, it is typically not deployed correctly or the wrong technology is used for the application. The advantages that are gained by a properly designed and deployed wireless system, vastly out way the investment.

Example: Active Shooter in a School.

A local high school has an active shooter. The shooter has hostages in one of the class rooms. The school is equipped with access control and video surveillance, both of these systems are connected to the schools LAN. However, only the Principle and Safety Officer have access to these systems from their desktop PCs, in their offices, on the school LAN.

A Mobile Command Vehicle is deployed and the local PD is starting to assess the situation. They discover that the school has access control and video surveillance but are unable to access either system because there is no way for them to get into the School’s LAN.

Solution, with proper planning and cooperation between the Security Consultant, PD and School a secure, wireless link could have been put in place to allow the local PD access to the schools security systems. The PD would have access to the access control system, allowing them to lock and unlock doors as needed as well as access to the video surveillance system allowing them to see what is happening within the school.

This is only one example; there are many applications for this. Banks, hospitals, colleges and retirement homes could also benefit from this type of technology.

As for tactical wireless, we have worked to develop mobile trailers with surveillance equipment, rapid deployment solutions using tripods and cameras as well as systems that are completely stand alone and have self contained power. Again the use for these systems are huge.

Wireless Technology has come a long way in the past 5 years and is continuing to advance. We have to fully see the benefits of this technology. The key is, proper design and implementation. One needs to make sure to partner with a Security Consultant that has extensive wireless experience. The investment has huge returns and benefits.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wireless Technology Part 2 - Mobile Wireless

First, for sake of clarification, what I mean by mobile wireless is this. Wireless devices mounted to cars, trucks and any other types of transportation used to transmit data, specifically video. Examples, video from an on board camera in a police car to the police station or video from a school to a mobile command vehicle.

I have seen a very large increase in interest for wireless download of video from police cars to the police station where a central video server is kept. On the surface this is a great use of wireless technology. In theory, an officer will pull into the police department’s parking lot with 8-12hours of fresh video and audio from his night shift. Once the car pulls in the on-bard video management system (VMS) links with the wireless network at the Police Department and automatically offloads the video to the server. Mean while the car is checked in, gassed up and prepped for the next shift. Once the day shift officer is ready, he jumps in the car and off he goes with a clean hard drive, ready for the next 12 hours of audio and video to be recorded. Great idea, great solution… right?

Let’s look at the math:
1 camera = 30FPS = 1800 FPM (frames per minute)

Continues recording, one 12 hr shift = 1,296,000 images per shift

Each image uses 5 kilobytes = 5000 bytes

5,000 bytes x 1,296,000 images = 6,480,000,000 bytes per shift

6,480,000,000 bytes = 6,480 Mb

6,480 Mb = 6.48 GB per car, per 12hr shift
- The mic will add 2Mb of data every minute. With two microphones in the car you will add 2,880Mb of audio = 2.88Gb

2.88 + 6.48 = 9.36Gb of audio and video per 12hr shift, per car

Note: transmission speed, or bandwidth, is measured in megabits per second, or Mbps, while our earlier calculation of file sizes were done using megabytes, or Mb.

1Mb = 8.3 Megabits

9,360Mb x 8.3 = 77,688 Megabits

Assuming perfect, test lab perfect environment (which is not reality) we can hope for 70Mbps.

70Mbps divided by 7 cars = 10Mps per car

Total time to upload 12hr shift = 2.2Hrs per car

The above numbers are only factored for a 7 car system. If your department has 30-40 cars, then the bandwidth is squeezed a lot more.

The short of this is, in reality this is not feasible.

The solution – there are many ways in which we can do this. First is lower the Frames per Second (FPS) of the cameras. In this application the customer wanted 30fps. One could cut the fps down to 7-3fps and save a lot. Second, have multiple receiving nodes on the building, allowing for multiple paths to the central server. This will eliminate the potential bottleneck and provide faster download time. Third option is to record video only on events, like when the lights are turned on, or when the officer hits a record button, this too would reduce the amount of video being transmitted.

Again, a properly designed system that fits the department’s needs could work. But under normal assumptions, wireless downloading of video from a vehicle is not too practical.

The other aspect of mobile wireless I want to address is one that no one, to my knowledge, has taken advantage of. With the increase in school shootings which has resulted in the increase of school security awareness there has been a lot of investment into schools security. But there is one small and very simple step that most schools are missing, cooperation with local law enforcement and emergency management. Yes, schools have basic cooperation in the form of liaison officers in the schools but what I am referring to here is another level.

Here it is… schools are putting in place advanced video surveillance and life safety systems. These systems offer better video quality and in some applications advanced video analytics. But these systems are still in the CCTV mind set. Let me explain, CCTV stands for Closed Circuit Television, which in its day was the way to go. But we live in the new IP world. Everything is on the network, eliminating the “closed circuit” part of video surveillance. But, with the implementation of IP and networkable video surveillance systems they are still being closed, not allowing for outside access. So… the answer is cooperation. By putting in place a node for a wireless mesh network in the school building and a node in a police car or mobile command vehicle, officers with the proper credentials will have the ability to access the video from within the school and be able to provide another level of support in the case of an actual event. This is a simple and a very low cost addition but one that is over looked way too often.

Yes there is a bit more to this than what I just laid out but the idea is there. By properly implementing wireless in mobile applications there are a lot of benefits. But in a lot of situations the system is either over sold or miss understood, resulting in less then desirable results. The key to this is to make sure that you are working with an integrator that understands wireless.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wireless Technology Part 1

There is a lot of talk and interest in wireless technology and how it relates to security. The security industry, for the most part, has embraced it. So in this post and those that follow I hope to provide some basic information that will aid you in the selection of a wireless solution and also help you determine if it is the right solution for your application.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on this topic.

Part 1 - Basics to Wireless
Part 2 - Mobile Wireless
Part 3 - Tactical and Emergency Wireless

There are three main types of wireless WiFi, Point-to-Point and Mesh. First we will look at the most popular, WiFi.

WiFi is best described as a 2.4GHz ambient wireless cloud that conforms to the 802.11 standard. This is typically used for applications involving mobile computing, sometimes referred to as “hot spots". A device called an Access Point is used to transmit this ambient wireless cloud that can be seen by almost all laptops as well as some smart phones and PDAs. Although this is typically used for mobile computing it has been used in some security applications. The only real benefit is that it is easy to set up. However, because WiFi is so widely used it poses substantial security risk as well as the signal quality and bandwidth throughput is difficult to maintain because it is very subjectable to interference.

The next form of wireless is Point-to-Point. This can be seen in four main frequency ranges, 900MHz, 2.4GHz, 4.9GHz and 5.8GHz. (I will provide more information on the difference of these frequencies in another post) Point-to-Point wireless is ideal in applications involving long distances, greater than 5 miles (unless using 900MHz, which can not transmit that great of a distance). Usually this type of wireless is used to form a back haul, that is to provide a main link from one device back to the main network. Point-to-Point wireless works well in an open environment with good Radio Line of Sight (R-LoS). Strong links can be formed with good throughput. The down side to this type of wireless network is that if one of the radios goes down, the entire link is dead. Redundancy needs to be built into the network.

Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) also known as Multipoint-to-Multipoint wireless network also works in the same main frequencies as the Point-to-Point Wireless. WMN is becoming a favored technology in security applications for several reasons, security, reliability through redundancy, throughput and ease of use. WMN can be very secure allowing for multiple levels of encryption. Most wireless devices such as laptops and PDAs are unable to detect these networks which provides an additional level of security. WMN also have built in redundancy. If the WMN is properly designed there will be redundancy, if a radio fails another radio in the network will pick up the link and continue to transmit the data, providing virtually no single point of failure. Like with Point-to-Point wireless, WMN also provides a lot of throughout, as much as 70Mbps in some applications. And of course, it is easy to use. Again with proper design the WMN can be deployed in rapid and tactical applications.

Conclusion – wireless technology has made many advances in the past several years. We are only going to see it used more in more in security applications. It is important to have your wireless network properly designed in order to get the most out of it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Smooth Sailing

Press Release

Project Scope: A ferry boat operation needed a video surveillance solution. the issues were, there was no physical way to install a hard connection between the cameras and the island, so a wireless system had to be used. We also had to take into account refraction due to the wireless signal going over the water. The wireless system also needed to allow for future addition of a PoS (Point of Sale) system that is going to be implemented on each of the boats.

Solution: Firetide wireless mesh network with a 70mbps pipe. With some proper up front engineering we were able to resolve the issue of refraction which is caused by the wireless signal reflecting off the water (more on this in another post). We implemented the VideoIQ iCVR camera. The iCVR camera is a stand alone IP camera with a built in hard drive that allows the video to be stored locally at the camera. Along with the built in hard drive the iCVR camera also provides video analytics allowing for object counting and other features that are going to be implemented. Because of the built in hard drive and no central managing server, we are able to control the amount of bandwidth sent across the wireless network, allowing us to use the bandwidth for future cameras and PoS system.

This system is currently in operation and we are working with the customer on a custom PoS system for his ferry operations. This project has also been submitted for an ASIS Award.