The surveillance industry has not been spared digital evolution. The days of monstrously large cameras, poor image quality and mounds of tapes have entered a sleeker digital age.

Many surveillance systems remain analog due to the cost already invested in legacy systems in place. Still, today’s new security systems, along with operations and management, are moving into the data room, alongside traditional information technology (IT) functions. One reason for this: Many of these new security and surveillance systems are purely IT solutions.

Video in the digital domain is stored on digital video recorders (DVRs) or on servers tied to computers. Digital DVRs and servers can store much more than traditional VCRs. This can be a blessing and a curse for those wanting to streamline their business systems into the IT department because many IT operators and engineers still are learning to manage a responsive overall security system.

Storage and monitoring video is only part of the bigger equation. Some don’t quite understand how, or are not prepared, to make the transition to integrated digital systems. Therefore, many surveillance systems remain separate, with varying opinions on the level of security of such a setup.

But how does Internet protocol fit in? Internet protocol-based systems can be accessed virtually anywhere, since they are linked and run by the network. They allow stagnant images to be broadcast in real-time and to be recorded simultaneously for future viewing.

Piggybacking on digital IP surveillance system elements, such as DVRs and servers, are the IP cameras.

According to Rich Runnels, director of sales at EMI Security Products, “The predictions are that IP camera sales this year will exceed analog camera sales. This means we have reached a point in the market where the two trend lines will intersect, and IP camera sales will lead the market.”

In an analog camera setup, the signals are essentially pulled off of the camera by coax cables and sent to VHS recording tapes for storage. Due to the limited maximum capacity on an analog tape, users would record on the lowest quality setting to allow more data to be captured and retained.

The advent of the digital version helped alleviate some constraints. The IP element added to the overall flexibility; IP cameras are able to hook directly into the network, allowing video to be served up anywhere on the network.

“Because of the advances in technology, a lot more storage is available at much lower costs, allowing storage of better quality video,” Runnels said,

For instance, servers are mainstays in IT environments, and their usage now is relevant to surveillance systems, as well.

“There are people who make servers specifically for video. Most camera systems are server agnostic, and the differences are in the software that is used for managing the video,” Runnels said. So, any server that is a traditional rack-mount size can be used.

Back in the data room, these servers are racked and stacked. So are the DVRs, which have become the preferred method of image and data capture. The abilities and advent of cheaper servers, along with their ability to store more data have created a situation where one’s entire network can be available for various systems, including camera-based surveillance systems.

Scalability also is relevant, as expanding one’s IP surveillance system would be easier than doing so with legacy-type systems. This is an important aspect, as it is possible to archive more video with an IP-based system and to do so more economically. Adding to that, Runnels said, is the ability to take the system wireless. All of these technologies, when combined, can create a camera/surveillance system that extends far beyond traditional counterparts.

Adding to the technology curve, Runnels mentioned the inevitable convergence between analog-based legacy systems and digital systems and gradually upgrading the existing backbone while adding IP cameras to the network. This hybrid approach will make the move to an all IP/digital surveillance system easier.

While analog cameras still provide the best picture quality in terms of clarity and focus, IP pictures and cameras have improved enough that the added benefits of networking and storage capacity are enough to make IP cameras a viable and sought-after solution.

Complete IP systems seem to be the way of the future. The IP cameras have advanced to the point where they are not limited by poor quality. DVR recordings allow for more footage to be captured. Servers are faster and cheaper. This all adds up to advanced, scalable, user-friendly systems that can further enhance security initiatives.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.