Remember the early days of networking and Ethernet cabling? Many of us stood in awe in the 1980s as we struggled to wrap our minds around the notion of personal computers talking to each other and sharing files at a staggering rate of 10 megabits per second. In fact, you don’t have to be very old at all to have experienced new computer and network applications coming along that do things you never imagined they would be able to do. In security applications, that next discovery may very well be in the area of Internet protocol (IP) network-based video surveillance systems.

Unlock the power

Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., introduced a new Ethernet-based IP video surveillance product/solution, launching it with talk of convergence and “unlocking the value of a network.” No longer does a video surveillance system need a separate network to function; its IP video surveillance system now is fully network-based. Components include Power over Ethernet (PoE) IP cameras, mass data storage platforms, management software and everything else for a turnkey system. That system also includes IP gateway devices that provide analog-to-digital video camera encoders and digital-to-analog video monitor decoders to interface between existing non-networked devices and the Ethernet network that will support the system.

As with everything else that has migrated to IP, there are many advantages of an IP-based video surveillance system. Because it is an open system, it escapes the typical limitations of proprietary systems that can hamper innovation, which no user of any other network system would tolerate. It also is scalable, so a system owner can add more cameras and storage as needed.

Moving the system to the IP network further means the owner no longer has to maintain a separate copper network for the video system, thus increasing overall organizational efficiency. And, it allows an organization’s security personnel to focus on their mission and what they do best (security), while entrusting the information technology (IT) personnel to focus on their mission and on what they do best (maintaining the network and its devices).

Because IP cameras operate by PoE, the single Ethernet connection is the only cable they require. These replace previous generation devices that require three cables: a video cable, a cable to control the tilt/zoom and a power cable. Of course, those three cables demanded three times the installation expense over that of a new PoE device. Therefore, this system will allow security departments’ video surveillance system dollars to stretch further, adding camera locations that previously were too costly to justify and providing greater security at the same or even reduced cost.

As an IP system, video surveillance can be viewed anywhere or anytime from any authorized network computer, as well as shared with third parties, such as external security or law enforcement. It also means that such a system can include users as small as single-location childcare providers to expansive facilities, such as airports and industrial locations, by using a facility’s internal network, and even massive multilocations, such as interstate highway or commercial businesses’ monitoring systems.

Integrating the networks also allows for a corresponding integration of data. Consider just one example: with the IP video surveillance system on the same network as, say, the access control system, every time a person swipes an identification badge through the company’s reader to gain access to an area, the video surveillance system can automatically photograph the user for later verification, if needed. There are numerous instances where physical security and IT data can work together in a total systems solution, which is extremely effective for the protected premises. 

An IP video system also can be viewed at the same time by more departments than just security, meaning that it may move from being entirely a cost center. For example, in a “big box” retail location, customer service managers could monitor in-store activity from any computer, allowing them to see in real time where excess staff can be redirected to busier departments; to analyze customers’ “loiter time” in front of sales displays; or to observe the productivity and/or customer interactions of individual employees.

This all means increased uses for the Ethernet, which, of course, could lead to additional opportunities for electrical contractors in the low-voltage market. Like the rest of the IT/IP world, new innovations and applications are not going away. Electrical contractors who are well versed and articulate about such systems as they come on the market will remain at the forefront of their field and ahead of the competition.

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in technical and business writing. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.