Questions and Answers from the Product Manager's POV

For more than a decade, surveillance systems have been transitioning to digital technology, with the movement toward IP cameras rapidly speeding up in the past few years. With this trend, there also has been a push toward systems offering open architecture, to enable IP devices from various manufacturers to communicate with each other.

Vicon just released ViconNet 5, the first version of its digital video management system to feature open architecture. We sat down with Guy Arazi, Vicon’s digital products manager, to discuss the benefits of open platform systems as well as the challenges they pose to system designers and end users.

Q. Give us an overview of network video surveillance, the size of the market and its expected growth.
Those in the industry define network video surveillance as a system in which cameras are not functionally tied to and limited to a specific DVR or recording and control device. Rather, the video is transmitted over an IP network and can be accessed and stored by any number of compatible devices connected to the system.

While network systems still make up a small percentage of the overall surveillance market, this segment is growing at a faster rate than the overall industry. Recent reports show that the IP-network surveillance market grew by 50 percent in 2007, approaching $500 million worldwide. This rate is four times faster than the general surveillance market, which includes analog and DVRbased systems.

Q. There seems to be a difference in how open architecture video systems are defined by manufacturers. In your opinion, what is an open architecture video surveillance system?
There are many ways this term is used in our industry. Some define it as a system that provides compatibility with any type of equipment. Others define it as a system that relies only on software connectivity, or even as a system without any GUI. We believe that for a video security system to be open, it must have a strong foundation as an effective system.

The system’s openness is a function of the availability of robust support tools for those wishing to provide resources for it to control—like cameras sending video—and to make use of resources—like an access control system looking for video related to events.

Q. Is there a major benefit to having all these technologies on one communications infrastructure?
We think there is. The natural cycle of installation in an office building or work facility leads to a large number of vertical systems running up and down the building. The access control and the HVAC, the phone system and the network—all of these are operating as parallel but isolated systems, each with a different head end monitoring station and with different people using that information. And, of course, there is the issue of each system having its own separate wiring, resulting in huge amounts of dissimilar wire winding throughout the building.

There are obvious advantages to creating smarter systems that allow more components to participate in the daily data race, running on the same infrastructure— mainly network/IP base. By terminating more of those resources in the same place and through common headend equipment, we not only save money, but we also increase the efficiency of the systems, get more information out of the data and allow the decision maker to get filtered, crossed-checked information more quickly.

Q. How important is open architecture to video surveillance system owners?
The answer to this question varies by user. Open architecture, as a term, has been floating around for a while, and there is no question that prospective buyers are interested in the promises it brings. Owners like to hear that they have more choices, that other systems they purchase now or in the future will have a way to work in harmony with the current system and that nobody is forcing them into a system they can’t afford to make changes to.

Once a customer has chosen a system and begins the actual implementation process, there are other concerns that usually take priority over how he or she can take advantage of the open architecture. Instead, the owner wants to feel that there is someone standing behind the new system and that the same someone will still be there a year later. These sets of user expectations are top of mind when manufacturers, like us, discuss strategic direction and plans for the future, including the role that open architecture should play.

Q. What problems are incurred by integrating different technologies?
The ability to offer an open platform involves many challenges. On one hand, we have a desire to offer connectivity and compatibility with every possible partner. On the other hand—like in our case—we also want to keep developing our own brand, in parallel, to maintain our ability to offer a whole system rather then just code that depends on others.

From a research and development and operations perspective, offering compatibility with any manufacturer is a difficult promise to keep. It means that after you have finally developed and thoroughly tested software that works with outside manufacturers, you then must keep up with every change and fix any of those manufacturers make. In addition, your customer support team now needs to know not only your own family of products but also have some knowledge of other manufacturers’ products, as well as navigate some difficult questions of responsibility when things stop working.

Offering an open platform also means that your engineering and technical support team will need to provide assistance to those other manufacturers who wish to integrate with your system.

All of this adds up to quite an operational challenge.

From the integrators’ perspective, it will take someone with an extensive knowledge base and broad skill set to pick the best-in-breed technologies, integrate them and then provide ongoing support. This can only happen if integrators receive training and support from the technology-leading manufacturers that are shaping the industry.

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