The Hidden TCO

The Hidden TCO

The debate between analog and IP systems wanes

The days of debating the total cost of ownership of analog versus IP video surveillance are waning. As the cost delta between analog and IP systems continues to decrease, the superior performance and flexibility of IP surveillance systems are driving more customers to IP-based solutions. With benefits such as superior image quality, enhanced video analytics and the integration of surveillance video with business intelligence software, the tipping point of IP video overtaking analog is rapidly approaching, and the comparison of their TCO is becoming irrelevant.

Regardless of which system type ultimately costs more to implement, IP video has some clear cost advantages in its own right. Examples include the ability to run video over a converged cabling infrastructure, the feature of using PoE switches to provide centralized power to cameras and flexible implementation options such as wireless video. That being said, the switch to transmitting video over the data network can create significant complexity compared with analog systems. A user’s understanding of the true TCO of IP-based video surveillance systems can be significantly affected by assessing the effect on the organization’s IT systems.

A number of unpleasant surprises may lurk for those who fail to take a holistic approach when assessing costs of an IP-based system. All too frequently, IP systems are still designed by security specialists who may know analog surveillance systems cold but are still developing their understanding of both IP data flow and IT operations. In many cases, initial assessment of the effect of surveillance on the existing technology environment can be minimalistic, if not outright dismissive. Does this network analysis sound familiar?

“You have an IP network already and you can use your existing data cabling to save money on implementation. Just put in some network switches that support PoE, make sure multicast is enabled, and you are good to go.”

“Bandwidth? Not a problem. With H.264, your megapixel cameras will only require 6 megabits per second each, and all of your switches support gigabit.”

Oversimplified arguments such as this can lead to significant cost oversights, as even a moderate-size IP-based video system can greatly affect network performance and add substantially to IT capital and operational costs. If the organization has committed to making the leap to IP video surveillance technology, understanding the true TCO of the new system will require careful attention to details regarding the data network, facilities and IT operations.

The Basics of IP Video TCO

At face value, the hard costs of implementing an IPbased video surveillance system are straightforward. Major cost components of a new system typically include: • System design. • Cable installation. While IP video runs on a converged cabling infrastructure, new cabling usually has to be installed from the nearest data closet to camera locations. • The IP cameras, including mounting and maintenance costs over their projected lifetime. For many systems, this also includes software licensing for each camera. • Power and data distribution, which typically includes PoE data switches and possibly Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS). This also includes warranty and maintenance costs. • Servers, network storage and software. This includes maintenance service contracts and frequently includes annual licensing costs for the software and for each camera. • Viewing stations, including video walls. This also may include annual licensing costs for software. • Training costs, both for users of the system and the IT staff who will maintain the software. • Capital costs for data center and data closet rack space, as well as the overall equipment footprint.

Although these components are generally understood to comprise the majority of costs, there are some common oversights.

Energy costs. Many organizations struggle with accurately assessing the effect any new technology system has on energy costs, and surveillance is no exception. Beyond a general assumption that PoE can lower capital costs for providing power to cameras, power consumption is frequently not considered in the cost of a new surveillance system.

Given the centralized nature of video processing and storage for IP-based surveillance solutions, energy costs of a new system can be significant, particularly in the data center. In addition to the ongoing power consumption of servers and storage, the power consumption for air conditioning systems in the data center also can be adversely affected.

Upon completion of system design, a tabletop power review that includes both power draw and heat dissipation requirements can usually be performed quickly and easily, giving organizations a more complete view of the new energy costs that will be acquired with the new system.

Software support costs. Video servers and viewing stations may require antivirus software that requires annual license payments. Furthermore, many IT departments have a standard suite of software for monitoring and maintaining servers and network components that will require additional licenses. In addition to these costs, new servers and client applications also may require significant and ongoing IT labor to ensure underlying operating systems are monitored and patched on a regular basis to ensure system integrity.

Video backup costs. For organizations required to retain video for any length of time, new systems will typically include a backup system for archived video. If the IT department has an existing backup system, it may be leveraged for video storage. However, for even a moderate-size surveillance system, the existing backup system will typically need to be extended. For tape-based systems, the cost of additional tapes and magazines also may be significant.

Hidden Pitfalls of TCO Projections

In addition to common cost oversights described above, there are many hidden factors that can adversely affect the TCO of IP-based video systems. Some of these factors that can wreak havoc on cost projections include:

Camera creep. The rapid advancement of IP camera technology can cause headaches for organizations and integrators alike when these advances exceed the pace of system implementation. Integrators ormay specify a given camera during the bidding process, but by the time the infrastructure is built, newer, higher-performance cameras are available. If the customer changes out the camera selection, the integration team must analyze the effect that change has on the entire surveillance system and the network, including switching, storage and the horsepower of viewing stations.

To the extent possible, the system design should include realistic projections of the maximum capacity the video surveillance system may require over time, both in terms of the maximum number of cameras and their potential network and storage requirements. The implementation plan should also incorporate specific timeframes for purchasing system components, with appropriate checkpoints to assess the effect of specification changes for one system component on other subsystems.

Quality of network service. In an optimal configuration, the simple network math discussed earlier works. If the installed switches support gigabit Ethernet, how can a few cameras that consume 6 MBps each possibly choke the network? The truth is that while surveillance video may flow across the network just fine in this situation, unfortunately many surveillance implementation projects are designed in blissful ignorance of other network traffic that can be severely impacted by the new system, or how existing traffic can affect the surveillance video.

Many organizations have network traffic that is much more sensitive to latency—network delay—than surveillance video. Examples include Voice over IP and video-conferencing traffic. Many existing networks are not configured appropriately to ensure the quality of service for this traffic, which can go unnoticed until the addition of IP surveillance to the network degrades the quality of voice traffic, which can directly affect business operations. Degraded voice traffic also may cut both ways, as audio is increasingly being added to IP cameras and can be much more sensitive to latency than the surveillance video itself.

If network quality of service is not configured before the introduction of video, IT managers may be put in a position of requiring an expensive reconfiguration of the existing network on very short notice while suffering service interruptions in critical voice and data systems until the upgrade is complete.

Before implementing an IP-surveillance system, review the current network configuration to ensure quality of service is implemented appropriately for integrity of existing services. Also, identify potential bottlenecks where video traffic may be consolidated, such as clusters of viewing stations located on the same edge switch(es).

These points on the network may require more robust data throughput than is available. This is particularly important in the data center, where network engineers should carefully review not only camera-to-server traffic but also inter-server traffic, including traffic flow between storage and backup systems. For large surveillance systems, the need to upgrade core switch capacity can be one of the most expensive surprises of all.

Optimistic storage projections. While network storage costs continue to decrease over time, storage can still be the largest capital expenditure for an IPbased surveillance system, particularly if an organization has a large number of high-quality IP cameras recording at full frame rate or has long retention requirements. Many manufacturers provide an array of technologies and techniques to optimize storage, but be vigilant when storage projections are based on predictions about the nature of the video the organization will capture, particularly if the surveillance system is new.

It can be tempting to overestimate the benefit of such technologies and their effect on storage costs, resulting in delayed sticker shock when an organization realizes months after implementation that its storage predictions were wrong. The sticker shock frequently extends to both tape-based and diskto- disk backup systems that also may require expansion.

For this reason, organizations should carefully review all of the underlying technology assumptions that factor into storage cost projections, and they should have a complete understanding of the potential costs if the assumptions are incorrect.

Incomplete power assumptions. To the extent that organizations consider power consumption of their new system, most efforts to assess energy costs are confined to the data center. The costs of ensuring appropriate power and backup power in data closets can also be significant, particularly for organizations that use PoE to power additional network devices, such as wireless access points and IP phones. For safety and compliance reasons, many organizations have specific standards for UPS backup power to ensure PoE switches that support IP phones will supply power for a set duration in the event of a power outage, typically 30 minutes. When IP cameras are plugged into PoE switches in the same closet, the effect on the UPS infrastructure can be significant, as IP cameras can consume substantially more power than typical IP phones.

Wireless Video. The majority of surveillance systems live on wired networks. However, with rapid advances in surveillance technologies, organizations are increasingly eyeing extending surveillance systems to locations where placing wired cameras can be cost-prohibitive, such as parking lots, industrial facilities and entire cities.

Bandwidth of wireless technologies, particularly those that use unlicensed frequencies, is always theoretical.

A wide array of factors can affect a wireless network’s capability to transmit live video, and most of these factors are beyond an organization’s control. With careful consideration, it is possible to build robust, resilient wireless networks to support video; this resilience typically comes at a price premium. Avoid the cost-driven temptation to under-design the wireless network; have a pre-defined plan to adjust wireless signal quality, throughput capacity and QoS as required.

Security complexity. For many organizations, the flexibility of IP-based systems can be accompanied by significant security challenges that affect operational costs. Closed analog video systems are relatively simple to secure and typically include simple tools to assign access permissions and log system activity. For IP-based systems, these security controls move into the application layer where it can be difficult and expensive to configure security appropriately, particularly for organizations with strict compliance requirements. When designing a new system, carefully review the data security design against not only the organization’s security and compliance policies, but against the organization’s IT policies, as well. Take special note of operational costs to maintain the security and integrity of the data continuously throughout the system’s information lifecycle.

Strategic Planning to Minimize TCO

Maximizing the return on investment in an IP-based system requires careful planning to minimize implementation and operation costs. When developing a strategic plan:

Plan together. Developing a complete understanding of TCO will require expertise in security, facilities and IT. These functions are under separate management in many organizations, and contention and confusion over supporting roles for technology are unfortunately common. As the underlying technology supporting all of these functions marches toward a converged infrastructure, it is critical to leverage the expertise of all internal resources to ensure successful implementation of the new system.

Create a vision. Unexpected costs frequently occur because the business benefit of an IP-based video system generates organizational demand to expand the system far beyond its original design. When planning a new system, carefully consider the potential for full expansion of the system, even if the initial implementation is modest. It is important to ensure that the system is scalable to meet future needs, regardless of whether the system is ultimately expanded.

Look ahead. IP-based surveillance technology is still evolving rapidly. Periodically regroup to seek and evaluate new IP surveillance technologies throughout the existing system’s lifecycle. When new solutions become available, determine if they provide sufficient business value to incorporate them into the surveillance system. If so, keep a wary eye on their cost impact to the organization’s technology infrastructure to help ensure a positive return on business investment in the power and security of the new IP surveillance system.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Security Today.

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