Centralizing Your Video Management Software
- By James Whitcomb
- May 01, 2013
The industry-wide migration
to IP video surveillance
over the last few years has
had many benefits, but
chief among them may be
the ability to centralize. A centralized
deployment results in reduced cost, a
simpler, yet more robust, configuration
and maximized leveraging of existing
IP video is more affordable than ever
and is the best choice for entry into the
video surveillance market or when considering
a system upgrade. As technology
improves, H.264, camera side-motion
detection, installed camera costs are no
longer in the $2,500-plus range. And they
aren’t just less expensive—they’re better.
A centralized configuration with
servers in a datacenter is also less expensive
in the long run for your large or even
mid-scale IP video camera installation.
In fact, we have seen examples where
there is a 50 to 75 percent savings on the
server infrastructure, literally translating
into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As server power has increased, so has the
number of cameras per server.
The Way It Was
Traditionally, a video surveillance setup
would consist of having a location, such
as a school, with video surveillance cameras
in the parking lot, entrances or cafeterias,
connected to servers at the physical
building. At the time, it was most
efficient to keep the bandwidth local.
This type of system would allow for central
viewing, but it is still a very localized
and decentralized configuration.
A school district with two campuses,
each with 150 cameras, would have 10,
16-camera DVRs at each campus in a traditional
DVR world (a pretty significant
infrastructure). Perhaps they changed to
32-camera DVRs to cut the number of
servers in half. Then they decide to get encoders
and put a couple of NVRs in
this configuration, achieving
64 cameras on each NVR.
Yet they start to look
at what H.264 does
to bandwidth and
the available bandwidth
is evaluated. One-hundred and fifty cameras create
a lot of bandwidth in a JPEG world,
but it doesn’t create nearly as much in an
H.264 world even if it’s 2 megapixel resolution
because the bitrates are relatively
low per camera, considering the size of
As districts take advantage of tools
like e-Learning, cloud-based services
and VoIP, bandwidth to the campus has
increased, enabling up to 1 GB connections
between the campus and the datacenter.
Having a series of cameras, I may
be using 150 megabits or even 300 megabits
of the 1 GB connection and an extreme
connection, but I’m going back to
a central server. That central server is using
a shared infrastructure. The server is
in a rack, using air conditioning, power
and networking gear that all of the other
systems use, as well, preventing separation
and a duplication of costs.
Today’s servers have dual power supply,
RAID storage and dual processors.
These machines are so powerful in 1U
and 2U configurations that it is easy to
have 200 cameras on a single server. That
definitely beats having 10 DVRs or even
two NVRsat a campus.
Why the Move to Centralization?
For years, VMS developers had to deal
with the limitation of decompressing and
checking an image for motion when it’s received
at the server. Most of the cameras
that have been built over the past few years,
however, support camera-side motion detection,
meaning the camera is doing the
work. The camera captures the image and
the image comes back to the server, flagged
as “keep this.” This results in little server
work—merely saving the image.
The single biggest NVR expense is
storage. In a centralized environment,
you can take advantage of storage subsystems
that are cost effective, quickly reducing
the cost per gigabyte. As a result,
camera counts increase even though image
sizes are increasing. Part of this also
is due to a VMS developer’s ability to optimize
camera communication methods.
The combination of changing the way
we talk to the camera, camera-side motion
detection and H.264 compression allows
us to have incredible density. Instead
of having three or four servers at a high
school, you can have one or more at a
datacenter. The compression of the cameras
using motion detection coming over
the network is so low that you might even
have an organization with 50 locations
running their entire system on 10 or fewer
servers. It is safer from a backup perspective
due to a strong centralized failover
mechanism. You have dedicated systems
whose only job is to stand by and watch if
any of the boxes fail, in which case, they
automatically failover to a dedicated machine
in the group.
From a commoditized perspective,
centralization is a sound investment.
A 2U rack with 24 TB of storage in a
RAID configuration with a dual processor
and dual power can be purchased
for typically $10,000 to $15,000 from
most manufacturers. That single box can
support literally hundreds of cameras.
Plus, you are using your storage more
efficiently among several locations on a
total basis rather than on a building-bybuilding
Centralized datacenters are nothing new.
They have been around for many years.
A datacenter might have 2,000 square
feet dedicated to racks, power and air
conditioning for hundreds of servers.
What has evolved, however, is that the
processors became so powerful that a
single application was not using the
full capacity of the box. Vendors like
VMware, Microsoft with Hyper-V, and
Citrix’s XenServer began running multiple
copies of the Windows Operating
System on a single box, or running Linux
and Windows in a single set of hardware,
making it virtualized. So instead of having
10 servers, there might be five servers
with each server running two Windows
operating systems. Windows can only
support a certain amount of activity and
a certain amount of memory, yet the box
itself can support a larger amount; therefore,
we maximize efficiency by using the
tool of virtualization.
The datacenter that once had 150
servers now shrinks to two or three
racks with virtualization. This scenario
of consolidated equipment is more manageable from a technology and
maintenance perspective, and results in
reduced power and more environmentally
Virtualization also creates wonderful
methods of backing up and redundancy
via failover. Products in the security
space that use virtualization as failover
creation provide an exciting dynamic.
Real World Savings
The centralized deployment Video
Insight used with the Denver Public
Schools cut a third of project costs.
Denver Public Schools have 84,424
students, 192 campuses, 14,792 employees
and more than 2,000 video surveillance
cameras. When they sought an
upgrade to their existing analog video
surveillance system, all but one of the
18 vendors who bid the project recommended
a decentralized solution with a
server at each of the 192 campuses.
Because the district had such a strong
infrastructure, Video Insight proposed to
use Denver’s existing Cisco unified computing
system (UCS) blade servers over
purchasing and maintaining 192 servers
for each of the district’s school campuses
spread across a mountainous terrain at
the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
With this centralized deployment,
Video Insight software would use virtualization—
another move that emphasized
efficiency and maximization
of their existing infrastructure. The
software runs on a Microsoft Hyper-V
virtualization environment where 25 virtual
servers run on the four UCS Cisco
blade servers with 2,200 cameras distributed
across the virtual OS.
The benefits of this centralized deployment
include reduced capital investment;
reduced maintenance costs; a
robust redundancy with the capability
of failover; and leveraging of existing
This configuration results in the
ability to achieve hundreds of cameras
per server rather than having to stick to
the traditional restrictions of 16, 32, or
64. The added bonus of failover, it provides
peace of mind.
Video Insight also successfully
moved the Pasadena Independent
School District (PISD) to centralization.
The district has 54,000 students,
62 campuses, employs 7,200 teachers
and staff, and a 3,500-plus camera
VMS. Technology and administration
officials found the existing, decentralized
system needed to be evaluated. As
they began to add new cameras, PISD
officials knew that it was best to find
a functional solution that was easy to
use, affordable and feature-rich.
Because they had an existing VMS
software, PISD converted to Video Insight
via the Competitive Upgrade Program
(CUP), which offers a low price per
software license, and purchased 15 Dell
PowerEdge R510 rack servers, with 20
TB storage on each to run Video Insight.
With a centralized configuration, IT
manages the VMS from the datacenter,
without having to physically drive to
62 different school campuses to make
changes or address issues. This system
also has the added benefit of failover.
Centralization not only better
manages the VMS, it also drastically
reduces costs primarily because the
central servers are using the shared
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Security Today.