Centralizing Your Video Management Software

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 infrastructure.

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 the resolution.

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 basis.

Virtualization

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 friendly conditions.

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 infrastructure.

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 infrastructure.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Security Today.

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