Diving into IP Surveillance

Experts reveal top challenges and how to face them head-on

Anticipating challenges before they become problems is always a smart approach. In the security world, when a company is making the leap from installing traditional, analog, CCTV cameras to IP surveillance, this “thinkahead” strategy is all the more wise.

One IP surveillance integrator, Cana Communications in Kennesaw, Ga., knows this from experience. Having made the transition from analog CCTV to IP video surveillance integration several years ago, Scott Harris, project services manager, remembers the learning curve well and chimes in on what a company will likely encounter during a similar transition and how to prepare for success.

Lack of Network Knowledge

Encounter #1: Lack of network design capabilities. “The first and biggest issue we ran into was a lack of network knowledge,” said Harris. “We did not have techs that understood networking; yet all of a sudden, we had to deal with Ethernet rules, the constraints of Ethernet and specific cabling requirements. Many times, we also had to provide network switches as part of the project scope. Because these skills directly affected the scope of work, we quickly realized that having networking knowledge would be critical for conducting effective site surveys, creating accurate estimates and designing project plans.”

In addition, the project team often had to interface with the customer’s IT department to establish the network requirements, demanding another layer of network knowledge.

Solution: Bolster your project team with technical experts in network design. Some IP video surveillance manufacturers offer expert network design partners through their professional services offering.

Encounter #2: Defending your work. After the project plan is defined and implemented, new challenges can arise, especially when considering that:

  • Networking issues always complicate the installation.
  • IP video surveillance systems are typically installed on separate VLANs that require special switch configuration. This work is usually done by the customer’s IT staff or their contractors.
  • It is difficult to determine when a problem is on the network (e.g., a configuration issue) versus somewhere else (e.g., IP cameras, cabling).
  • IP video surveillance contractors have limited control over the network, so resolution often depends on a cooperative effort with the customer’s IT staff, network administrators and/or their contractors.

“Every integrator needs the technical ability to defend their installation when networking issues arise,” Harris said. “For example, an IT department or switch installer may say that all the VLAN ports have been configured and programmed properly, but that your team simply doesn’t know how to make them work. This puts you, as the surveillance contractor, in a defensive position and requires that you prove them wrong.”

Solution: Make sure your field project team includes technicians— or trusted contractors—that are savvy with IP networks and switch configuration, and can interface with network vendors, installers and IT staff to identify and troubleshoot network issues.

Encounter #3: More credentialing required. According to Harris, today’s IP video surveillance project bids are specifying the need for more credentialing. To win these bids, your project team will likely need to include:

  • a registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) with expertise in IT systems, architecture, electrical wiring and security design;
  • Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI)-certified installers and technicians; and
  • a team member with Microsoft certifications (especially for solutions that include a VMS).

Solution: Unless you want to avoid all bids with BICSI credentialing requirements, invest in BICSI training for your primary video surveillance installers, especially those who will be installing Cat-5 or Cat-6 cabling. If you don’t have an RCDD on staff, you may be able to subcontract; however, some specifications require that the RCDD be a full-time employee.

In larger systems, you occasionally see the need for Microsoft MCSE certification—which you may meet through subcontracting. If you’re already considering adding networking expertise to your staff, try to have at least one technician with MCSE certification.

Long term, you should aim to meet all of these credentialing requirements with your own staff.

Physical Networking Constraints

Encounter #1: Facilities with minimal network infrastructures. Not every customer seeking IP surveillance has an extensive data network already in place. Facilities with smaller networks will require additional network expansion to support all the new IP cameras, recorders and potential external storage solutions. Therefore, your project may require adding more network switches or new IDF closets to handle the increased data flow.

Solution: Whether part of your staff, subcontracted or a manufacturer partner, rely on the expertise of your network designer, who should be well versed in network design, cabling and network configuration.

Encounter #2: Cameras too far from IDF closets. In many large facilities, some IP cameras will be placed in remote locations too far from available, network, IDF closets. “This scenario happens frequently when a customer needs cameras covering parking lots, access gates, truck entrances or outlying storage buildings so they can record vehicles as they’re coming and going,” Harris said. “In these situations, you’ll likely need to run fiber optic cable to cover the longer distances beyond the traditional, 100-meter limit of copper cables.” This requires some level of experience with fiber optic cables as well as a new layer of expertise.

Solution: You need someone with fiber optic expertise on your team, even if it’s just short-term. Since this specialized skill may not be needed for every project, hiring a full-time employee may not be necessary.

A second, more costly option would be to build new IDF closets, but this would require additional network design and expansion of the current network infrastructure, which most customers are hesitant to do.

Another word of advice: At the project onset, conduct a complete site survey with someone who understands all the physical restrictions of your customer’s specific location. Knowing the distances and special installation requirements will help you construct a project team with the right technical skill sets from the start.

Encounter #3: Existing networks with non-PoE switches. Some customers want all the advantages of IP video surveillance, but their existing network is configured with traditional network switches and no PoE capabilities.

Solution: A team member who can effectively interface with the customer’s IT staff and assist with network design changes is needed. If the project scope requires that you provide and install the network switches, you will need the technical skills to add switches to an existing network infrastructure.

Installation Issues

Encounter #1: Need for cabling expertise (UTP and fiber). Harris suggests learning the ins and outs of network cabling as another valuable skill set, often unforeseen by new IP surveillance integrators.

To successfully navigate network cabling, you need to know Ethernet limitations and their impact on exterior cameras; challenges posed by perimeter and parking lot cameras; and how to resolve them.

The cameras may need certain network electronics like fiber transceivers; specialized, sealed and weatherproof enclosures/ mounting hardware; and external power requirements to draw power at a mounting pole.

Solution: You need a project team member with technical and electrical knowledge of cable testing and certification common to UTP/fiber installations. The right testing equipment, which can be costly, is needed, and you may need someone to help mount cameras on poles and pull the required fiber and power.

“We have electricians on our staff, so we can handle all the electrical requirements on our own, but we do seek outside resources when we need to set the poles,” Harris said. “We are fortunate enough to have electricians who can handle all the special mounting boxes and unique conduit requirements, but if we didn’t, we would subcontract that piece out and bring electrical expertise in.”

Encounter #2: Requirements to add and match existing cable infrastructure.

Solution: Be prepared to match existing cable installations like Panduit, Siemon and CommScope. If certification and extended warranty coverage is required and you’re not able to achieve this with your own staff, subcontract or partner with a company that can meet the specific cabling requirements.

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

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