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, and 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: Decentralized and Inefficient
Traditionally, a video surveillance setup would consist of having a location, such as a college campus, with video surveillance cameras in the parking lots, building entrances, dormitories, and athletic facilities connected to servers at each physical location. 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 college system with two campus locations, 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.
As colleges take advantage of tools like e-Learning, cloud-based services and VoIP, bandwidth to the campuses 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 NVRs at a campus.
Why the Move to Centralization?
Centralization results in reduced cost, scalability, better images and easier accessibility
Most of the video surveillance cameras that have been built over the past few years support camera-side motion detection, meaning the camera- instead of the server-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. 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, the number of cameras a centralized system can accommodate grows, even though image sizes are increasing as well.
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 the largest of your campus buildings, 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 a college system with 50 locations running their entire system on 10 or fewer servers. It is also safer from a backup perspective due to a strong centralized failover mechanism-a dedicated system whose only job is to stand by and watch if any of the boxes fail and to provide data backup when needed.
From a commoditized perspective, centralization is a sound investment that can have one server support literally hundreds of cameras-a scenario often found in a college campus deployment. The cost of one server sharing a centralized infrastructure is much less expensive than operating a decentralized, facility-by-facility DVR deployment. Plus, you are using your storage more efficiently among several locations on a total basis rather than on a building-by-building basis.
An important cost-saving feature of a centralized configuration is the ability to use virtualization. Processors have become so powerful that a single application does not use 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. Instead of having 10 servers, there might be five servers with each server running two Windows operating systems. The datacenter that once had 150 servers now shrinks to two or three racks with virtualization. This is more manageable from a technology and maintenance perspective, and results in reduced power and more environmentally friendly conditions.
Real World Savings at Bethune-Cookman University:
Replacing 50 campus DVR s with a Centralized Datacenter
The centralized deployment Video Insight Video Management Software (VMS) used with Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, has reduced cost and has vastly improved their video surveillance solution.
With 3,600 students spanning 40 buildings, Bethune-Cookman University moved from an older, analog system to an IP, centralized configuration, to meet their growing video surveillance demands.
"We had some issues in dorms in particular with unauthorized access like males being in the female dorms and vice versa, as well as thefts and fights," said B-CU Network Manager David Garcia. "And although we had a system in place, it wasn't particularly accessible and it wasn't as satisfactory visually as we would have liked it to be."
The choice to replace existing DVRs with a centralized configuration has streamlined operations, Garcia said.
"It's much easier to have a centralized server rather than have 50 dvr's in all different places throughout the campus," he said. "Technically, it's a much better solution. If you lose a switch, you lose a camera, but when the camera does go down it's so easy to get back up and running. And as for the quality of the images, there has been no mistaking 'Is that a guy or a girl' or 'What is in his hand?' with this system. The images are crystal clear and it has really helped us in identifying individuals and has helped us to resolve our issues when we have needed it to produce results."
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. A centralized configuration like this also 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.
With a centralized configuration, IT manages the VMS from the datacenter, without having to physically drive to 40 different campus buildings to make changes or address issues. Centralization not only better manages the VMS, it also drastically reduces cost primarily because the central servers are using the shared infrastructure.
As far as the VMS performance, college security and administrators enjoy the ease-of use and the ability to quickly locate and clip video, the crisp images, and the accessibility of being able to monitor live or recorded video from a monitor station, web client or mobile clients.
"It was such an easy system to install and it is worlds easier to operate and maintain," said Garcia.
oversees technology and product development for award-winning Video Insight, a video surveillance software developer with an installed base of 25,000 customers and 4,500 schools and universities, as the Chief Technical Officer. A security industry professional with his finger on the pulse of best practices, Whitcomb is often called upon to provide expert analysis and has authored several security trade publication articles