Security

A smart approach to IP-based video surveillance

The trend towards converged security requires companies to keep their eye on physical premises. Here's how to specify and deploy an IP-based video surveillance solution for your small business clients.

Think security for your customers and you probably think setting up logical security services in an attempt to lock down their data. But what about physical security? Keeping an eye on business premises used to involve proprietary closed circuit TV systems, but over the last couple of years, this market has been moving to standard IP-based solutions that cost less and can be integrated with existing computer networks. The smart consulting firm will expand its services offering to cover this type of security as well, providing what the security community now calls 'converged security'.
 

The brains of the operation

The IP cameras you need for surveillance on small business premises will be connected back to a central recording unit, which forms the 'brain' of the system. It makes sense for this to be locked in a secure place, so that burglars won't walk off with it and steal your evidence.

Recording units come in two forms: IP video management software (VMS) running on a standard PC, or dedicated appliances called network video recorders (NVR). IP VMS, such as XProtect Professional from Milestone, often offer open platforms that can be extended and configured to suit the clients' needs.

If your customers (or you) don’t want to deal with the complexity of running software on a non-dedicated PC platform, with all of the hardware management that entails, an alternative is the kind of NVR offered by D-Link. The DNS-726-4 is a dedicated appliance with two storage bays for hard drives to hold video data, and support for up to four cameras, although up to four of the units can be combined with the firm's NVR software, providing centralised support for up to 16 cameras.

Whichever format you choose, you'll want to check the software to make sure it supports your client's needs. Look for features such as event-triggered recording, for example. Motion-triggered recording might be appropriate if one of the cameras will be in a store-room and only needs to record activity when someone enters that space. Other useful features include email and SMS notification of suspicious events, remote browser access so business owners can view live footage from their properties in the dead of night or on the road, and smart searching. Being able to scrub through the video quickly and jump directly to footage based on criteria such as camera occlusion or motion detection will make it easier to track events.
 

Choosing a camera

The type of camera that you choose for your clients' premises will depend on the type of environment that they're monitoring, and how interactive they wish to be with the camera. For example, some cameras feature remote tilting and zooming, so that a client accessing a camera online can manually control it to look at specific areas of a room. Some, such as the Ipix 360 degree camera, come with a 'virtual tour' capability, enabling clients to stitch together images into a single, immersive view.

You will want to ensure that the NVR or VMS software that you choose has full support for your chosen camera's feature set. For example, the EyeSoft IP surveillance software from Bikal will send pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) information to compatible cameras, creating a seamless manual control mechanism for people viewing the cameras remotely. The scope of the camera that you specify will depend on the scope of the area that needs to be monitored. Ask the customer about the premises: is there much happening in this physical environment that must be monitored? Do these events occur throughout a wide space, or do you need to focus on one particular element of the room, such as a reception desk or door?

You will also need to consider the camera's resolution, based on the subject matter being monitored. Environments in which there is a lot of detail - where, perhaps, clients need to monitor text on boxes being bought into a room, or where a wide area with lots of visual elements such as a car park - will require a higher resolution. If you’re simply watching to see when someone walks through a door you can get by with a much lower resolution. If a high resolution camera is needed, consider purchasing NVR or VMS products that support retrospective image zooming, so that you can choose which detail to explore in your images. Similarly, think about the recording frequency. Six frames per second is not uncommon for a camera. You can go higher if your client is recording fast moving objects, such as moving vehicles in a car park.

Cameras can also come with night vision using LED-powered lighting, and two-way audio, which can be useful in environments where a central controller needs to talk with people in the camera's field of vision (such as petrol stations, in which attendants might need to instruct customers at the pump).

Cameras can be tailored to deliver video over a wired or wireless network, which can be useful for devices that need to be located in hard to reach environments, such as inside a warehouse that isn't networked to a main retail space. The alternative is cameras that are capable of supporting power over Ethernet (PoE) technology. If supported by the NVR, these cameras can dramatically cut down on the cabling and electricity demands, which can be particularly important in a customer-facing environment.

The Logitech Digital Video Security System is useful for companies with a limited budget who want a simple system that will reduce cabling clutter. It connects cameras to your viewing PC (or mobile phone) using the standard HomePlug technology; you just plug into existing power outlets, which is simple but offers reduced bandwidth compared to Ethernet. There are indoor and outdoor systems suitable for most small businesses, and you can plug in up to six Logitech cameras (including one disguised as a clock), although with the 320 x 240 resolution you won't be monitoring parking lots with this system. It offers motion-activated text and email alerts.
 

Adding value

There are other opportunities to add value for your client, such as installing an NVR that integrates with an alarm system, and partnering with a security company to provide round-the-clock event monitoring of the alarm. This can be tailored into a single-service security package for clients wanting one-stop-shop protection of their premises. While the investment in an IP-based CCTV system may seem high to your clients at first, the selling point is the ease of use and the fast, easy post-incident recovery of data that these devices offer. Should a criminal incident occur, getting the evidence to law enforcers as quickly as possible could be the difference between losing the stolen inventory altogether and getting it back safely. Emphasising this angle, along with the efficacy of a converged security approach, will help you to make the sale - and will help protect your customers more effectively in the long run. !



Products

Milestone XProtect Professional
milestonesys.com/products/ip_video_software/xprotect_professional

D-Link DNS-726-4
€500 for a base license, and €140 for each camera license on top of that.
(Currently £448 and £125)
dlink.com/products/?pid=693
£999.99

Bikal EyeSoft
bikal.co.uk/
£87.82

Logitech Indoor Digital Video Master System
logitech.com/index.cfm/349/ 4774&cl=ca,en
£279


Extra

The legal issues around monitoring employees

Businesses may wish to watch their premises for evidence of external theft, but many may also want to monitor their employees, to protect against internal fraud. Employers are almost always required to inform their employees of this, under the Employment Practice Code published by the UK Information Commissioner. Those who monitor their employees in a way that identifies them are subject to the eight principles of the Data Protection Act, including using the data from a monitoring system for a specific, documented purpose. Contravening the Act, or causing employees unwarranted distress, can lead to a successful legal action by the affected employee.

The legal advisory blog Out-Law advises employers to document the case for employee monitoring, to protect themselves should an employee ever bring an action for constructive dismissal against them.


Do the sums: resolution and bandwidth

Think about the network architecture at the customer site, factor in the effect of a video stream on the client's network, and include network optimisation as part of your service. This includes conducting a basic audit of the client's network to understand how much low-latency traffic is already passing across it, and how much spare capacity is available.

Camera resolution is measured in terms of the Common Intermediate Format (CIF), and variations thereof. Each variation of the format has a different resolution, and therefore a different network overhead. You will need to consider the effect of this overhead both on the client's internal network, and on any upstream broadband link used for remotely viewing the video.

These figures give you a rough guide to bandwidth and resolution, based on a 15 frame-per-second transmission rate and an average motion of around 30% in each frame (such as may be found in a retail environment). Bear in mind, however, that the bandwidths outlined here may increase depending on the frame rate you choose, and on the motion in the picture. Also, these figures are for each individual camera, and must be multiplied in multi- camera environments.


Step By Step

  1. BiKal's EyeSoft IP surveillance video management software features support for multiple IP cameras at once.


     
  2. Adding another camera to the camera farm using the EyeSoft software.


     
  3. The EyeSoft software features multiple playback options.


     
  4. Accessing cameras remotely will be important for many small business owners who want to check up on their premises from home.


     


Format Resolution Bandwidth required
SQCIF 128x96 192kbps
QCIF 176x144 342kbps
CIF 352x288 684kbps
2CIF 352x448 1.3Mbps
4CIF 704x576 3.4Mbps
16CIF 1408x1152 6.8Mbps
 

Figures from 802 Global video distribution

 

The laws relating to monitoring your employees
Out-Law's guide to UK legal issues associated with employee monitoring: out-law.com/page-449

ACTI project planner
Configure IP surveillance systems and plan the layout: acti.com/project_plannerV1_1/WEBSITE/

Open Network Video Interface Forum
An organisation driving the standardisation of networked video products: onvif.org

Physical Security Interoperability Alliance
A second organisation trying to develop interoperability standards for network video devices: psialliance.org

Top five IP camera problems
The issues hindering the uptake of IP surveillance solutions, from a site with various useful links and resources: http://ipvideomarket.info/report/top_5_ip_camera_problems_2009


See also

Volume 2, Edition 3
Video conferencing on a budget feature finder code 2326a.

 


 
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