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Catch It On Camera

For a concept that remains relatively new to most people and sounds pretty complex, the rationale behind IP-based physical security is surprisingly simple. What’s more, it appears to make as much sense for smaller businesses as it does for large firms.

In essence, you hang an IP security device – such as an IP camera – off the IP network that carries your data around the business, in any physical location that you need to keep an eye on. These then monitor those areas just as traditional, analogue CCTV cameras do. Only there are some big differences.

For starters, they are easier and less expensive to purchase and much cheaper to extend than equivalent analogue platforms. This means that even very small businesses can now, conceivably, afford to put in a CCTV system – even if it is only one or two cameras. Installation of IP cameras is relatively easy – although you should seek out expert advice and installers if you want to get it absolutely right – and if you can run a network cable to it, you can install an IP camera.

Without wires

You may not even need that – the digital images that the camera picks up can be sent across a wireless network just as easily as they can across a normal Ethernet network cable – so long as there is a power supply available at the place in which you want to deploy the camera of course.

If power supply is a problem, you can use Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology. Many IP cameras support this technique, which enables you to power the IP device through the network cable. This avoids the cost of running a new power cable and installing a socket to the point at which you want to install the camera. All you need is the usual network cable – and that is pretty cheap and easy to install.

It is surprising how often power is out of reach and how difficult or expensive it is to install – the places where you would want to put surveillance cameras are not usually places you’d normally locate a power outlet, notes Dominic Bruning, managing director of IP security specialist Axis Communications.

“First of all, power is traditionally disseminated at floor level, not 10 feet up the wall where a camera would be installed. Nine times out of ten this means you need an electrician to wire up the camera at a typical cost of around £100 per power outlet. PoE does away with this requirement and so the savings on installation alone can be huge.”

Added advantages

IP-based surveillance also has some advantages over the analogue form. They certainly give you more flexibility. Analogue cameras generally have to be controlled from a fixed location, and the pictures viewed from a TV located next to the image storage device. But video feeds from IP devices can be viewed and the camera itself controlled from anywhere that has an Internet connection. You can monitor the office or yard from your PC or from home or even, in theory, from remote locations.

In addition, IP devices tend to be smarter and more flexible, often featuring not only video, but audio, motion sensors and temperature alarms, which can be used for other applications. Some have audio links and the person on camera and the individual monitoring the images can speak to one another.

These functions open up new possibilities says UK head of camera producer APC NetBotz, Gary Browning. “While traditional surveillance relies on user vigilance, IP allows you to monitor environmental and human hazards – both malicious and accidental – and find out about problems as or even before they happen.” If the temperature in a room that contains your main servers starts to rise for example, a heat sensor on a camera or other device can be used to alert someone when the threshold is reached.

“IP also opens up whole new functions for your surveillance solutions”, says Browning. “A real-time audio connection, for example, will not only allow the user to warn off intruders, but also say, talk technicians through maintenance processes.” You could, using an audio-capable camera, verbally instruct unwanted intruders to leave immediately.

And while using video cameras to watch over your business premises is the most immediately obvious use for them, IP cameras can be used for other purposes, such as counting footfall in a retail area or monitoring customer behaviour.

Maximising your investment

Security though is the first and most obvious application and the potential is not limited to taking video footage to deter thieves or catch them on camera. You can have a number of security and building management applications across the IP network. Access control systems, for example, are available for IP networks and can work in harness with cameras. You can put intruder alarm and fire prevention systems onto the network. Outside the realms of security, there are even building management systems that will turn the lights out automatically when they sense that no one is left in the office, that can be run across IP networks.

The great thing about all of this is it maximises the use of the network that is already bought and paid for and cuts down on cabling and maintenance costs. But before you race out and buy an IP camera, there are some other issues you need to consider – and this is another reason why you should probably seek out expert advice from a specialist supplier or installer of IP-based security systems.

You need to ensure for example, that you have enough network bandwidth to allow the transmission and recording of video to take place. You will also need substantial storage resources to record and retain all the footage you take – and some way of managing it all.

One way of getting around these issues is to use motion-sensitive cameras that will only shoot footage when movement is detected. But if you want to keep the cameras running 24 hours a day, you’ll need to take a much closer look at the technical implications. Generally, bandwidth is not an issue, unless you have an older network, but you will need a lot of storage if you plan to retain many hours of video for periods of time.

Management software may also be required – to enable you to find the footage you want quickly and – if this is something you want to do – analyse the recorded video; you can count the number of people who have entered or left a building or area, for example. More commonly though, you’ll need storage management software that will enable you to migrate older footage from disk to tape so that costs are kept down to a minimum and wipe out footage that you no longer need to retain.

Another aspect you need to consider is the security of the system itself. You may want to see what’s going on within your premises, but you may not want outsiders to see. Hackers could conceivably break into your network and see the images themselves.