Do You Design Your Own Networks?

When a video surveillance project requires its own dedicated network, and its fairly complex (multiple buildings, lots of cameras), how do you go about designing it? How do you decide which switches/routers to use and how to architecture the system?

Do you do this all yourself, or rely on a network expert to do this for you? Are any of the equipment manufacturers or distributors a good resource when it comes to network design?

In my experience, you have to have network design skill inhouse, otherwise your design will be inefficient most likely and if outsourced, slow to respond to changes and expensive. Oil and gas national firm here on one big project required that a bidding CCTV integrator demonstrate hes got 3 network engineers with credentials like CCNA.

The best source I dont know, but a good source is the CCDA cert self study material from Cisco which focuses on network design (CCNA focuses on routing and switching only)

Since my background is IT and it was what I was speficially hired for, we do our own network design work. It's not that complex compared to most general IT enterprise applications, but the biggest learning curve was wireless. Your bigggest concerns are going to be bandwidth, of course, but beyond that which a lot of untrained or experianced network designers don't consider is the switching power of the equipment. If you have lot's of streams going through a switch or wireless bridge, even if it has plenty of bandwidth it has to have enough processing power to maintain the multiple network sessions and packet switch between then fast enough, especially if you have a lot of cameras going through a wireless bridge.

Only manufacturers who are already focused on video surveillance are any help. Most of the IT name brands are either too generic or IT centric and don't understand video surveillance needs, and are apt to oversell you stuff you don't need.

Luis and Wassim,

Thanks for the comments. Which of the network equipment manufacturers do you think are the most savvy when it comes to providing equipment for video surveillance?

Overwhelmingly, even IP focused manufacturers tend to hate giving network design advice and see it typically as an unfair burden (i.e., integrator's don't know what they are doing).

That said, I'd be interested to hear how does the most to help here.

So far I've been the most impressed with Etherwan. Their products have worked very well for us in the couple years we've been using them. In the few times we've had to RMA a device it was a refreshingly easy process. I was even questioning an engineer about using multicast, and he went so far as to do an experiment for me in his own lab to test my question on application and got the results back to me the next day. As the old saying goes, "That's service."

We do everything inhouse because we are the ones that will be servicing the system so we really need to be involved in the design - if needed we will get consultation of course. That said we have not done anything big - biggest project is around 200-250 ip addresses (very few of these are cameras, 16).

Our go to equipment for now are Mikrotik routers, Cisco switches and Ubiquiti wirerless. We sometimes use Ruckus if there is budget for proper managed wireless.

We try to become better on the network part since we understand its signifigance so we have 3 people now studying for CCNA.

The decison of brands / types / models of network equipment squarely sits with the type of network design expertise you have within your organization. If you have Cisco-certified personnel, then set yourself up as a Cisco partner and sling that product as part of your solutions. Myself, being HP-certified, I tend to stick with ProCurve switching for most of my engineering designs.

Networks usually have to be custom fit when you get above the 250 node mark. Surveillance is especially interesting since you are dealing with constant streams of data versus the typical ups-and-downs of consumption-driven networks in homes and workplaces.

One thing you can do is build a template, or schema, that's flexible enough to fit most of the installs you do. I have a proprietary network template which expands quickly to 20,000+ nodes and deflates to small systems when needed. This makes it easy to deploy, support, and manage. Additionally, I can train my personnel on the template and they 'get it'. This only bolsters the support angle even more.

The comments about wireless are on the spot. Wireless requires much more additional engineering and understanding- just like Ethernet did 20 years ago.

Hi Seth,

This template you speak of, what software is it in? Can you tell us a bit about it?

It's not a 'software' package or anything of that nature. It's a design standard in an Excel spreadsheet that allows for the design to easily scale depending on the requirements.

Having worked for both traditional security dealers and IT/Security Integration companies, I have been stuck on both sides of the fence.

The security dealers I worked for were comically afraid of any interaction with IT staff/departments, and would always either defer to customer staff for network design input, or subcontract to a partner company. I could appreciate that they knew the limits of their average technician and engineer; but they did have 4-5 Cisco Certified staff members on board, and were one of the largest Cisco VMS/Access Control dealers in the world (which isnt saying much...).

The IT/Security Integration companies I have worked for were obviously living in the IT infrastructure world daily, as larger HP/Enterasys/Cisco/Meru/Fluidmesh partners (having a full range of certified wired and wireless certified technicians, and RCDDs in some cases). On the flip side, there can be times that the networking sales team can over think and over complicate their piece of a deal and just muddy up the entire opportunity; so each has its own set of headaches.

Every networking manufacturer we have worked with typically have 1 or 2 good regional support reps/engineers if there is design or BOM work that needs a ton of resources thrown at. Most/all good sized manufacturers in that world have factory field rep support, not rep firms like the security industry will tend to have. A lot of IT distribution houses (Ingram/Synex/Jenne, etc) are just order takers and don't provide too much design support from what I've seen