Automating Network Setup for Surveillance (Cisco Media Services Proxy)

By Ethan Ace, Published Sep 07, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

Finally, Cisco may have a winner for the surveillance market. It has taken 6 years and, ironically, comes from an offering within Cisco's core strengths, networking, rather than their continued lackluster surveillance products. While Cisco is out there pleading for end to end Cisco offerings, a second tier element of their ASIS 2012 release, named the Media Services Proxy (MSP) may be useful to the broader surveillance market. In this note, we examine what the MSP does and how it can improve surveillance networks.

MediaNet Basics

Cisco's MediaNet services allow network devices, such as IP surveillance cameras, switches and routers to be automatically provisioned, assigning IP addresses, creating VLANs, and setting up bandwidth monitors, among other features.

Previously, only IP cameras that implemented the MediaNet protocol could use this. Outside of Cisco's own cameras there was little to no adoption, making this essentially a proprietary offering.

Now, Cisco has announced support for third-party cameras through the Media Services Proxy (MSP). This is a feature / upgrade of Cisco's switches and routers allowing them to monitor and update settings for devices on their local networks. IP cameras are identified via MAC address, as well as packet inspection.

Once identified, Cisco claims the following benefits:

  • A VLAN can be automatically assigned to the camera - e.g., all IP cameras are placed on the security VLAN, eliminating an extra step for the integrator.
  • A dynamic IP address can be assigned to the camera from the pool assigned for security cameras, eliminating another common step for integrators.
  • Bandwidth shaping and or monitoring can be performed that traces the flow of data / video from the camera across the network.

While it is unclear how much Cisco can do without camera manufacturer implementing changes, Cisco claims that they can do this without the cooperation of third parties. However, and in addition, Cisco will be demonstrating these features at a plugfest during ASIS 2012, with a number of camera manufacturers attending.

Undoubtedly, Cisco says the most benefits come from an all Cisco video surveillance system but they acknowledge that core benefits can be achieved using third party VMS systems.

Network Setup challenges

Network setup remains a challenging part of IP video systems, despite advances in other areas. In a recent survey of manufacturers, IT capabilities were named as the number one challenge in dealing with integrators. Plus, security integrators themselves regularly fear using existing IT networks because of issues and fingerpointing. As such, the MSP addresses a common pain point.

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Drawbacks

Cost of Cisco networking equipment supporting MediaNet is likely the biggest obstacle for MediaNet's widespread adoption. Cisco's small business line, an integrator favorite, lacks MediaNet support. Instead, enterprise-class switches must be used, greatly increasing the cost of the system. We expect that this increase in price will outweigh gains in installation and monitoring for many, as it represents a significant up-front cost.

Second, while MediaNet is of use when using third-party products, it is most complete when using an all-Cisco solution. Using Cisco products, camera settings may be configured as well as network settings. This further reduces setup time, since cameras do not need to be individually configured. However, few integrators prefer end-to-end Cisco systems, as they are generally regarded as more expensive and lacking features of other offerings.

Impact

This is Cisco's first surveillance related release that has potential benefits to non Cisco surveillance systems, instead of their own offering, and focused on their core strength, the network, instead of their weaker surveillance offerings. Among those already using enterprise-class Cisco gear, we suspect that this may be a welcome addition. For those using other manufacturers or lower-grade Cisco products, it will be hard to justify.

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