Hardware and Accessories Buyer's Guide

Author: John Honovich, Published on Oct 03, 2011

Hardware 

What type of hardware your surveillance server will require differs between manufacturers. The manufacturer's documentation or tech support should always be consulted before purchasing hardware. Each system handles video in a different way, and this variance may be slight or extreme. Processor needs could be as low as a single dual core processor or as high as dual quad cores, depending on a variety of factors, such as framerate, resolution, server-side motion detection, and more.

One deceptive practice to watch out for is hardware specified in terms of number of cameras. This can be wildly inaccurate, because number of cameras means nothing without knowing how much bandwidth each of these cameras will use. Running 32 VGA camera using 512Kb apiece is vastly different from running 32 HD cameras, each with a 3Mb stream. This is another reason why manufacturers should be consulted before specifying hardware.

Obviously, since we are discussing network video, a network interface of some kind is necessary. The speed required will depend on how many cameras will be managed by the system. For small systems, a 10/100 fast Ethernet interface is generally all that is required, and is typically built in to the machine's motherboard. For larger systems, a gigabit Ethernet interface will be needed. 10/100/1000 Ethernet is installed by default in most, if not all, servers.

Virtualization

Virtualization provides a handful of benefits, such as better server utilization, running multiple server instances on a single physical machine, and easier imaging for back-up. However, despite these benefits, virtualization does provide some challenges. For the most part, we recommend that servers used for surveillance not be virtualized.

The first drawback is that each VM adds a certain amount of processing overhead to the machine, which reduces the number of cameras it can handle. It is not uncommon fro this overhead to be in the range of 20-25%, so a server which could previously handle 48 cameras may be able to only handle 36, for example, if running in a VM.

Second, VMs add an additional level of complexity to an already complex system. Many users and technicians can find their way around Windows, even server versions, just fine. Adding a VM to this, however, adds another point of failure which may require troubleshooting if things go wrong. Not every tech, and we would guess not many, will have in-depth knowledge of how to fix these issues.

Storage

There are two ways storage for the surveillance system may be handled: on-board and external. On-board refers to just that: hard disk drives are installed in the server machine and used for storing video. This is the simplest and most common way to store video in the vast majority of surveillance systems, since most systems are relatively low camera count (4-24), and require short retention times (5-15 days). When camera counts are higher or video must be stored for an extended period of time, external storage may be needed. External storage can generally be broken down into three categories:

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

Direct-attached (DAS): Storage of this type is literally directly attached to the server. This connection is most commonly made via USB or eSATA.

Network-attached (NAS): Network attached storage consists of a unit attached to the network, typically containing a web interface, through which users create folders where files are stored. Small NAS units are relatively inexpensive, and may be used for other purposes, such as file storage, as well.

Storage Area Network (SAN): A SAN is a device or devices attached to a closed network which is used only for storage traffice. While it is network-attached, storage connected via a SAN differs from NAS in one way: where the NAS device contains an operating system and web interface, the SAN does not. It appears simply as a disk or disks to the server, where a NAS appears as a server. SANs are the most commonly used device for storing large amounts of video.

COTS Hardware

Major Manufacturers

Brands: Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, etc.

Good Stuff: Readily available hardware with no proprietary additions, results in the most flexibility. May be VM'd if the application truly requires it. Well-established companies, less risk of failure compared to young appliance providers. "No one ever got fired for buying IBM" (or Dell or HP) is true in this case.

Bad Stuff: Requires full installation of software from scratch, as well as Windows updates, which may be pre-installed on some of the appliance manufacturers.

Bottom Line: Unless there is a very specific reason to use an application-specific server, using COTS hardware is always the safest bet.

Minor Manufacturers

Brands: Supermicro, ASUS, etc.

Good Stuff: Same as above, except typically lower cost than major name options. Generally stocked and available for shipping from online distributors.

Bad Stuff: Some of the benefits of company health of the big brands are lost when using lesser-known brands, as some "white box" suppliers may appear and disappear quickly. There is a perception that these brands are lower quality, whether deserved or not.

Bottom Line: While these lesser brands do offer some price advantage, quality may be compromised. We recommend careful thought before purchasing these brands instead of major manufacturers.

Third Party Surveillance Appliances

Brands: Intransa, Pivot3

Good Stuff: Speeds installation by pre-installation of the latest Windows version with prerequisites for VMS software, Windows Updates, etc. May also have VMS pre-installed. Multiple VMs may be pre-installed, so a single server appliance may run both video surveillance and access control, for example

Bad Stuff: Adding any VM uses some processor, meaning a server with a VM will not handle as many cameras as a server without. Often expensive compared to COTS servers. Company health and future may be a concern, as unlike commodity manufacturers, appliance providers are young, may have questionable futures.

Bottom Line: For systems using both surveillance and another application requiring a server (such as access control, license plate recognition, etc.), using an appliance with multiple VMs typically saves cost versus using multiple servers. For surveillance-only deployments, appliances have questionable technical value.

Accessories

Power

Power over Ethernet should be used in all cases except for niche scenarios. PoE is far simpler to use and deploy than using low voltage power because it allows everything to be run over one cable and eliminates the need for terminating power. On average, it reduces cost by $10-$20 per camera compared to low voltage power. Finally, PoE is nearly ubiqutiously available on IP cameras. Only the cheapest cube cameras do not support PoE.

PoE Enabled Switch

The simplest way to use PoE is to select a PoE-enabled switch. Most switches do NOT support PoE so you will need to find one that does. This is not hard but just do not take it for granted. The most important issue when selecting a PoE switch is to get one that supports maximum power (15 watts) to all ports. Many PoE switches only support half power assuming that only a few ports will be used with PoE. This may make sense for general deployments but can be a real problem with IP video surveillance. The difference between half power and max power is generally less than $100 per 8 port switch so it's not a big increase in cost. However, cutting corners on a PoE switch that does not support full power can cause painful and repeated service calls that look like the cameras are bad when really power is insufficient. Bottom line, get a PoE enabled switch that supports max power (15 watts) for each port (e.g., an 8 port switch should support 120 watts PoE total).

More advanced users and more advanced applications can consider PoE injectors or PoE midspans to power PoE cameras independently of switches. As this is somewhat more complicated and costly, do this only if you know what you are doing and have a specific reason why.

Switches

When selecting switches, three scenarios typically entail three different scenarios:

  • Small stand-alone system: If you are deploying 50 or fewer cameras per site and this is going to be on a new network, just buy SMB switches with gigabit uplink ports and you should be fine (remembering max power PoE for the switches). If you are using H.264 cameras, you will almost never come close to a bandwidth bottleneck.
  • Running IP cameras on existing networks: Determine what the existing standard is in your network and use that.
  • Large and/or integrated system: If you are deploying 100s of cameras per site or if the cameras will be running over an existing corporate/organization network, this requires real planning and expertise. This is beyond the scope of an introductory buyer's guide.

Lenses

For beginner and intermiediate users, go with the lens recommended by the manufacturer. You will not save much by picking your own lens and you might actually make things worse. Generally, camera manufacturers test lens and ship with validated lenses.

If you need to capture an image that is far away from the camera, you will need a lens with a longer focus, typically this is a 5-50 mm lens. This almost never comes stock with cameras. It's best to ask the camera manufacturer for a recommendation.

1 report cite this report:

First Ever Video Surveillance Buyer's Guide on Oct 04, 2011
We are proud to announce the industry's first Video Surveillance Buyer's Guide, a 30 page report that provides clear recommendations on what to buy...
Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Hanwha Dual Imager Dome Camera Tested (PNM-7000VD) on Oct 18, 2018
Hanwha has introduced their first dual-imager model, the PNM-7000VD, a twin 1080p model featuring independently positionable sensors and a snap-in...
Video Quality / Compression Tutorial on Oct 17, 2018
While CODECs, like H.264, H.265, and MJPEG, get a lot of attention, a camera's 'quality' or compression setting has a big impact on overall...
Integrator Laptop Guide on Oct 16, 2018
This 18-page guide provides guidance and statistics about integrator laptop use. 150 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their laptops,...
Higher Power PoE 802.3bt Ratified, Impact on Security Products Examined on Oct 12, 2018
Power over Ethernet has become one of the most popular features of many video, access, and other security products. See our PoE for IP Video...
Mysterious Patent Troll 'Secure Cam' Targets Industry, Sues Hanwha, Hikvison, JCI, Panasonic, More on Oct 11, 2018
A company named "Secure Cam," who is actively hiding their ownership, has acquired a slew of video patents and is systematically suing video...
Door Hinges Guide on Oct 10, 2018
Some of the trickiest access control problems are caused by bad door hinges. From doors not closing right, to locks not locking, worn or warped...
Security System Health Monitoring Usage Statistics 2018 on Oct 09, 2018
How well and quickly do integrators know if devices are offline or broken? New IPVM statistics show that typically no health monitoring is...
IP Camera Installability Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Oct 08, 2018
What are the best and worst cameras from an installation standpoint? Which manufacturers make it harder or easier to install their cameras? We...
IACP 2018 Police Show Final Report on Oct 08, 2018
IPVM went to Orlando to cover the 2018 IACP conference, the country's largest police show (about as big as ASIS), examining the 700+...
Network Cable Testing Guide on Oct 02, 2018
Proper cable installation is key to trouble-free surveillance systems. However, testing is often an afterthought, with problems only discovered...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Hanwha Dual Imager Dome Camera Tested (PNM-7000VD) on Oct 18, 2018
Hanwha has introduced their first dual-imager model, the PNM-7000VD, a twin 1080p model featuring independently positionable sensors and a snap-in...
Camera Height / Blind Spot Added to IPVM Camera Calculator on Oct 18, 2018
IPVM has added camera height and blind spot estimation to the Camera Calculator. This is especially helpful for those who need to mount cameras up...
Axis Strong US Growth, Flat EMEA - Q3 2018 Financials on Oct 18, 2018
This spring, Axis had its best financials in many years (see Axis Strong Q2 2018 Results). However, over the summer, Axis had many products sold...
Best Alternatives to Banned Dahua and Hikvision on Oct 17, 2018
With the US government ban and a growing number of users banning Dahua and Hikvision, one key question is what to use for low cost? While Dahua and...
Video Quality / Compression Tutorial on Oct 17, 2018
While CODECs, like H.264, H.265, and MJPEG, get a lot of attention, a camera's 'quality' or compression setting has a big impact on overall...
Knightscope Winning Investors, Struggling With Growth on Oct 16, 2018
While Knightscope's new financials show the company only winning 11 new customers in the past 12 months, the company continues to win new...
Integrator Laptop Guide on Oct 16, 2018
This 18-page guide provides guidance and statistics about integrator laptop use. 150 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their laptops,...
Huawei Admits AI "Bubble" on Oct 16, 2018
A fascinating article from the Chinese government's Global Times: Huawei’s AI ambition to reshape industries. While the Global Times talks about...
ADI's Financials Revealed + W-Box Growth Priority on Oct 15, 2018
  ADI is one of the most powerful distributors in the security industry but how big are they? How much profit do they make? How much do they sell...
Dahua Face Recognition Camera Tested on Oct 15, 2018
Dahua has been one of the industry's most vocal proponents of the value that AI creates: As part of this, Dahua has released a facial...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact