Where to Install Headend Equipment

Published Mar 14, 2012 04:00 AM
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Installing surveillance headend equipment in the wrong location can lead to increased failure rates or tampering. Often little thought is given to this decision, since security systems are frequently considered only after a facility is designed and built. In this update, we will look at the three most common locations where equipment is mounted and the advantages and disadvantages or each. Finally, we give our recommendations on how to best protect equipment that must be located "anywhere it fits".

Arbitrary Placement

Likely the most common location for equipment in small installation is "wherever there's room". This often amounts to locating equipment on or under a desk, on top of cabinets or other furniture, or on a wall shelf. If employees are trusted, and the location is not in view of the public, this is often not a problem. However, it may lead to unforeseen complications if not considered carefully:

  • Security: Most often, when system equipment is arbitrarily placed, no security measures are taken to prevent access to it. This makes it easier for settings to be changed and the systems disabled. If equipment is located in a highly visible location, criminals may easily remove or destroy the recorder, eliminating evidence of their crime in the process.
  • Environment: These locations are rarely chosen with consideration of environmental controls. This could contribute to dust and debris entering equipment fans, or internal temperatures being above recommended operating levels for extended periods of time. As we discussed in our hard drive failure statistics, these are the most common reasons for hard drive failure, increasing the probability that archived video will be unavailable when needed.
  • Access: Placing the equipment in an out of the way location may obstruct access to it when it is needed. This may be a problem, for example, if the recorder must be directly accessed to retrieve video. Connecting the recorder to a network and using remote client software alleviates this problem, at least somewhat, but equipment is still difficult to access for servicing, and this "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy may lead to the system falling into disrepair. 

With Monitoring Equipment

In some systems, users prefer to mount equipment in dedicated monitoring furniture, if a central monitoring console exists. These consoles are often made with rack space built-in. This furniture does not suffer from the same security or accessibility issues of arbitrary placement, as the location is generally secure, and staffed much of the day, or 24/7. Locating equipment in furniture does have its own issues:

  • Environment: While monitoring furniture may ship with rack space, it is not intended to have a rack's worth of equipment installed in it. Often, it is not properly ventilated to handle high heat loads.
  • Noise: Fan noise from equipment may become a nuisance to monitoring staff. VMS servers, which routinely are under mid-to-high server load, may be especially loud.

If either of these two points are issues at the monitoring location, equipment should be moved to a remotely located rack, which provides better thermal management, and reduces noise levels near users.

IT Racks

In facilities where space is available, either in existing racks, or new, equipment should be rack mounted. Placing equipment in dedicated spaces alleviates issues of access, environmental control, noise, and security, or at the very least, makes these easier to manage, since the space is not used for other purposes.

In spaces shared with general IT equipment, issues of physical access to security equipment may arise. Short of installing a dedicated locking cabinet for all equipment, there is little that can be done. Locking plexiglass covers [link no longer available] are available, which can prevent access to connections and power switches in some cases, but access to power cords and patch cables may be impossible to completely prevent.


Generally speaking, equipment should be rack-mounted whenever possible, in dedicated IT racks. Failing this, if a monitoring station exists, consider placing equipment there. Ad-hoc placement should be considered as a last resort, only if no other space can be made.

If equipment absolutely must be placed arbitrarily, two considerations may contribute greatly to the system's usability:

  • Enclosures: To improve security and offer some protection from dust and debris, equipment in exposed locations should be installed in some sort of enclosure. Lockboxes and small wall-mount cabinets are available for as little as $50 online, and can prevent access by unauthorized parties.
  • Working height: If equipment must be directly accessed to operate and export video, it should be mounted at a working height of no more than approximately 48". Even if the system is network-connected, and these operations can be performed remotely, this height is a good idea, to make servicing and routine maintenance easier.