Surveillance Challenges Surge

Author: John Honovich, Published on Dec 31, 2012

Designing and deploying surveillance systems has become far harder over the past decade - A great challenge for an industry with such an anti-intellectual history. This goes far beyond simply 'learning IT' as the variety of viable alternatives have exploded. To prosper in this changing environment, surveillance must become a real technology profession.

New Challenges
Designing a top flight system in 2003 or even 2008 was far simpler than it is today. Putting together a modern surveillance system demands many difficult decisions that were not a factor nor often even possible a few years ago:

In the old days, choice was limited and simple (.e., CIF, 2CIF, 4CIF). Now, you have that plus SVGA, 720p, 1080p, 3MP, 5MP, 10MP, 14MP, 20MP, 29MP and more. More is often better but not always as tradeoffs in low light performance, WDR, frame rate, feature sets, costs and more exist.

Years ago, you bought a DVR and everything came in a box. Now you need to not only decide software only vs appliances, you must consider centralized vs decentralized recording. The tradeoffs on price, maintainability, extensibility, etc are significant.

Historically, storage came with the DVR and you just ordered how much you wanted in the box (e.g. 160GB, 320GB, 480GB, etc.). Now you pick from DAS, NAS, SAN and increasingly edge storage. There are big tradeoffs among all of these - performance, flexibility, maintenance, cost, etc.

Camera Types
In the old days, the big decision was 'PTZ vs Fixed'. Now that's just one of a numerous choices that need to be made:

  • Panoramics vs PTZs: some big benefits but also some big risks
  • Integrated IR vs Added IR vs thermal vs 'regular' low light cameras
  • Minidomes, Bullets, Cubes vs the traditional box and dome styles

So many more camera types exist now at attractive prices that force more complex decisions.

Deploying Systems
Getting the most of systems - whether it is reducing storage costs, or optimizing image quality, or ensuring scalability - is far harder now. It is no surprise that the number of horror stories and broken systems has risen.

IT Expertise
Last, but not least, everyone knows now that IT skills are not only here to stay but a critical component of today's video surveillance systems. Yet just knowing IT is not enough. Mastery of these domain specific decisions is crucial.

Historical Roots
The industry still struggles with its roots as a technologically simplistic low voltage / light construction trade with so many of its senior leaders from that era. This drives consistent underestimation of these issues and resistance to change.

Challenges to Intensify
However, the need for strong technological skill will only intensify.

  • The continuing decline of product margins means the end of the good ol' days when stupid mistakes could be covered up with fat markups.
  • The technology will only get more complex as cameras continue to get smarter, higher resolution and with more features, forcing even more complex decisions.
  • And end user, especially large ones, may be just or more confused as integrators, but it will be far easier for them to find alternative solutions and to seek second opinions of the proposals they are considering.

Becoming a Technology Profession
If surveillance integrators are going to deliver the best systems possible out of the increasingly complex options available, they need to demand and pursue deep technical excellence. Some surely do but not enough. Looking ahead at the next few years, this will be a defining challenge for the industry.

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