By Jim Schakenbach
The concept of designing and building "intelligent buildings" has come into its own over the past 2 decades. Many definitions have been bandied about over the years, but the most comprehensive and accurate one seems to have been offered by the Building Intelligence Group's Paul Ehrlich, who defined an intelligent building as one that includes the "use of technology and process to create a building that is safer and more productive for its occupants and more operationally efficient for its owners."
Video surveillance systems have been a critical element in the security landscape for decades, helping to monitor and protect retail, commercial, residential, and public property. Today, as the concern for enhanced security grows and the architectural community embraces the intelligent building concept, video surveillance - and especially new digital surveillance systems - play an increasingly crucial role in providing a safe and productive environment.
Why is it important for the architect to understand this? Because as surveillance systems change, so do their requirements. Today's IP-based, digital video surveillance systems provide a lot more installation flexibility and operational versatility, enabling systems to be quickly reconfigured. Cameras can be easily moved, added, and removed based on room and area usage. That means rooms or spaces originally designed for nonsecure use can be easily repurposed by adding security cameras, sensors, or other security devices and tying them into the network ring without the inefficiency and expense of hard-wiring each component back to a security station or system rack.
Previously, most video surveillance systems deployed were non-networked analog solutions consisting of CCTV analog cameras connected primarily to coaxial cable. Although Ethernet switches have been used for years in other IT networking applications, they were rarely used for video security applications until recently. That is rapidly changing with the emergence of IP (Internet protocol) networks to support IP cameras, digital recorders, and larger storage solutions for today's IP video surveillance systems. With the introduction of the IP camera, IP security networks are becoming the preferred solution over traditional analog systems. IP networks are innately more robust and more dependable than analog systems. In short, IP-based security systems help put back the building design flexibility that hard-wired analog systems took away.
IP-based digital security systems are also attractive for intelligent buildings because they fit easily into the concept of integrated systems design using common network infrastructure and simplifying system architecture. Less cabling and fewer conduits reduce the number of pathways and access points that need to be considered, affecting overall building design and operation.
Self-managed, Self-healing Ethernet Switches
To date, IP video surveillance solutions have used either unmanaged or managed Ethernet switches that were developed for IT information networks. Although they make it easy to install and to set up the network, unmanaged switches are extremely vulnerable and provide little to no protection from network failure. A single point of failure, loss of power, or spike in network traffic would cause a disruption of service or complete collapse of the security network.
In recent years, IP switch technology has evolved, resulting in next-generation self-managed Ethernet switches, such as those developed by CBL Systems of Milford, MA. These new self-managed switches, or "smart switches," are ideally suited for intelligent building design, with built-in integrated intelligence that requires virtually no administration. This new distributed self-managed switching technology enables the network to "self-heal" around any point of failure on the network, even the master switch.
"As video security networks continue to migrate to IP network solutions, customers are demanding lower-cost, easy-to-install, redundant Ethernet switch solutions," says Joe Burke, president of CBL Systems. According to Burke, one of the attractions of using Ethernet-based solutions is the ability to support digital video cameras, recorders, and other IP devices in a managed network. Ease of installation using a high-bandwidth Gigabit network, coupled with the switches' self-management and self-healing capabilities, enable building owners and managers to quickly and cost-efficiently install and expand IP surveillance systems virtually anywhere as the need arises.
Because these new self-managed switches have built-in intelligence, they can automatically identify and establish contact with various IP devices such as cameras, video recorders, routers, PCs, and servers when they are plugged into Ethernet service ports. When additional self-managed switches are connected into the ring, the built-in intelligence automatically creates the ring network without any IT administration necessary and enables applications to access the appropriate data streams from any port on the network as necessary.
Hack-proof, Secure Networks
This cabinet houses the analytical software designed to monitor/record all camera presentations plus predesignated events (defined by the property owner) that require security personnel attention. This cabinet is located within the head-end and has connectivity to the security monitoring platform.
What makes security networks built with the new self-managed switches even more attractive for physical security networks is their inability to be hacked. In the self-managed mode, these new switches can't be accessed and altered by external sources, protecting them from unwanted intrusion, rerouting, or modification.
For further protection, the self-healing ring architecture provides secure network redundancy. A break in the cable or loss of power triggers an automatic alarm and the self-healing ring immediately locates the fault and reroutes the data stream back over an alternative path to provide uninterrupted service. All of this makes for extremely reliable perimeter security and surveillance networks. The Gigabit fiber-optic ring provides a secure method to network devices such as cameras, sensors, and recorders to a central command center while being impervious to lightning strikes and electromagnetic interference.
An increasing number of building owners are turning to IP-based Ethernet ring networks to provide the backbone for their video surveillance, perimeter security, and access control systems for the clear advantages they provide over hard-wired analog systems.
Moving to Gigabit ring network technology with self-managing, self-healing Ethernet switches enables building owners to benefit from lower installation costs, unlimited scalability, minimal operator training, reduced IT administration costs, and overall lower total cost of ownership. Ethernet ring networks can provide building owners with a good ROI while providing increased building security, occupant safety, and operational flexibility and efficiency for a truly intelligent building design.
Jim Schakenbach (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing partner of the SCT Group Inc., Northborough, MA, a high-technology marketing communications consultancy.