Standards, cabling remain issues for surveillance systems

A seminar delivered via the Web addressed these and other topics facing IT professionals who have entered the world of IP-based surveillance.

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A seminar delivered via the Web addressed these and other topics facing IT professionals who have entered the world of IP-based surveillance.

by Patrick McLaughlin

An online seminar hosted by Cabling Installation & Maintenance in late March addressed a number of topics that have become familiar to professionals in the information technology (IT) field who have seen Internet Protocol (IP)-based video added to their list of responsibilities. The trend away from analog-based video systems that run over coaxial-cabling systems, and toward IP-based systems running over twisted-pair and/or fiber-optic cabling systems, continues. The reality for the video-surveillance market as a whole is that analog remains dominant in terms of the installed base of systems. A user organization with an installed analog system will leverage that system as much as possible to maximize the return on the investment made in it. In many of these cases a transition from analog to digital will mean the existence of a hybrid system where there once was an entirely analog system. In new-build environments, on the other hand, the case for IP video is compelling. And while any prediction made years ago that IP would “own” the surveillance market over analog by now clearly was off the mark, the deployment of IP-based surveillance systems continues to climb.

No matter where you look, IP-surveillance cameras are popping up everywhere. The extent to which those cameras are interoperable with the overall surveillance systems, and the means by which they are attached to the supporting cabling system, were topics of discussion in a recent seminar.

The professionals for whom IP surveillance is a relatively new item of responsibility can be categorized into a few groups. In enterprise end-user environments, IT managers who previously did not have responsibility for their organizations’ security systems, now may. Also in those environments, facilities managers who have maintained responsibility for analog-based security and surveillance systems are being introduced to the world of IP. For some of them, it means turning over responsibility for the security system to the IT department, willingly or unwillingly. For others it means a shared or coordinated responsibility with IT. In any case, the transition of a surveillance system from analog to IP has some impact on an organization’s facilities department.

The dynamics are interesting for the professionals who design and install surveillance systems as well. Integrators who have supplied analog systems to users for years are facing new products, technologies and practices when they take on IP systems. And installers/systems integrators who have worked with IT equipment—and particularly for the purposes of this magazine, the cabling systems that support IT equipment—view IP surveillance as a new business opportunity.

Standardized performance

The cultural differences between analog and IP surveillance extend to the standardization of the surveillance systems and, for our purposes, the cabling infrastructure supporting them. In the March seminar Steve D’Ercole, RCDD/NTS, regional security manager with Anixter (www.anixter.com), spoke on the topic of IP security and standardization. He explained, “This is a world of many manufacturers, many of which have just a piece of the puzzle. A few manufacturers do build the entire portfolio of products, but it’s typically a multi-vendor environment. That can cause some challenges with projects and deployment. Because of this, specifying projects can be difficult because of the lack of standards. One particular product may not work with another, and it’s not as easy as it is in the networking world.”

He says that despite some change in this lack of standards for surveillance systems, global interoperability remains a challenging prospect for many organizations. Users with a global presence are having a difficult time deploying a similar specification around the world. “All this drives up the cost of integration, because users don’t have the choice of multiple products to use. Products end up being a little more costly than they would be otherwise.”

D’Ercole’s presentation focused on the advantages that can, and perhaps will, come with the standardization of IP-based surveillance components and systems. He said, “In the networking world, we like to use the term plug-and-play. To play on those words, you can plug-and-watch,” with standardized surveillance systems. On the prospect of simply plugging in an IP camera and knowing it will work as expected and integrate seamlessly with the system’s other components, D’Ercole said, “It’s getting to be like that. Very early standards are starting to emerge. This of course would ease installation, where you wouldn’t have to worry about which particular manufacturer to use on each end.”

Professionals in IT and especially the structured cabling industry have gotten used to fully interoperable systems. If and when such interoperability is achieved for IP surveillance systems, D’Ercole noted, “This would give users the opportunity to choose what could be the best-in-breed product rather than choosing based on what is compatible with the system you have.”

Another positive attribute of establishing standards is the quality of standard-compliant components. He explained, “With standards and the repeatability of manufacturing, the quality of components should increase among all manufacturers.” A standard will also protect a user for future use or expansion of a system. If a user is not happy with a particular product, D’Ercole said, the user will be able to select another standard-compliant product without concern about its compatibility with other system components, such as a headend for example.

Ongoing work

“Some standards are evolving in the security space,” he continued. “ONVIF [Open Network Video Interface Forum] and PSIA [Physical Security Interoperability Alliance] are the two standards today.” Whether the two groups eventually merge into one standards-making body or continue on their separate paths toward standardizing security products and systems, their efforts can pay off for users, D’Ercole noted. Their efforts “will drive interoperability among multiple manufacturers,” he said. “These standards, in a nutshell, create order where there has been confusion and chaos, in much the same way that Ethernet is a glowing success as far as standards bodies are concerned. Ethernet has exploded around the world and is a global standard.” He cited Power over Ethernet as another example of a technology that has enjoyed success, at least in part and probably in large part, because it is specified in standards used around the world.

D’Ercole went on to say that having a set of standards for IP-security products and systems will benefit the aforementioned groups of professionals—those who use and manage surveillance systems as well as those who design and install them. For users, “it provides the flexibility to pick whatever components you want. It also futureproofs your investment and ultimately will reduce the cost of the installation and ownership over a period of time.”

For the integrator, consultant or installer, “the flexibility is also a benefit—to be able to pick the components that are available or best-in-breed based on a budget. The installation is greatly simplified,” he added. “In much the same way we have Ethernet standards for distances on Category 5e or Category 6 cabling, that same approach will be taken with security.”

Direct attachment

Another presentation made during the seminar was delivered by Berk-Tek’s (www.berktek.com) marketing analyst Carol Everett Oliver, RCDD/ESS. Oliver’s presentation was entitled “Cabling options for surveillance systems” and covered a number of issues. But the one issue that appeared to generate the most interest—at least if interest is gauged by the number and type of questions submitted by members of the audience—was the type of connection made between horizontal cabling and an IP-based surveillance camera. Specifically, Oliver explained the choice between what she describes as a user-administered connection and a facility connection.

“The user-administered connection is the one we’re most familiar with,” Oliver said. “It’s a permanent link with the horizontal cable terminated to the workstation outlet. From there a patch cord connects to the end device. But a facility connection often uses what we call a direct-attach, in which a plug is attached directly to the solid horizontal cable.”

She then explained why an unconventional connection such as this direct-attach may be used in surveillance systems. “In the real world this is how security integrators have been attaching cables to security cameras for years. The structured cabling industry is now looking at this as a viable option, for many reasons.

“Workstation outlets and patch cords often are not plenum-rated,” she said, explaining that cameras most often are placed overhead for the obvious practical purpose of maximizing the camera’s line of sight. With this physical placement, the cabling that runs to the camera is in the ceiling (plenum) space. She continued, “In many cases there is no room for a workstation outlet. Or imagine an exposed workstation outlet with a patch cord hanging out. That is not a very secure environment and could easily be unplugged.” And sometimes, she said, such an outlet does not fit the building décor and its biggest drawback is that it is unsightly.

“The direct-attach method actually meets structured cabling standards in the telecommunications room,” Oliver pointed out. “The installer needs to make sure the plug and the cable Category match each other, because there are Category 5e plugs just as there is Category 5e cable and Category 6 cable. They also need to make sure they follow the proper installation procedures per the manufacturer of the plug, because many plugs vary in what they look like and how they hold the conductors in place.”

Oliver then addressed whether or not such a connection will be warranted by the manufacturer. “To provide a warranty, most manufacturers require certification test reports. So you need to make sure you can test this direct-attach. The test procedure is called a modified permanent link. We’ve done lab testing and in these instances the results can actually be better than the jack/outlet scenario because one of the connections is eliminated.”

Practical matters

Steve D’Ercole’s presentation impressed upon the seminar’s audience that standardization of products, systems and procedures has positive effects on technology systems. He cited Ethernet and Power over Ethernet as examples. The portion of Carol Everett Oliver’s presentation that discussed the direct-attach method of connecting an IP camera was an example of a variation to a long-standardized system. A number of audience members sought more detail on the direct-attach concept and its execution.

One asked if Oliver was aware of any activity within a standards-making body to create or modify a specification to recognize the direct-attach connection method. In her answer, she was careful to emphasize that the information she provided was up to date as of that time—March 2011. “Right now,” she said, “the BICSI/ANSI [Electronic Safety and Security] standard is considering including this, calling it direct-attach, and allowing it. TIA-862 [Building Automation Systems Cabling] does allow connection from a horizontal crossconnect right to the device in a direct-attach method.”

Even so, she noted, compliance with standards such as TIA-862 is voluntary. Building codes, including the National Electrical Code, are the rule of law in the jurisdictions in which they are adopted. Placing a patch cord that is not plenum-rated into an above-ceiling plenum space would not merely put an installer or user out of standard compliance; it would place them in violation of the law.

She emphasized that in cases in which this connection method is used with cameras, “You have to look at the application and the installation environment.”

The development of standards, and compliance with established standards, are just two of a myriad of issues that must be addressed when designing, installing and using an IP-based surveillance system. The topics raised in this article barely scrape the proverbial surface of these issues.


Berk-Tek offers guidelines for using the direct-attach method

In an article on its Web site, Berk-Tek, a Nexans company, offers practical guidelines for those who choose to use the direct-attach connection method mentioned in this article. The company explains that following specific procedures will help to assure that the plug contacts line up and work properly. But because there are no standards to attaching plugs other than lining up the conductors to match T568A or T568B, plug designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Berk-Tek advises installers to use the following guidelines, but refer to a manufacturer’s specific instructions and use the manufacturer’s recommended tools.

  1. If there is a strain relief (boot), slide it on the cable.
  2. Trim off 1 to 1.5 inches of the jacket and untwist the pairs.
  3. Align the conductors to match the proper color layout for either T568A or T568B, depending on the other end of the termination in the telecommunications room.
  4. If there is a load bar or management bar, trim the conductors at a slight angle. If there is no load bar, evenly cut straight across (to make it easier to load).
  5. Line up the conductors on the load bar and trim the excess wire once pushed through. There should be no more than a total of 0.5 inches of untwisted wire from the tip of the housing to the cable jacket.
  6. Make sure that all conductors touch the end of the housing and are visible when looking through the end of the housing.
  7. If there is a strain relief, slide up to the rear of the plug housing.
  8. Using the manufacturer’s recommended crimp tool, crimp the plug into place. This is a critical step because if it is done incorrectly, the wires can become loose and lose end-to-end contact.

Also in that article, which can be found at www.berktek.com, the company stated that it “continues to explore the plug-versus-jack scenario as we recognize that installations in security are somewhat different than typical LAN environments.”

Patrick McLaughlin is chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance. The seminar from which this article is derived can be viewed at www.cablinginstall.com.

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