Integrators step up to new data transmission challenge

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Integrators are expected to know how to transmit data, including video, in the most efficient, most economical and safest way possible. But experts say that the proliferation of IP technology--particularly sales of IP cameras, which have taken off in the last year--makes an installer's job more challenging than ever.
Installers are now expected by end users to learn the technology, and speak "IP," as well as understand how to best configure and install the equipment.
"The physical layer is more important than ever," said Michelle Allard, vice president of sales and marketing for Anixter, a distributor of communication products and electrical and electronic wire and cable.
The good news is that it appears that integrators are up to the task; maybe because they're taking advantage of training opportunities, which are flourishing in all spheres of the security industry. Manufacturers, distributors and industry organizations such as the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association and ISC Institute are offering more and more classes dedicated to the installation of networks and IP infrastructure.
Allard said Anixter has hosted more than 50 IP convergence seminars, which covered "basic networking principles, and offered a demonstration on how to properly design a 12-camera IP system, including storage, server and power requirements." Anixter gets 100 requests per month for two guides it published to help integrators migrate to IP security technology (so far, they've distributed 30,000 copies. They're available for no charge at www.Anixter.com).
The IP surveillance guide reviews migration trends in the industry and components of the systems; a second guide addresses security infrastructure "designing and installing infrastructure for three types of security systems: traditional (coax based), analog/hybrid, and digital/IP security solutions." This guide includes an overview of networking standards. A third guide on integrated security technologies is in the works.
Similarly, James Rothstein, senior vice president at distributor Tri-Ed, said the company's plans for 2007 include tripling "our [IP] training efforts in terms of sessions" both internally and externally for dealers.
Rothstein pointed out that "as the price comes down on IP equipment, it becomes much more universally applicable." The cost benefit is definitely there for larger installations, but with smaller installations, "the classic four- to eight-camera job in a small commercial application ... the benefit probably isn't there yet."
In terms of the camera installations, however, Rothstein notes a distinction: "If you have a DVR, even if you used analog equipment connected to that DVR, it is still an IP installation in some respects." He further explained, "What I mean by that is one of the benefits of IP is availability of remotely viewing and controlling what goes on and as long as you have a DVR that is a network appliance, as most are, you can get to it remotely and you can control some things in your system even if cameras aren't themselves IP."
There are certainly deeper benefits to the camera being IP, he said, "but the DVR gets you part-way there." Even with the analog components, this kind of system can add complexity for installers. At distributor ADI, Eric Elsenbroek, systems sales support manager, said they "hear a lot of questions in general about IP cameras or putting an access control system on a network. Even fire alarm systems that are going to go on a network are using this as a transmission."
And in very large installations, there's sometimes a "shadow network" to separate the on-demand hungry application like video from the data network. "The level of knowledgeable installers and integrators that can actually optimize a system over a network is coming up. They're getting that education. But they're still in that learning curve," he said.
Often integrators "don't understand the true specifications of the network, how when they hang an appliance on a network, how it's going to affect the network. They've been told one thing and they're basing that decision on information that was old," Elsenbroek explained.
As an example he said that newer products, such as cameras with new types of compression, don't use as much bandwidth as they did previously. Thus, the integrator "doesn't have to worry about the overhead affecting applications on a network."
Ed Ludwig, president and chief executive officer of Optelecom-NKF, a supplier of network video equipment, talked about what's at stake with the installation of video in large installations: "You have to be very careful about the switching architecture to make sure there is sufficient capacity ... and that the switches handle the data flow properly."
When integrators get involved with "hubs and switches and lots of video it can get extremely complex. We actually have organized our company so we pre-plan any installation and check it out to make sure that the performance we're talking about is there," he said. Optelecom-NKF does not do installations, but its application engineers check out the installation configuration to make sure it's correct.
"Even though everyone says that Ethernet is standard, different switches perform different ways ... and the installation can be badly flawed if you don't do it right," he said. Optelecom-NKFprovides training quarterly and upon request for his distributors, reps and others.
Ongoing training he said is necessary because with his systems the installations are extensive. "People have to decide they're going to be trained to some extent on network and Ethernet technology if they're going to understand it right," he said. Once the installation is complete, Ludwig said, "the integrator is going to have to maintain it. The people that are the closest to the system are the ones that should understand it and be able to support it."
Counte Cooley, president of Electronic Sales Company, an integrator in Gainesville, Ga., has two IT specialists on staff and is hiring a third. "The IT people I hire are generally poor installers and ... I have great installers who are not IP savvy, so we have to train each other. We have to cross-train within our company. We are criss-crossing all the time to make sure we are covering 100 percent of a customer's needs."
ADI's Elsenbroek said, "It all has to do with the specification of the job--what the end user wants, what they have available in the infrastructure for you to utilize--and once you have that, then you can start deciding what's going to be the most cost-effective. It's all job specific."