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Migrating to a Network Platform

by Benchmark

The benefits of adopting a network-based approach to system design are significant; indeed, it could be argued that other systems are reaching end-of-life as they are increasingly unable to offer the many benefits available to assist in the creation of value-added systems. The result is that integrators and installers who want to offer bespoke and smart solutions now have no realistic option but to migrate legacy systems to networked platforms.

For many years, the UK has been an international leader in both the development and implementation of advanced security technologies. When faced with limitations in terms of technological developments, a number of UK manufacturers created innovative solutions that pushed boundaries. By exploiting every last bit of performance, UK expertise in security led the way.

When network-based systems first arrived in the UK security sector, their arrival didn’t herald a significant change to the way that security, and especially video surveillance, was implemented. This was because many manufacturers had pushed the capabilities of composite video to new levels via on-going innovation. As a result, IP-based solutions, in their primitive form, didn’t add much in the way of performance, but did significantly increase the required budget.

Over the years, performance of IP-based solutions has increased and prices of the systems have fallen significantly. The arguments for switching to a networked platform have been becoming increasingly stronger every year. Recent advances have significantly changed the technological landscape, to the point where installers and integrators who do not base their systems on networked platforms simply cannot compete for many of the commercially lucrative contracts.

Systems using other legacy platforms are still commonplace. Either upgrades have not been carried out because end users have not been made aware of the additional benefits they could enjoy by switching to a networked platform. Others invested in one of the many HD-over-coax options, believing these to be future-proof, and now feel that the cost of rectifying their mistake will be significant.

As more and more value-added features and functions become available – higher resolution video, flexible VMS solutions, intelligent video and audio analytics, artificial intelligence and deep learning, business intelligence, browser-based GUIs, integrated solutions, smart buildings and home automation – so end users are increasingly demanding more from their systems and the only way to meet their needs is via a networked platform.

In applications with legacy infrastructure, this does not mean that a ‘rip and replace’ approach is necessary. Indeed, it could be argued that in some applications utilising the legacy infrastructure is actually a better approach. It is certainly an efficient way to migrate to an IP-based platform.

Planning the move

Deploying a migration to a network-based solution can be achieved in a number of ways. In many applications the preferred approach is for the migration to be completed in a phased programme as budgets and infrastructure become available. An important advantage to a phased migration model is that edge devices can be transitioned cost-effectively, either individually or in groups, as needs change.

There are several technologies available that can be used by the installer and integrator when migrating to digital technology using existing infrastructure. The advantage of this approach is that new cabling is not required for many of the system links.

This delivers benefits for the end user (less site disruption, extended return on investment for existing infrastructure assets and some edge devices, the ability to ‘piggyback’ new connectivity for other systems such VoIP and process-based systems, etc.) as well as benefits for the integrator (time spent pulling cable – typically one of the most labour-intensive parts of an installation – is significantly reduced, run-length limitations of network cabling are not an issue, installations are quicker to deploy, etc.).

The entry level starting point is normally to consider an EoC (Ethernet over Coax) or similar device.

Where an analogue or AHD system is being replaced, such a device will normally be situated in the control room. This is because the limitations of coaxial cable in traditional systems do not allow cable sharing. Therefore, every edge device had a dedicated link back to the central management and recording hardware.

It is worth noting that when a coaxial link is used for EoC systems, the very fact that it becomes a network link means that packets from multiple devices can share the available bandwidth. This increase flexibility when designing an upgraded system. If, for example, a traditionally cabled system has a single camera at the edge of a car park, it can only be replaced by another single camera. However, the single coaxial link can, through deployment of an EoC switch, allow multiple devices to be connected to the network without any need for additional cabling.

The EoC switch effectively encodes the network data packets so they can be transmitted across coaxial media, and at the other end of the link converts the packets back so they can be transmitted across standard LAN and WAN cabling. To all extents and purposes, the operation of the EoC devices and the links utilising coax remain invisible and seamless.

The advantage of this method is devices can be added to a network-based system with very few additional costs for hardware or software except for the EoC switch. In some applications, the switch can also be used to deliver PoE power to the edge devices.

Building-to-building applications where multiple IP streams need to be tranmitted between premises can be achieved using EoC where legacy cabling exists. Similar to EoC, many manufacturers also offer systems that can utilise existing UTP links as well.

One final consideration when designing a system to make use of EoC switches is that the approach makes it possible to deliver a high performance LAN without any need to utilise the corporate LAN. A discrete network can be created that uses legacy infrastructure. A gateway can then be implemented to allow access from the corporate LAN to the security LAN, ensuring that the security system can be accessed by authorised persons without opening it up to any potential vulnerabilities that may exist on the corporate network.

This approach not only makes working with IT departments a simpler task, as fears about video or security data swamping the network are eliminated, but it also helps to create a more robust cybersecurity policy.

Longer reach

One of the few limitations associated with network traffic is the transmission distance of 100 metres. Any network runs in excess of this distance require repeaters. While this isn’t an insurmountable problem, it does involve additional cabling and costs for supplementary devices. However, the issue of distance can be addressed by using certain EoC switches.

Many LAN designs make use of standard LAN switches with the inherent distance limitations. This is why many installers and integrators carrying out system migrations believe the only option is to rip-and-replace legacy infrastructure and install new ‘standard’ PoE switches.

Ironically, because of the expense caused by the need to duplicate existing infrastructure, this approach can be the main barrier to end users agreeing to undergo a migration to an all IP platform.

The use of existing infrastructure actually allows the use of long reach PoE switches that allow customers to transform their legacy coax, telephony or multi-pair UTP infrastructure into a robust IP platform. The switches are ideal for many of the typical edge devices such as cameras, codecs, door controllers and other security devices. However, they will also support standard IT and communications devices as well.

The deployment of these switches eliminates the need to rip-and-replace infrastructure, allowing for a graceful, non-disruptive and cost-effective way to migrate to IP without the issue of distance-related limitations. This is because the long-reach switches offer superior transmission distances without any need for repeaters.

The cost-savings become obvious once you realise that edge devices with network runs of up to 700 metres can be supported by the switches, even where they are using existing coax cable. The alternative approach, making use of standard LAN switches, requires six equipment cabinets, repeating devices and the installation of new Ethernet cabling.

The use of long reach switches makes a wide range of installation tasks simple and more flexible when migrating to IP.

It becomes very simple to complete a full or partial migration with this approach. The IP long range switch is connected to the server and the IP-based solution sits alongside the legacy solution.

Moving from a partial migration to a full migration when budget becomes available, and moving from an extended LAN to separate LAN, is also a very simple task for installers and integrators.

In summary

Having the option to leverage existing infrastructure is ideal for many applications, and greatly simplifies the migration to a digital platform. Long reach PoE capabilities allow installers and integrators to gracefully migrate, creating either a separate or integrated LAN topology.

Whether updating analogue systems or replacing AHD with a flexible and beneficial solution, migration to a networked platform is a necessity for forward-thinking engineers.

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