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Server management and maintenance

by Benchmark

Servers are increasingly becoming a significant part of the modern video surveillance solution, and it is important that installers and integrators consider the management and maintenance of these pivotal devices. When dealing with server management, the application of a little common sense can go a long way. Benchmark asked some industry experts for their hints and tips when managing video surveillance servers.

The increased use of servers as a central part of networked security solutions does impact on the skills required for many installers and integrators. Much of the process of maintenance and management of servers is straightforward. The devices are typically built with heavy duty cycles and longevity in the field in mind. However, there are a number of considerations to be borne in mind if you want a long and trouble-free life from your core IT devices.

Common sense server management
Robin Hughes, Sales Director, Secure Logiq
It is important to observe common sense rules when working on servers. These are precision machines, and a little basic care can help avoid costly mistakes which could damage components and disrupt everyday operations.

Follow standard procedures for avoiding static electricity. This can include simple steps such as avoiding clothing made of polyester or wool, which can create a static electricity build-up. Don’t pass components between people by hand, and before touching anything which is sensitive to static get rid of any electrical charge by touching an exposed metal part of any item that is correctly grounded (such as a rack or computer that has the power cable connected).

Always use anti-static wristbands and anti-static mats where necessary. Some people might think that these precautions are time-consuming when doing a quick task, but it will be quicker than having to troubleshoot and replace faulty components if you cause damage!

Always ensure the equipment is correctly grounded, including the rack, and make sure the power supply is suitable for running the equipment. Again, remember that you’re dealing with a precision machine and treat it accordingly. It is recommended to install surge protection and/or a UPS system too.

Also, as obvious as it might seem, avoid placing food or drink on or near the equipment and don’t block any vents on the machine. Servers are generally robust but have complex parts which are easily damage by liquids, and a simple slip can cause damage or render the servers unrepairable. It’s rare, but if it is going to happen, make sure it’s not your fault!

It is important to make sure the server is installed in a suitable environment to maintain reliable operation. Make certain that there is sufficient cooling for the system, as overheating can significantly impact on the performance of drives, and can lead to premature failure.

If the server is to be installed in a closed environment such as a cupboard, then suitable air-flow will need to be installed so that the heat can be dispersed away from the machine.

If the server is installed in an environment that can lead to dust build-up, adherence to a cleaning schedule is vital.
The basic cleaning process is to power down machine as per the manufacturer’s instructions before disconnecting all cables and removing the lid. Use compressed air to blow out any dust, paying particular attention to heatsinks and vents.

Ensure that you drain any water build-up from a compressed air tank, and if using a spray canister don’t turn it upside down as this will create a freezing cold blast. Both can be detrimental to the longevity of a server.

Make certain that you are fully conversant with the server’s status LEDs to assist support staff when diagnosing issues. Don’t remove elements from a running server unless you’re instructed to by a member of the manufacturer’s support staff.

To ensure reliable operation it is highly recommended that you implement a maintenance schedule. Ensure that software is regularly updated. Typically by default Windows updates are set to automatically download and install. Often installing Windows updates will require a system restart which will take the system offline for a few minutes.

Also, liaise with any other software vendor directly for instructions on how to update your applications.
By following common sense rules, you can minimise any issues with server performance and enjoy reliable and stable performance from your surveillance system.

Server specification
Andy Henson, Director, Wavestore
Consider the scalability of the servers required when designing a surveillance solution. Regardless of the current size of the project, you can be assured that most clients’ requirements will change or evolve over time. That’s almost a given fact.

Inevitably, there will be a need to add more cameras to the system. This could have a significant impact, even when adding low numbers of devices. Even at a modest recording rate of six frames per second, adding a number of Full HD cameras, or perhaps the latest generation of 4K devices, will see the system’s video storage capacity requirement grow dynamically.

With clients wishing to gain maximum advantage from their investment in a video surveillance system, there will be numerous opportunities in the future to integrate with other new systems and technologies, and this in turn may have storage and processing implications.

In short, always ensure that your system design allows for the creation of a scalable and futureproof solution.

Quality is an often overlooked consideration in the selection of hard drives within a surveillance storage solution. The demands on a hard drive recording and replaying video are very different from the demands on a hard drive that is used to store and recall general IT data.

Security video data, by its very nature, is constantly streaming, so data is being written to the drives continuously. IT data is typically generated in batches, and once the data is gathered an action effectively saves that data to the drive. Until the next batch of data is ready to be saved, or a request is made to call up stored information, the drives are at rest. As such, the duty cycles of the two operations are very different and so require differences in build.

It is very important to ensure the system design includes hard drives that are fit for purpose. Although it is often tempting to use lower cost hard drives, it is definitely a false economy.

Thankfully there are a growing number of hard drives specifically manufactured for security and video storage solutions and, although they are a little more expensive than standard data drives, they will save on the cost of many site visits to replace drives and ensure maximum uptime for the system.

Security of the data is also an issue when designing a surveillance solution. End-user clients will understandably wish to be assured that their video and data is securely stored. Some recent high profile instances of video systems being hacked have highlighted the need to ensure that there is a secure relationship between cameras, recording devices and viewing devices, to ensure that a video system’s integrity is not at risk. There are also legal obligations which need to be considered. The issue of data security therefore needs to be raised during your conversation with the server supplier.

Your clients will thank you for considering the total cost of ownership of servers, so it’s important that you do.
Additionally, if your customers have ‘green’ policies, then they are likely to ask for evidence that the day-to-day running costs of servers, and the levels of energy used, are as low as they could be.

It pays dividends to go beyond the sales brochure and take a closer look at the manufacturer’s product specifications. How does their server compare in terms of power consumption? How much heat does it generate? This could have implications in terms of air conditioning provision and running costs. What is the length and the terms and conditions of the warranty?

When it comes to a maintenance and services contract, don’t shy away from it. In your endeavours to win the contract, it may be something you would prefer to put off until tomorrow. However, with products such as video servers where you may have limited expertise, I would strongly recommend that you negotiate the maintenance contract on behalf of your client.

It will give you peace of mind that you have done all you can to ensure that your client has a reliable system, with minimum disruptions and downtime if a fault does occur.

Server monitoring
Jeff Burgess, CEO, BCDVideo
When selecting a server it pays to consider a model which can deliver system monitoring. This not only alerts the installer, integrator or system administrator when something is not at 100 per cent functionality, but a good system will also indicate the issue at hand.

System monitoring can make troubleshooting easy and will save time by indicating what needs attention, and can even prevent failure before it occurs with behaviour monitoring. This is even more beneficial if the functionality can be integrated with VMS software.

System monitoring should cover many parameters including CPU, memory, hard drive, network and CPU temperature. The software should also simultaneously log past system behaviour to track patterns.

When integrated within the VMS software, the function should allow the administrator to set up custom monitoring settings with user-defined thresholds to customise when alerts are signalled.

If this diagnostic framework can monitor CPU, RAM, temperature, hard drive failure and usage, it can reduce downtime for the customer and prevent call-outs for the installer or integrator.

A good system monitoring function will automatically save the latest configuration settings in a safe location. It can be scheduled to save hourly, weekly or monthly settings. Should the need to restore your server arise, these settings are used to restore the original operating system and VMS image.

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