Calling All VARs
Digital video surveillance has opened up mass storage opportunities for this security system integrator. But no matter what kind of VAR you are, you can profit from the mass storage game.
Gone are the days when security system VARs could focus only on the world of access control and biometrics. The advancement of analog to digital video surveillance has forced the issue of data storage on Operational Security Systems, Inc. (OSS) (Atlanta), which now integrates mass storage with its security offerings. It's not just security system VARs that are being faced with data storage questions from their customers. By reading how this VAR turned the data storage challenge into opportunity, you can brainstorm about possibilities for your own customers.
In the past, organizations used closed-circuit television security systems, which recorded images in analog format on videotape. Jim Coleman, president of OSS said, "Anyone who has been through the process of reviewing VCR cassettes from a time-lapse analog videotape recorder knows the process is difficult and time consuming. Better quality recorded images and substantially easier review were the initial motivating factors for the analog to digital change."
Analog To Digital - Videotape To NAS
From the company's inception in 1972, OSS has been providing security solutions to large corporations and institutions. "Historically, closed-circuit television has been confined to how far you could run a coax cable," he said. "Now you can send compressed digital signals across T1 lines (the most common type of digital line for Internet use) and view video files with an Internet browser." Coleman has seen plenty of technology developments during the past 30 years, but about 4 years ago the movement from analog to digital pushed him into selling mass storage as part of his security solutions. Instead of storing the images on videotapes, video can be indexed as files and stored on hard drives within NAS (network attached storage) devices. This allows images to be called up with a click of a mouse instead of a cumbersome fast forward and reverse.
Because NAS is plug and play, it gives storage vendors, like Maxtor Corp. (Milpitas, CA), the opportunity to market its MaxAttach NAS product through other technology manufacturers. Integral Technologies (Indianapolis), a high-tech manufacturer of video graphics and security products, integrates Maxtor's NAS product into its digital surveillance product, DigitalSENTRY. Then, security integrators, like OSS, sell and install DigitalSENTRY at their customers' sites.
Integral Technologies' digital surveillance system is comprised of four primary elements: the VAU (video acquisition unit), server, client, and mass storage unit (Maxtor NAS device or Qualstar tape library). Each VAU captures up to 240 images per second and can accommodate up to 128 cameras. The system can display alarm events as they happen, along with live video from the same cameras so the customer can monitor the area.
For the mass storage aspect of the systems, Coleman prefers NAS to tape. "Our early enterprise system installations used 25 GB and then 50 GB AIT (advanced intelligent tape) media in libraries capable of accessing 100 or more tapes. These storage systems, while offering large capacities, required regular maintenance and expense."
Tape libraries can't serve up files as quickly as a NAS device. The NAS device allows instant access of both central and remote mass storage of digital video information.
Dave Underwood, president of Integral Technologies, said the foundation for its digital surveillance products was laid when his company developed its Frame Grabber technology. This allowed video capture with a PCI (peripheral component interface) and enabled analysis and manipulation of the images after capture.
Sell The Virtues Of Digital Video
Using analog technology, finding a specific event, like a break-in or vandalism, requires scrolling through a specific videotape to locate images. With the analog to digital conversion and NAS storage DigitalSENTRY performs, specific events can not only be located quickly, but can be accessed remotely, or even e-mailed as attachments.
Coleman explained, "If the security staff sees an employee do something they shouldn't be doing, like letting someone unauthorized into the building, they can e-mail an image of the event to the employee's supervisor." Because the images can be retrieved quicker, the security staff can investigate events that may have been too cumbersome with an analog system. It allows them to be more proactive. Also, if the employees know that image retrieval is being performed more often, it can act as a deterrent to negative behavior.
"With digital video, all the images are indexed," said Underwood. "The user can retrieve files from a certain camera during a specific period of time and then 'scrub through' very fast. Some of the enterprise customers using digital video security systems are nuclear power plants and Web-server hosting sites."
One Web-server company created hosting sites around the globe. Immediate access and complete security were vital to the customers storing their Web servers at their sites. Through a wide area network, these sites (New York, Chicago, Boston, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong) are connected to a security headquarters in the United States. Each access control and alarm event is immediately relayed with video to the headquarters, where universal control of each site is maintained.
Easy Case For Customer Crossover
The greatest selling point for adopting digital storage technology is that the images can be indexed to other information like ATM transactions at a bank, credit card transactions at a retail store, or card access use at a corporation. Providing an easily retrieved image of the person making a purchase that later becomes disputed, is invaluable. Digital technology lowers the "transaction cost" associated with searching for the associated visual images.
The early adopters either had a compelling need for the features offered by digital storage, or were willing to experiment with the new technology. Early solutions were not always smooth, with reliability sometimes unacceptable. Keeping customers' confidence has required a higher amount of tech support than when they used mature analog time-lapse recording technology. In the end, the advantages of the technology kept the customer tolerance level high enough until reliability issues could be ironed out.
All of the virtues and complexities associated with digital video make the technology three times as costly as analog video. But Coleman's customers are usually early adopters of technology in general and are willing to pay a higher price for a more sophisticated level of security. "Most of my customers are Fortune 100 companies that are more interested in buying top-level security rather than the least expensive technology. These companies need integration between their subsystems across their LANs, consistent standards across their enterprises, and wise use of their investments at high speeds. Because of this complexity, many solution providers are staying away from this area, but not OSS."
Upgrade Your Expertise To Provide New Technologies
"Indexing the images to information from disparate systems, as well as dealing with the higher complexity of the systems, requires a new level of integration savvy that has been a barrier to many security system integrators," said Coleman. "The decision to invest and nurture the engineering resources and skills needed for this level of integration has become a point of differentiation in our industry."
Now OSS can sell a surveillance product that provides near instant retrieval of archived images. And having the expertise to provide complex security systems to customers is what sets OSS apart from its competition. Coleman said, "Adoption of digital video storage raised the complexity bar for security systems integrators. Our world has moved from gigabyte storage and 10BaseT Ethernet networks, which nicely met our needs, to 100BaseT Ethernet edge devices, Gigabit Ethernet, ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) backbones, terabyte storage systems, and a first-name relationship with network administrators."
Another adaptation OSS had to make when it added digital surveillance to its product line was in the maintenance arena. Coleman said, "When digital storage technology is not working correctly, we have to send our computer/network technicians to fix many of the problems, rather than our normal field maintenance technicians. Computer/networking skills are in high demand - and expensive. The associated high cost of maintenance of digital storage systems is something the security industry is not used to paying. Factoring the real, long-term costs of ownership has been a learning curve for integrators and end users alike."
Mass Storage Is Winner For VARs
The evolution of analog to digital has opened up opportunities for security system VARs and integrators and has made them think about mass storage for the first time. Coleman isn't stopping here. "As wide area networks become more commonplace and their bandwidths have increased, new applications have sprouted. We can now monitor events at remote facilities in real time and audit activities that previously would require a trip on an airplane."
Whether an integrator specializes in point of sale, supply chain management, document management, or access control and security, like OSS, the issue of data storage cannot be ignored. As new technologies develop, VARs and integrators of all varieties are going to be faced with a mass storage challenge for their customers. Mass storage isn't just for mass storage VARs anymore.Questions about this article? E-mail the author at DanS@corrypub.com.