Texas-based Knight Security Systems was recently awarded a security contract worth more than $12 million by the state’s Department of Aging and Disability Service (DADS), which licenses, regulates, and administers long-term services and support both for the aging and for those with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Under the terms of the contract, Knight Security will install a network of more than 3,000 high-definition video cameras covering 335 buildings on 12 campuses throughout the state.

Knight Security Systems, which was founded in Dallas in 1984, merged with Austin-based Safe Sight in the spring of 2009 – and the combined company now offers a wide range of security solutions including video surveillance, access control, intrusion alarm, fire detection, and wireless networking.

Network security winner

That combination of networking technology with physical security serves as a key differentiator for the company, according to Knight Security vice president Christopher Hugman. “For the DADS program, we’re building out an entire fiber optic backbone network with multi-gigabit switches… it’s under construction now,” he says. “We were awarded the contract in mid-December, and we ran out there and started turning dirt just as fast as we could.”

While the contract calls for the project to be completed by August of 2011, the company is currently aiming to finish the deployment far sooner than that. “We are conducting our deployment in three waves of four campuses, so we will work those campuses concurrently – and we hope to be finished in the first quarter of 2011, well ahead of the state’s requirement,” Hugman says.

Fishing for chips

One unexpected challenge the company has already faced, Hugman says, is what appears to be a worldwide chip shortage. “The network switches that we’re buying, the servers that we’re buying, even the cameras that we’re buying, it’s interesting that all these manufacturers have pointed me back to two things… one is the Chinese New Year, and the other is this concern about availability of computer chips to go in their components,” he says. “But we have worked all that out – we feel like we’ve gotten on top of it.”

The entire deployment, Hugman says, uses H.264 cameras. “The application here is ideal,” he says. “There’s not a lot of crowd scenes, they’re all indoor cameras, and there’s not a lot of opportunity for motion to overwhelm… so it’s an ideal scenario, and it’s going to give us some longer term storage opportunities.”

In fact, to simplify the process of putting together such a large-scale deployment, Knight Security has focused on standardizing each component of the system. “Our design is comprised of 11 standardized components,” Hugman says. “Those components are arranged in different fashions through nine different configurations. We have three configurations that are oriented toward the edge building or edge network; three configurations that are intended to provide the aggregation points, depending upon the size and scope of the aggregation required; and then three configurations that are at the head end, depending upon the number of cameras, how many servers, and those types of things – but all of those configurations are comprised of only 11 different components, cameras, switches, servers and UPS systems.”

The result, Hugman says, is a vast improvement in scalability and reliability, along with significant cost and time savings for each deployment, “because you can come up with a standard design that’s a template across all the sites, versus having to redesign every site individually.”

Hugman says the availability of standard components like H.264 cameras, which offer significant savings in storage and bandwidth requirements, serves as a healthy reminder of the speed with which this kind of technology is changing. “Had we bid the project just six or eight months earlier, the H.264 technology really wasn’t on the market to support us… so the timing was very good,” he says.

And looking forward, Hugman says the technology is likely to continue advancing at a similar rate. “My projection would be that you’re heading toward more intelligence in the cameras, and you’re heading towards more cost-effective video analytics in terms of the capability to monitor the activity on the cameras,” he says. “One of the difficulties in this particular project with 3,000 cameras is that at any given campus, they will have individuals monitoring maybe up to 460 cameras. Even with two or three folks monitoring that many cameras, it’s very difficult to discern what is important versus what’s not important – so I think five years down the road, it’s analytics that will make the difference.”

Jeff Goldman is a veteran technology journalist and frequent contributor to many Internet.com sites.

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