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Check-ups for cameras

September 21, 2021  By  Colin Bodbyl

Integrators are slowly catching on to the importance of ongoing health monitoring for video surveillance systems, but most systems are still installed today with no health monitoring at all.

Where health monitoring is in place, it is typically only used to monitor if devices are online or offline, but there is far more that can be monitored to ensure a system is working correctly. It can be intimidating to think through what health monitoring is needed for the average system, but it is less complicated than most people think. Health monitoring requirements can be summarized in three categories.

Video quality
Every video surveillance system starts with the camera. The video streaming from that camera is of critical importance, but there is a lot that can be wrong with it. Besides being offline altogether, the video could suffer from other problems that degrade image quality without triggering an offline alert. Blurry, obstructed, crooked, or otherwise corrupt images are common problems with surveillance cameras that occur while the device remains online. In the past, the only way to identify these issues was by manually viewing the video from each camera. Luckily, today AI technology can monitor for these types of issues. If a camera goes out of focus, or a spider builds a web over the camera’s lens, AI can identify the issue and alert the user in real-time that a camera needs service.

Network quality
No matter how good the image quality from a camera is, it is of no value if it cannot make it back to the recording or viewing location. Network quality is possibly the most overlooked component of modern surveillance systems. From the Ethernet port on the camera through to the network cables and switches back to the recorder, a lot of things can go wrong. Fortunately, this is one area we can easily monitor using well established platforms from the IT industry. Real-time monitoring for packet loss or other data transmission issues can quickly alert support teams of a damaged cable, a lose connector, or a failing switch. It may be surprising to learn that cameras do not always go offline when network issues occur. Instead, more subtle problems might appear, such as choppy video on the recorder or pixelated images. Networks can remain functional while performing well below specification. Monitoring the network to ensure it is operating as intended should be part of any video surveillance health monitoring program.

Recording and storage
Once the video has made its way back to the recording location successfully, health monitoring services need to ensure it is recorded and stored properly. Storage drives eventually fail completely, but typically these drives show symptoms of an impending failure long before they occur, which can be detected by specific health monitoring tools. Failure to meet expected retention times is another common issue that can occur if not monitored correctly. Something as simple as a spider web blowing in front of a camera can impact retention times, as the constant motion drives up recording activity. Some VMSs now include features that can alert users of issues with retention times, though this important feature remains rare and usually needs to be done through a third-party application.

Health monitoring in the video surveillance industry is often an afterthought. Unfortunately, many surveillance systems are not used day to day and are often forgotten about altogether until something important happens, when it is too late to identify a problem. There are thousands of data points that could be monitored to ensure a system is fully operational, but integrators should not feel overwhelmed by this. Instead, they should focus on the three categories most critical to system performance. By identifying issues early, not only can integrators generate additional revenue, they can ensure a positive customer experience.

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