What is network video?
Our definition: video that is streamed from a video source (e.g. a camera, a funny video file, a movie, etc) to a user via a network connection (LAN, WAN, Internet).
Yup - it's a pretty simple concept - but it's a lot more complex than you might think.
OK. Give me an Example...
A few good examples of products that are built on a network video technology include Periscope from Twitter, Youtube from Google, Twitch by Amazon, and more traditional commercial systems focused on security and surveillance applications in the form of a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) (aka Big Brother).
So how did video and network hook up?
A few major shifts in the general technology landscape over the past 20 odd years have inspired an explosion in network video applications. Video is now being used to enable self-driving cars, to drive autonomous drones and robotics, to monitor the production of everything from rice to rockets, to investigate public safety emergencies in real-time....and, most importantly, to allow people to talk to their dogs and cats at home from the office.
The most notable technology shifts that have led to the current surge in network video use and consumption include:
MOORE LAW AND ORDER
- Moore's Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit (aka the ability to compute) doubles approximately every two years. Which means computing power, as long as software developers can keep up, also doubles every two years.
This makes everything from video games to Network Video Systems way, waaaaaaaay better than they used to be.
- There has been a trillion fold increase in computing power over the past 60 years - making super computing available to everyone. Don't believe me? Ask Alexa.
- The world's first IP Camera was introduced in 1996
The Axis Neteye 200 streamed at 1fps with a huuuuuge 320 x 240 resolution had an MSRP of $1299.00 - about 1.7 cents per pixel, per second. Today anyone can buy a full HD IP camera capable of streaming 30 or 60 frames per second for around $100.00 - about 0.0000016 cents per pixel. That's about 10,000 times cheaper per pixel per second. Your smartphone probably sports a camera capable of streaming Full HD (1080p) video at 30fps. Thanks Japan.
- In 1995 32% of Americans owned a computer.
In 2016 92% of Americans between 18-34 own a smartphone. That's right - even Millennials can afford high power computing.
The Age of the Internet(s)
- In 1995 less than 1% of the world's population had Internet access.
Today around 50% of the world's population has an internet connection (3.4 billion and counting). That means if you live in a developed nation your grandmother is almost certainly on the Internet using some form of network video application.
- In 1993 Internet connection speeds were limited to 56Kbps modem connections. In 2016 the average global Internet speed was 6.3 Mbps. The average Youtube 1080p stream runs between 3-6 Mbps. High speed cat videos for everyone.
- In 1993 there were 130 websites on the Internet.
Today there are more than 1 billion. Granted, some are quite useless like http://cant-not-tweet-this.com/ - but still. Humanity literally has access to pretty much any information they need at any time, from anywhere.
CLOUD COMPUTING FOR THE MASSES BECAME THE THING
- The idea of an "intergalactic computer network" was introduced in the sixties by J.C.R. Licklider.
He was responsible for enabling the development of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in 1969.
We like his style.
- In August 2006 Amazon introduced its Elastic Compute Cloud.
It was the first incarnation of what would later become today's Amazon Web Services (aka Amazon AWS) platform. Your favorite services (like Netflix) run on AWS. Thanks Amazon.
- In 2014 300 hours of video were uploaded to Youtube every minute. We're not going to comment on how many quality hours of video are uploaded every minute. That would be mean.
- By 2018, 69 percent of total Internet traffic will be video.
Mostly cat videos. Glorious, glorious cat videos.
So what, exactly, is a Network Video System?
A Network Video System, in a nutshell, is a technology platform which combines computing hardware and software to allow users to connect to, capture, manage, search, and share video across networks. Typical components in a Network Video System include:
And what is the primary purpose of a Network Video System?
To us here at Nx, the primary purpose of a Network Video System is to extend a user's ability to be remotely present at a target location within a defined time period.
For example, if the Gotham police had a Network Video System in place in a certain dark alley on June 26th, 1996 at 10:27 pm then they might have caught the man who killed Bruce Wayne's parents in short order - and Batman (in the new 52 version) may never have existed. A consumer driven use, as another example, allows users to choose what to watch where ever they are, whenever they want.
With a good Network Video System users should be able to:
4 Key Things to Consider in your
Network Video System
Based on our own experience the team at Nx has put together a quick overview of 4 very important things to consider when designing a Network Video System.
1) A Reliable System Architecture
Perhaps the most critical characteristic to look at when deciding which Network Video System to use is the system architecture - usually driven by a software platform like Nx Witness.
How a system is designed determines how it is deployed, how it is used day-to-day, and how it is maintained over time.
Given that the primary purpose of a Network Video System is to connect to, stream, and capture video from networked sources or devices Nx has implemented a Server Hive Architecture.
The Server Hive Srchitecture is premised on the idea that every single server can work independently or together as a group - with all servers communicating in real-time with each other to synchronize system configurations.
Clients (Desktop, Mobile, or Browser-based software applications) can then connect to any Server in a System to view and manage the entire System.
While different Network Video Systems have different architectures most will have some form of each of the following types of software components.
The brain of the system - the Media Server is perhaps the most critical part of any Network Video System software.
A good Media Server will be cross platform and support a majority of operating systems (as of 2014 ~36% of web servers run Linux, ~30% run Unix, and ~34% run Windows operating systems).
The Media Server should also be as light-weight and responsive as possible - able to run on anything from a single core ARM CPU (aka an embedded device) all the way up to the most powerful multi-core Intel CPUs made.
Remember - the Server functions as a traffic cop in the Network Video System, discovering available video sources, connecting to the sources, managing system configurations, capturing and archiving streams, and mediating what gets sent to each system Client based on user rights and available system resources.
Additionally once the Server is configured and running properly it should continue to run without any operator input.
- Tip: When looking at potential Network Video Systems make sure the Server application is lightweight, cross-platform, and able to run on just about anything - with auto-discovery of compatible systems and devices and the ability to quickly and efficiently connect to, manage, capture, and mediate video connections across the System.
Client Applications (Desktop, Mobile , Browser)
A Client is a software interface which allows an operator to view and manage the System. Its primary purpose is to allow the operator to extend their situational awareness by allowing them to interact with the system in real-time.
As such a Client should give the operator the ability to login securely, find-view-and-search available video sources and their related information, manage the configuration of each device (including capture/recording parameters), share system resources fluidly with other operators or even non-operators (e.g. export), and to maintain the system (e.g. upgrades) over time.
In a modern Network Video System you will typically find 3 types of Client applications - Desktop, Mobile, and Browser.
In a Desktop Client users should expect to see a rich media application that allows the operator to display and interact with multiple high definition video sources (offline or online) at the same time.
The Desktop Client should also be able to display system information such as event notifications or health status of connected devices and sources.
It should also afford the operator the ability to customize their own views and provide reporting tools to administer their system effectively.
Mobile Clients (aka apps) should focus on allowing users to view system notifications and video while on the move.
Browser Clients (aka web apps) should focus on sharing video clips or events with a person who may not want or have the need to install a rich media application or provide extended reporting and management tools to System Administrators.
- Tip: When choosing a potential Network Video System make sure the rich media applications are cross platform (Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android) and make sure the system includes Desktop, Mobile, and Browser based interfaces.
A Cloud Layer
Network Video Systems - like all technology platforms today - can add extended functionality by taking advantage of cloud computing.
The Cloud layer of a Network Video System has several huge potential benefits: remote access, remote streaming, mission-critical backups, cloud storage, health monitoring, and unlimited scalability.
Additional benefits of a cloud layer include analysis and reports, integration to Cloud-based systems such as ERP, CRM, or IFTTT, and deep learning (artificial intelligence) driven analytics.
- Tip: Make sure your Network Video System is designed to allow it to connect to and take advantage of Cloud Computing.
Open Developer Tools
Given the wondrous variety of vertical and geographic markets that exist it's painfully clear that no single Network Video System is going to be able to accommodate every potential use case a company might have when designing their Network Video System.
It is critical, therefore, that any Network Video System comes with a robust set of developer tools to allow companies to customize their Network Video application.
An API (Application Programming Interface) allows developers to interact with the system via documented API calls. In Nx Witness, for example, developers can quickly integrate 3rd party systems using HTTP PUT and GET requests.
- Tip: Make sure you choose a Network Video System that has well-documented, extensive developer tools.
2) Support for Many Video Sources & Devices
Possibly the most challenging part about designing a Network Video System is being able to interact with the wide variety of live and or recorded video sources. So when you begin the process of designing your system make sure to have a good idea of what kind of codecs, containers, and interoperability standards you expect to support.
A codec encodes a data stream or signal for transmission, storage or encryption, or decodes it for playback or editing.
Codecs were originally used to compress analog signals into digital signals in the mid-20th century, codec is a combination of encode and decode (encodecode).
With the digitalization of video on a mass scale codecs have continually evolved over time to have better compression and less loss and have become more standardized (which is a good thing).
However different products and companies use different codecs - so make sure your Network Video System is flexible enough to accommodate the most popular codecs.
- Tip: Make sure any software you use to build your Networked Video System supports video sources that utilize the most standard codecs (e.g. H.264 / MPEG-4, VP9, HVEC, MJPEG, WEBM, WMV).
A container is a file format whose specification describes how different elements of data and metadata coexist in a computer file. Some containers contain video only, some contain video + audio, and some contain video + audio + metadata (e.g. closed caption title or subtitles) .
- Tip: Make sure the software you choose to build your Networked System can decode a wide variety of containers (e.g. MKV, MP4, AVI, WMV)
ONVIF & Interoperability Standards
When it comes to devices a good Network Video System will take advantage of any open interoperability standards that exist. In the IP Camera world ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) - an organization started in 2008 by Axis Communications, Bosch Security Systems and Sony - seeks to create a standard for how IP products within video surveillance and other physical security areas can communicate with each other.
ONVIF makes it easier for software companies - like Network Optix - to developed Network Video Management software - like Nx Witness - to automatically discover, connect-to, and manage network video capture devices.
- Tip: Make sure the devices you choose for your Network Video System utilize industry standards like ONVIF to save money on headache medicine.
3) A Flexible, Reliable Approach to Storage
Once you have the ability to interact with video devices or sources you now have to consider how and where to store your video.
Some critical things that impact storage in a Network Video System include throughput, data continuity, and recovery.
A good Network Video System will have a flexible, reliable approach to video storage including compatibility with many off-the-shelf storage devices as well as an SDK for integrating new or legacy storage mediums.
When planning for storage in your systems it's important to consider a few key things: throughput, data continuity, and recovery.
THOROUGH Throughput MANAGEMENT
In general terms, throughput is the rate of production or the rate at which something can be processed.
In a Network Video System throughput is critical to making sure there are no significant bottlenecks - either in viewing or recording.
Throughput can be adversely effected by bad cabling, network switches or routers, the computing hardware used in the system, and how the software (e.g. Nx Witness) is designed to handle the data flowing through the system.
Part of throughput management is simple - planning and calculations.
But another critical part of throughput management is the ability of the system to take full advantage of available storage resources by distributing data loads and reducing bottlenecks.
At the very least your Network Video System should notify you when the system notices throughput issues - failures to write to hard drives, dropped frames, or low performance.
- Tip: Use the Nx System Calculator to estimate the throughput of your Network Video System.
Data Continuity for critical video captured by a server is a concern in many video applications.
Simply put if a user isn't able to find video for a critical event (e.g. someone continues to park a rusted out 1967 rusted out burnt orange Vanagon in the CEO's parking space and he's freaking out about it daily) then someone will pay - either in time wasted or in other punitive manners.
As the owner of your company's Network Video System, Data Continuity is vital to your job security.
There are many approaches to Data Continuity.
RAID (originally redundant array of inexpensive disks, now commonly redundant array of independent disks) is a data storage virtualization technology that combines multiple physical disk drive components into a single logical unit for the purposes of data redundancy, performance improvement, or both.
Redundant Recording is an alternative approach which allows users to configure the system to record one video source to two separate storage locations concurrently.
A final approach here - and one that is afforded with a Server Hive architecture like that of Nx Witness - would be Automatic Failover, a situation in which one server takes over another server in the case of a network or equipment failure. Regardless of which data continuity approach you take your network video system should be able to accommodate your approach.
- Tip: Use RAID5 on machines with 3 to 4 local hard drives. In machines that have more HDD bays - like the Nx3 - consider implementing multiple RAID arrays (e.g. in a server capable of providing both data continuity and good performance.
No matter how well you plan and scheme there will be a day when you lose a hard drive, lose a network router, or lose a server. In a good Network Video System the ability to recover from these events quickly and seamlessly will be built-in.
One method of recovering video would be to backup your archive and configurations on a schedule (once an hour, once a day, once a week).
With a good backup strategy you can save critical video and the system database to a recovery NAS (network attached storage) or DAS (direct attached storage) device, or even offsite in the Cloud.
An alternative method (most often used when fecal matter hits wind devices) is a recoverable archive .
- A good Network Video System will store the archive index or database locally on drives to allow operators to recover the devices by either putting them in a new machine and re-indexing the drives or recovering the machine in-place and re-indexing with a fresh clean OS.
- Tip: When choosing a Network Video System make sure the system has considered throughput, data continuity, and recovery mechanisms - as well as an SDK to support new types of storage as they hit the market and/or legacy storage systems.
4) A System Built for Users
When choosing a Network Video System it is important that what you choose is made for users (people just like you or possibly even less intelligent).
In short - users overwhelmingly enjoy using software that is built for users - simple to set up, meets their user stories, and is painless to maintain.
Simple to Setup
A good Network Video System will take minutes to install and should be instantly usable.
This is a tough standard and one we at Nx struggle with daily - but it is critical that your Network Video System is designed in such a way that it requires no training before a user can dive in and start using it.
Your Network Video System should be intuitive to install, intuitive to configure, and intuitive to expand as your system grows.
- Tip: Test your new Network Video System with a person on your team who has no experience installing these systems and see how they do.
Meets Your User Stories
When choosing your Network Video System make sure you have a good idea of your most important User Stories.
User stories are short, simple descriptions of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires a capability:
As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.
User stories are often written on index cards or sticky notes, stored in a shoe box, and arranged on walls or tables to facilitate planning and discussion.
As a potential user of a software platform it's a good idea to come up with your own general user stories to help you identify a Network Video System that matches your needs. For example:
As an Administrator I want to get an email notification if a camera stops recording so that I can restore recording as soon as possible.
Don't feel like you have to write down every user story you can think of - just focus on the user stories that are make or break for you.
- Tip: Make sure to write down your make or break user stories as a tool to use when designing your Network Video System.
Painless to Maintain
Make sure your Network Video System is simple to maintain as you expand and upgrade your system over time.
- Administrators should be alerted when updates are available and update packages should be available both online and offline.
- Expanding your system should be nearly automatic - new servers, cameras, and storage should be automatically discovered and instantly merged. And upgrades should work across both local, wide area or Internet-connected network environments.
- Software licensing should be simple and straightforward.
- Your Network Video System provider should provide responsive, helpful support via a structured support system with support ticket tracking and an online knowledge base.
- Tip: Make sure the Network Video System you choose is scalable, easily upgraded, and has great documentation ad support.
Network Video Systems are complex and there are many different viewpoints on key elements that have the potential to make or break a network video solution. These are Nx's own thoughts on how to ensure you implement a quality network video management solution. Have a point you think we've missed? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to us anytime in our online support forum at http://support.networkoptix.com.
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