Digital Surveillance Reveals Secrets of Scaling

Keeping the same architecture across a product line eases development.

By Robin Holt

Rapid expansion of the digital security surveillance (DSS) industry has fueled demand for devices that deliver an ever-increasing variety of features and performance attributes. Those products need to scale in both performance and scope over a number of variables to meet customer demands. Security device manufacturers must build an increasingly diverse set of solutions in order to meet these needs. Developers that find ways to maximize traditional economies of scale can do so more easily. Studying the rapidly evolving DSS industry offers an example for others facing similar development challenges.

The Security Industry Undergoes Massive Change

The notion of security has taken on new dimensions in the last few years. Now, everyone must be “on guard” and nearly everything must be guarded -from cyberspace to outer space, from stand-alone computers to networking and telecommunications infrastructure, from transportation vehicles to systems and routes, from small businesses to shopping malls, factories, and so forth. It is not feasible to station a human guard at all potential attack points, so security agents are continually looking for ways to keep their eyes on multiple targets from a centralized location.

DSS is one solution, allowing broad security coverage with few human resources. Now widely used in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings such as banks, prisons, public and private enterprises, financial centers, storage and warehouse compounds, shopping centers, and even small retailers, DSS allows the automatic monitoring and recording of events at many locations simultaneously.

The DSS industry relies heavily on Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) to capture and store video images. A complete DVR system requires both local and networked storage, large-volume cache memory for capturing video and/or audio images, compression, and enough processing headroom to also provide both real-time and playback video monitoring as needed.

The necessary performance characteristics vary greatly by security setting, requiring a variety of different DVR solutions to meet customer needs. Common variables include:

  • The number of video capturing channels available on the system, usually ranging from 8-32 channels.

  • Video quality, which can vary significantly and can reach up to high-definition audio and video.

  • A need for video monitoring to occur in real-time, be stored for later playback, or some combination of the two.

  • Storage capacity, memory and other processor-based features, which vary depending on the uses assigned to the DVR system.

To deliver the full range of features and performance characteristics , DVR systems are typically custom-built for each application setting. As DSS has expanded into new settings, however, ever more DVR solutions are needed to meet the widely varying requirements of those venues. What’s more, rapidly changing security situations now necessitate speedy delivery of new systems that can be quickly and easily adapted to an ever-changing security landscape. As a result, customized development-the traditional method for building DVR systems-is no longer a viable option for many DVR OEMs or their customers. Original design work is time-consuming, and can prevent rapid response to changing threat conditions.

Single Board Leads to Scalable Performance

For DVR industry developers like China-based Shenzhen EVOC Intelligent Technology Co., Ltd., and others, the challenge lies in minimizing the amount of customized design work while maintaining the application versatility required in different digital surveillance settings. With solution variables that affect both hardware and software, this is no easy task. Their solution illustrates an efficient approach to providing scalability.

Because much of its business is in the DSS industry, EVOC recognized the problem of DVR scalability early on. Company engineers determined that a common DVR platform design was needed to minimize the amount of custom development work that would be required. Also, they determined that the common design had to be versatile enough in both hardware and software so that it could be applied to multiple DVR solutions.

EVOC’s solution called for two standardized elements: an industrial-grade, full-size CPU computation card based on the embedded Intel®Architecture (IA) and a standardized chassis with backplane. Both elements of the EVOC design are scalable for a variety of DVR systems. Yet both elements share a common platform architecture, thereby minimizing the amount of custom development work required.

Figure 1: The Intel� Pentium� 4 Processor includes a performance-enhancing innovation called Hyper-Threading Technology. This technology, which can improve a PC�s performance by about 25%, allows a processor to handle multiple �threads,� or streams of work, simultaneously. It is part of a range of compatible processors that developers can choose to solve scalability issues.

By swapping out the on-board processor, for instance, EVOC can easily change the performance features on the CPU card. David Yuan Qin Wei, Vice General Manager, EVOC, explains that “as the number of video capturing channels increases, the DVR system needs more computation power. We adjust the performance level of the card by changing the IA-based processor and/or chipset. We don’t need to change anything else; the entire rest of the board design can remain intact. In our single-board DVR design, we use either the Intel® Pentium® III or Intel® Pentium® 4 processor (Figure 1), as well as the appropriate chipset. With embedded IA, we get maximum performance versatility from a single development effort.”

The EVOC chassis can be scaled by the addition of CPU cards to add video capturing channels and other high-performance digital surveillance features. The combined versatility of the scalable chassis with backplane and the full-size CPU card offer EVOC’s customers a single common platform from which to build any number and variety of DVR solutions.

Inside The Solution

EVOC chose embedded IA for its single-board solution because its common architecture delivers several time and cost-saving benefits to both designer and customer alike. Some of the specific benefits IA enables are:

Faster Time-to-Market

Because Intel uses a common architecture for its embedded product line, developers are able to deliver multiple solutions via a single board design that can support a variety of processors. The time and money saved by applying a single development effort to different products increases with the number of end solutions eventually developed from that one design. What’s more, by solving the hardware design up front OEMs can focus resources on the development of complex application software. This allows OEMs to deliver more advanced features and greater overall system performance in less time.

Software Compatibility

The essential differentiating feature of nearly any system is the application software. Such software is complex and requires significant up-front customer investment. New hardware solutions must therefore be compatible with existing software and both hardware / software upgradeable with minimal effort. EVOC says that IA is more likely to offer designers compatibility with legacy software than other processing architectures. “We found that most DVR application software already deployed-especially for the software image compression function -provides the greatest compatibility and stability when developed on IA,” explains Qin Wei.

EVOC’s successful development strategy is a model for others to follow. Through a common board design based on IA, EVOC can adjust system performance with minimal development effort. It can readily deliver multiple solutions, saving customers both time and money in the process. Other developers can use the same approach to solve scalability problems in their industries.

Robin Holt is a writer and technology communications consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in marketing-over 12 of those years in the technology sector. As co-founder and principal of The Holt Company, Mrs. Holt works on behalf of customers around the world crafting product messaging strategies, case studies, white papers, and technical briefs. This article is based on a case study exploring digital security surveillance solutions created by EVOC, utilizing scalable embedded Intel® Architecture building blocks.