Your mind doesn’t conjure up a motor vehicle showroom when you think of cutting edge video surveillance gear but the Milestone XProtect Enterprise video management solution and Axis cameras installed at Yarra Honda really are an extension of a facility that has been built to the highest standards. This is a major site, built over 4 levels on a substantial footprint. It incorporates a huge showroom area, sales office space, corporate offices and a spotless service centre. Throughout, the building reflects the sort of workmanship and professionalism you’d expect from Honda. In all, the installation at Yarra Honda has 85 Axis PoE cameras operating on a dedicated subnet with switches allowing remote access to authorised workstations. The man responsible for designing the surveillance installation here is Yarra Honda’s group IT and T manager, Chris Giouris. Like most IT people, Giouris has a strong attraction to capable networked technologies and the satisfaction he gets from his sleek and functional solution is transparent.  It’s no great surprise that Giouris found himself drawn to Axis Communications and Milestone XProtect video management software during the decision making process. Both companies have worked hard to make their solutions architecturally agnostic. “From my perspective, when we started looking for a solution it quickly became obvious that Milestone offered me exactly what I expected and exactly what I wanted,” explained Giouris. “There’s nowhere it lets me down – Milestone does exactly what I need it to do.” According to Giouris, his brief was to install the best and most flexible solution possible and to design the system to give complete coverage of the Yarra Honda facility in a way that facilitated multiple uses for the video footage gathered by the system. “I designed the system so as to have high quality Axis Q1755 cameras on the perimeter and the entry points in order to identify faces and clothing as people come onto the site,” Giouris explains. “The idea is to get a good image of people in high resolution.” “Inside the building there’s a different brief and we have Axis 216 IP cameras running at VGA quality,” he says. “Inside we want to see the business functioning – and we use the inside cameras in a different way – it’s more like process control. “There are 42-inch plasma screens in our sales workroom run by a local computer and they allow our sales staff doing paper work or making sales calls, to see who is on the showroom floor and to identify customers and respond.

“From my perspective, when we started looking for a solution, Milestone offered me exactly what I expected and exactly what I wanted,” explained Giouris. “There’s nowhere it lets me down – Milestone does exactly what I need it to do.” Chris Giouris, Yarra Honda

“We also use a thin client terminal server system on which our receptionists can view the cameras via web browser and check to see if there are free sales people available before they transfer sales calls. The same applies to the concierge desk, which has access to cameras viewing the perimeter,” Giouris explains. “These are different applications that I’ve discovered as we’ve gone along and they allow us to use the system to make our business safer as well as more efficient because we know what’s going on everywhere in the building.” “In designing the system I basically went through and tried to identify all the spots we might need coverage for a range of different reasons. Camera views might be dedicated to provide coverage of all entries and exits, or to offer protection from theft, or give us a view of scrapes or bumps that occur in our car parks,” Giouris explains. “I think we have got all critical areas covered and the footage we’ve recorded so far proves that. There have been about half a dozen incidents over the past year and we’ve been able to provide clear footage to police in each case, with arrests being made and charges laid.”“We had an incident where a laptop was stolen from a tradesman’s car on the site and we have got perfect images from our Axis Q1755 HD camera of a guy walking in, opening a car door and stealing it.”

The installation

The general layout of the system is that of a pure networked solution, with the PoE camera’s Cat-6 drop cables running to local network points and surveillance subnet through switches before dismounting in the server room. The surveillance subnet itself was installed by the contracted electricians. “Luckily I got involved at the building stage so I could make sure we put the required cabling in. The site, a former data centre, was a shell when we began to develop it and that made things a lot easier for me,” Giouris explains. “The installation itself was absolutely painless and I honestly learned the software in a couple of hours – it was very straightforward and logical from an IT perspective. “On the network side we are using off-the-shelf network hardware including 2 Dual Xeon Servers with 4 GB of RAM and SATA hard drives,” Giouris explains. “We have a Terabyte of storage on the main server and it gets archived to a SAN in the same rack with another Terabyte giving us about 2 weeks footage from our 85 cameras.  “When you consider some of the footage is traffic movement on adjacent streets this is really good performance, I think. I could program out motion sensing on the external cameras and save storage space but I’m loathe to deactivate motion recording in those camera views because external footage is so useful when investigating incidents.” There’s no doubt whatever that this install is pure end-to-end IP and that includes the ability to monitor power to network devices as well as deploy backup power from from our UPS array. “We are using the PoE functionality and because cameras reside on the network and are supported by the UPS in the server room, if there is a power failure or some other event cuts power we still get footage for ten minutes. That was a major factor – I want my server room to have all the backup power we can put in and everything feeds off that with no latent power source outside the server room and a single supported and monitored point of failure.” According to Giouris, the company’s management is looking at putting cameras in 2 other dealerships. “We haven’t designed it yet but integrating these sites is possible. We have 4Mb of bandwidth between our sites – a Uecomm Layer 2 Ethernet Service that handles data and voice – and that would be enough for remote monitoring of events.”

Milestone XProtect Enterprise

When I arrive on the site we go in through the spick and span showroom and after checking out various elements of the system, we take a look at the server room. The standout feature of this mid-sized 85-camera installation is the teeny rack real estate it requires. Server room demands are very modest, with switches guiding Cat-6 video inputs into the servers and a SAN. And that’s it. A strong feature of the Milestone software is that no matter how many clients are installed on a network, the bandwidth requirements are reasonably flat. To check this out we take a look at the CPU numbers to see how hard the server is working and we find it’s doing virtually no work at all – 6 or 7 per cent load with all 85 cameras chugging away on standard settings of 15 frames per second. In terms of overall system design, the Yarra Honda solution mirrors all Milestone applications. Client-based XProtect Enterprise software leverages LANs, WANs and basic network hardware in order to turn widespread surveillance installations into a single solution spread out over any given geographical area, with storage located all over, camera inputs arriving from wherever and the head end of the system, polished into a glittery little client application, living happily on a workstation or laptop. It sounds oddly simplistic because it is simplistic and if you don’t quite understand this modularity all at once, don’t fret. The way it works is that XProtect Enterprise is based on a Master Slave server system that allows for 1 master and multiple (unlimited slaves of upto 64 Cameras each) XProtect Enterprise servers manage the video configuration and all settings on each server via an easy to use wizard driven application. The Smart Client can then communicate via the master to all slaves regardless of where they are on the network (LAN or WAN ) to seamlessly stream in video, simultaneously for live and recorded to the Smart Client application.“There are so many VMS solutions on the market today it can be hard to know what’s what but while they all show pretty pictures on the screen, it’s what’s going on in the background that’s most important,” explains Milestone’s Angelo Salvatore. “With the Milestone system everything is achieved with a lot more simplicity because we manage the whole video – once a camera comes into the system we unicast it out to all the client applictions so the bandwidth on the network does not have to carry the load of multicast.“The result is that we don’t need a specialised network and the system can be handled by a VLAN on an existing network in the usual way – with a set of IP numbers dedicated to the integrated surveillance VLAN,” he says. “All of this can happen with as many Client applications as we can link – the only consideration would be the hard disk performance at a server level for the live database. With other systems it’s the other way around – the network is by far the biggest consideration – but a system like Milestone can be bolted onto any well designed network without the need for specialised and expensive multicast capable network equipment.”Salvatore says that also nice is the fact no matter how many cameras or sites are connected to the system there is no need for additional dedicated hardware and software and that means there’s no added complexity. This makes sense. As Salvatore explains, you can’t call yourself a video management software manufacturer and then fob all the video management off to network components.  “With this solution the streaming is coming off the hard drives, not off the network,” he says. “The archives are transparently sent from the server room when they are being played back on a Client workstation. Both the Live and recorded video is coming from the hard drives. Everything is here, not on the network. With XProtect Enterprise the video is unicast directly out of the server to all clients  – from end to end we control the video, and that’s what I consider a video management system to be all about.“Another advantage of our system is that it allows Yarra Honda to have a scalable storage solution. With Milestone you can have local storage and SAN storage or DAS storage, or any storage throughout the premises,” explains Salvatore. “Because SQL is not the basis for our database you can direct certain cameras to archive in one location and other group of cameras to archive somewhere else – taking advantage of network infrastructure. This breaks down the cost of expansion, makes it easier to expand and gives multiple points of redundancy.” According to Salvatore, another key thing Milestone can do with transmission is offer compressed image streams that can be converted to higher resolution video with a double click on live and playback to better support monitoring and investigation over a remote network. That’s neat.  

Driving the system

After spending time in the server room we head off to the site’s slick boardroom where Giouris drives the system using a huge LCD screen in the room and his primary viewing station for the system – a consumer grade notebook computer running on battery and linked to the network using WiFi. It’s running Windows 7 with 4GB of RAM – all very standard stuff.The system installed at Yarra Honda is Milestone XProtect Enterprise Version 6.5 with a 3.6 Client. As it happens there’s been a new release of Milestone Smart Client 5.0 – which is shipping with XProtect Enterprise Version 7.0 and with a few clicks Giouris downloads this from a USB key and commissions the upgrade to his notebook while we are chatting. After a couple of minutes we start touring the upgraded system. Along with simplicity of operation, immediately apparent are the excellent images provided by the Axis Q1755 cameras. Their 720p HD image streams are seriously good – more than enough to handle quite serious depths of field. All the cameras in the system are running at 15 frames per second which is more than sufficient for virtual real time and the Milestone Client supports all this without blinking. As part of the demonstration we watch stored images from an Axis Q1755 of that laptop theft mentioned earlier. The 1920 x 1080 images are excellent. But what’s also interesting is the performance of the superseded Axis 216 cameras. In this installation, these neat little cameras, which have been recently replaced by Axis HD units, are doing a great job. At every turn the Milestone software is practical and capable. If you’re tracking an event in playback and you find the person, vehicle or event you are looking for, a single button click will synchronise all other camera views to the same time, allowing you to track a person or event across multiple camera views – up to 100 cameras at a time. This includes all the camera views on the split screen you are viewing – very cool from a management point of view. Another great feature is motion trails on the side of the viewing screen and this allows you to pinpoint events on the basis of movement in the camera scene on multiple image streams at a glance. Sure, other VMS products have this feature but positioning it adjacent to the split screen improves overall intuitiveness no end. “It’s an extremely simple system to operate and the functionality from the point of view of networking is outstanding, too,” Giouris says. “As a case in point, recently I was overseas and I was informed of an incident here at the showroom. Immediately I logged on and was able to view the footage with very little lag, then get onto the server, download the footage and email it to one of the users. It was magnificent.” Giouris says the system gives him benefits at work, too.“Because my laptop is linked to the WiFi network, I can walk anywhere in the dealership and view images,” he explains. “As you can imagine, this was great during set up because I was able to adjust the cameras during commissioning with the laptop beside me so I could review the image and get exactly what I wanted. I was able to get up in a scissor lift with the laptop in one hand and adjust the camera with the other hand – that was great.” According to Giouris there’s no integration between surveillance and access control or alarms, though Salvatore quickly points out there’s now full integration with Inner Range’s powerful Concept solution – happily that’s the system Yarra Honda is using for its access control and alarm systems. “While currently we have no high end integration, the system is setup to email me when someone accesses the server room or if someone walks through the main showroom doors or the side doors after hours. When such events occur, the system will email me – in both cases this functionality is handled through the camera.”  One of things that’s most impressive about the system is the fact Giouris is able to handle all management, maintenance and upgrading by himself. When it’s time to undertake upgrades, there’s no calling for a technical team to handle a lengthy task. You shove in a USB key and the system does most the leg work by itself.  “Milestone XProtect Enterprise is easy to manage with things like installation and un-installation of software upgrades being automatic,” explains Salvatore. “Chris is managing the system on his own along with his other responsibilities – he’s maintaining the system by himself. There aren’t technicians running around having to handle that for him. It’s part of the intrinsic value of the product.” “And in terms of cost – all the clients, the remote access, the unlimited servers – none of that’s licensed. There’s just a one-off channel cost when the user wants to expand.” Giouris agrees that maintenance and monitoring are easy.“There are things I can do with this system that I couldn’t do with another system,” he says. “For a 15-20 per cent premium over an analogue system – given what I can now do with Milestone – it’s been well worth it. I simply couldn’t run our CCTV system properly with an analogue solution. “The ease that applies to maintenance also applies to monitoring the site,” Giouris says. “If I am at home and I get a call from the alarm company I can just look at the cameras, see if there’s any trouble and react.” Chris says the footage of events proves his layered design of the system really works. “We get good shots on the perimeter where we need them and lower quality images inside the building where we don’t need the same level of detail,” he explains. “As you can see, the system is easy to use, there’s easy exporting of image streams, it’s simple to browse footage and the ease of setup is just great. “The system has been running a year now and it’s being working very well – it’s stable from the cameras to the server room,” Giouris explains. “Having been involved with our surveillance installation from inception I have to say this system is my baby and I’m very pleased with it.”

“With the Milestone system everything is achieved with a lot more simplicity because we manage the whole video – once a camera comes into the XProtect Enterprise Server the video is then stored and unicast out to all the clients so the bandwidth on the network does not have to carry the load of multicast video.”Angelo Salvatore, Milestone Systems