FOUNDED by Ron
Hall and John Shuster in 1981, The Reject Shop might seem like small fry on the
retail scene but recent history tells a far different story. The Reject Shop is
a seriously dynamic business. In 2007, the company hit the ASX Top 300 and in
2009 it opened 23 new stores in just 22 weeks. As part of The Reject Shop’s
massive expansion, the company opened a new distribution centre in Ipswich
earlier this year to service more than 90 stores in NSW and Queensland.

The
state-of-the-art 26,600 square metre Ipswich distribution centre cost $A16
million to build and as part of the fit-out, The Reject Shop management decided
to leverage the site’s new fibre network and incorporate an IP video surveillance
solution to provide local and remote monitoring and recording.

According to
Darren O’Connor, The Reject Shop’s Chief Information Officer, the networked
surveillance system at The Reject Shop’s Distribution Centre is designed to
give the company a fully integrated solution that allows images of activities
in and around the facility to be recorded. The solution is designed to be
simple, robust, affordable, proactive in operation and accessible from remote
locations for monitoring and maintenance.

From a purely
operational perspective, The Reject Shop has a number of specific requirements,
including being able to read license plates of vehicles coming onto the site
and being able to track the movement of vehicles around the site. Along with
these key elements, the system is also used for process control and allows
management to hone the efficiency of the facility’s 6000 carton-per-hour
output.

“The surveillance
system is primarily designed to enhance process control and ensure we have an
efficient operation,” O’Connor explains. “Of course, that focus on efficiency
also applies to the surveillance system itself, including a design that
leverages existing infrastructure to allow easy operation and remote
maintenance.

“Also important
to us was meeting our key criteria without spending money needlessly by
exceeding them.”

According to
O’Connor, The Reject Shop’s decision to go with an IP solution was governed in
great part by improvements in technology over the past few years.

“We wanted a
particular network architecture and we wanted a particular compression
algorithm and there were very few products on the market that gave us all the
things we wanted,” O’Connor explains.

“A huge driver
for going IP was having a straightforward integration to the rest of our
network and to related sub systems rather than the CCTV system being an island
on its own,” O’Connor says.

“In the past
there was no easy way of integrating these systems at a reasonable cost. So
from our perspective it’s really only been in the last year-and-a-half where we
have seen the convergence of capability and price that allows the affordable
integration of multiple security systems.

“Other things
that encouraged us to go IP were cameras we could power using PoE switches, the
ability of cameras to be displayed on monitors with integrated PC control and
compression good enough to allow us to send multiple IP video signals over our
wide area network. In the past we could not do these things without significant
compromises in frame rate, quality or cost.”

O’Connor says the
ability to record and index events now is so much easier than it was using
5-year-old technology.

“Even with DVRs
you had to sit through hours of video to find something, or you were relying on
time stamps as an index,” he says. “But the current management systems make
events infinitely easier to find – it’s a huge benefit to end users.”  

According to
O’Connor, the system gives staff a strong understanding of how things work in
the DC.

“It’s hard to get
mental models built up in people’s minds if they have not seen or cannot
remember the layout of the site,” he explains. “The site is a couple of
thousand kilometres away so you can’t just go and visit. But with the
surveillance system we can see it immediately.

“In the future
the system may be used to allow us to change the site and to appreciate the way
things are laid out as we plan for a redesign. You can look at drawings but
it’s easier if you can view the site and see the physical constraints it
imposes.”

Another major
issue for O’Connor and The Reject Shop is efficiency of the surveillance system
itself.

“In IT we don’t
have a lot of arms and legs in the field,” O’Connor explains. “We are a chain
store and we operate using what we call ‘centralised direction, local execution’.

“There’s no field
force working for IT so we rely on the arms and legs of suppliers to go and fix
a fault. We have to cover all of Australia and would need a small army of
people to do it. As a result we rely on smart systems and the support of suppliers.”

According to
O’Connor, this translates to using the CCTV system to direct suppliers to where
they need to be in real time. There’s even a plan afoot to install a PTZ in the
DC’s network room specifically to allow management to assist suppliers get
vital maintenance done.

“In the computer
room up there it’s about trying to direct people to what you need them to sort
out and while things are labelled, we have thought of a PTZ in the room so we
can say to contractors: “Yes, that’s it there – the rack you have your hand
on”.”

“Like the rest of
the cameras at the Distribution Centre, that PTZ will help us manage the
business more effectively. It’s hard to deal with the sheer size of Australia,”
O’Connor says. “You need systems that support remote diagnostics, support
remote analysis – that can feed you information. Modern CCTV systems need to
offer this functionality.”

The Reject Shop
solution

In terms of
components, the system in the DC incorporates Sony SNCRX530PB IP PTZs and fixed
SNCDM160 megapixel cameras supported by Sony Real Shot Manager Software running
on quality off-the-shelf servers. There’s also a Sony Real Shot Client on a
workstation on site, as well as PoE switchers, routers and UPS gear supporting
the RSM servers. Additional local monitoring is handled by a 40-inch vertically
mounted LCD screen, while other key pieces of hardware include a pair of
Barionet IP Automation Controllers which allow alarm inputs to be carried onto
the network.

There are 33 IP
cameras in total – 20 are megapixel – and the others are IP PTZs running at 640
x 480 VGA. All are dual stream, with the JPEG stream recorded to the 2 RSM
servers (1 master, 1 slave) and recording distributed between the servers based
on how much HDD space particular cameras are likely to need.

“In terms of
system structure at the Distribution Centre we have a number of fibre rings
that run around the DC – both inside and outside,” explains O’Connor. “Those
rings are bi-directional – they can work forwards or backwards so if there’s a
failure there’s redundancy.

“We have active
gear distributed throughout the building – so there are switches that can power
the equipment. There are intermediate communications racks and that’s where the
Cisco Switches are. Then there’s a comms room. The monitor signals come direct
from the comms room, as does the link to the Sony Real Shot Client in the
manager’s office.”

According to
O’Connor, the way the system works is that IP video data signals from cameras
connect back to data cabinets containing Cisco switches.

“These switches
connect to the fibre backbone which comes back to the comms room and where the
fibre connects to the main layer 3 switch. IP video data streams from there to
the Sony RSM Servers, which have Sony’s RSM software installed on them, as well
as on demand to the monitor and manager’s workstation.” he says.

“Each of these
RSM servers are supported by UPS to ensure redundancy. The RSM servers have the
operating system and the RSM software installed on solid state drives. There
are a number of removable HDDs in each server and camera data is recorded to
these. The units have 6TB each – that’s 4 x 1.5TB HDDs.”

O’Connor says The
Reject Shop has a 4Mbps MPLS network with Telstra for remote access.

“Using this
network we can connect to the Distribution Centre servers from our office here
in Melbourne,” he says. “We run some encryption over every link to protect
ourselves. That 4Mb network is suitable for running a number of cameras
simultaneously. We also have the ability for these cameras to multicast and our
network is multicast capable, everywhere.”

The system at the
Reject Shop was designed and supplied by integrator Camvex and the company’s
CCTV systems engineer, Andrew Del Biondo, says a driving force in the overall
layout is that the system is not designed to be always monitored in real time.

“Images can be
viewed in the Kensington office in Melbourne or they can be viewed in Ipswich
on a monitor or workstation,” explains Del Biondo.

“From an onsite
monitoring perspective the manager of the site has a workstation that’s
dedicated to the system and there are a couple of monitors connected to it so
he can view cameras.

“Our web
designer, Glenn Conway, has also designed an interactive map that’s integrated
into the Sony RSM workstation and the manager can click on an icon and view a
camera and do playback.

“However, live
monitoring is not the main purpose of this installation,” Del Biondo says.
“Instead the Reject Shop records cameras and if there is an incident, the
images are viewed. Management will also use cameras to see if there are ways to
improve efficiency on the site.”

According to Del
Biondo, the Sony RSM software used by The Reject Shop is a nice mid-range
software product and ideal for a medium-sized site like The Reject Shop.

“Because it’s
made by Sony the software works with the cameras and all the camera functions
work as you expect them to,” he explains. “One of the risks with 3rd party
integration is that when you bring together multi vendor products and software
including cameras, a VMS, network hardware and firmware, there are many
variables and sometimes the different suppliers blame each other when things
don’t work properly. We didn’t have a worry with that in this installation.”

The physical
installation

Prior to this
install, Camvex had worked with The Reject Shop on a number of other projects
including designing and installing CCTV systems for some of The Reject Shop’s
retail outlets. This relationship meant the two companies had a good understanding
of each other before the DC system was installed.

“First we spoke
about installing a surveillance solution in the Distribution Centre and we
undertook a design based on my understanding of what the loss prevention
department wanted from a security and safety point of view, combined with what
Darren considered would be appropriate and suitable for the Distribution Centre
as far as a networked solution was concerned.”

Del Biondo says
that in terms of the physical installation, The Reject Shop’s construction
contractors were in the midst of building the Distribution Centre when Camvex
got involved.

“By the time we
were awarded the contract there was an alarm installer already on the site and
we recommended The Reject Shop request the alarm contractor install the camera
cable or use their own data cabler which would reduce costs.

“We then supplied
the cameras to the client for the alarm contractor, Ambush Security, to
install,” Del Biondo explains. “Once the cameras were installed we did the
commissioning with the whole installation running over a couple of weeks.”

Perimeters at the
DC are about 200m and there are no runs exceeding 70 metres and this meant
there was no additional complexity to the network cabling than would be
encountered with any edge device.

“Interesting from
our perspective is that the builder did a tender on an analogue CCTV system and
it was more expensive in this particular application,” Del Biondo says. “This
was due to the fact the network at The Reject Shop Distribution Centre is
excellent and can handle megapixel resolution and data easily.” 

At the DC the
Sony megapixel cameras are all 1.3MP and they are running at full resolution.

“We find 1.3MP is
a nice sweet spot,” says Del Biondo. “We are running all the megapixel cameras
at full resolution in JPEG compression, 1280 x 960, 3 images per second. When
there’s an alarm event this frame rate is kicked up to 6 images per
second.” 

According to Del
Biondo, Camvex techs built the RSM servers from scratch using off the shelf components
and this allowed them to improve the specification while reducing costs.

“We built the 2
servers and to improve their reliability the Windows operating system and the
Sony RSM software are installed on a non-volatile 32GB SSD,” he explains.

“Cameras are
recorded to the onboard HDDs with a total of 6TB per server and it’s a very
simple solution that’s very easy to support. Because the servers are
uncomplicated, if a hard drive or motherboard fails it’s like repairing a PC.
And it’s low cost compared to some other solutions, as well as being very
flexible and economical in terms of enhancing storage.”

Camvex also
installed a 40-inch Samsung LCD/PC monitor to allow staff to check vehicle
entry points.

“We mounted this
vertically because The Reject Shop wanted a permanent display of 3 specific
cameras for live monitoring but did not want anyone to be able to change the
camera display,” Del Biondo says.

“There is a PC
built into this monitor but there is no client software supporting this
display. Instead we are accessing the cameras via a web browser we have
customised to display those cameras. It displays better vertically than
horizontally. This is independent of the RSM and gets streamed through
Quicktime.”

And another key
element of the installation was putting in the Barionet Controllers which
handle integration of the alarm system and the surveillance solution.

“We used one
Barionet device that has 8 inputs and one that has 4 inputs,” says Del Biondo.
“The Barionets were installed close to the alarm panel so this allowed very
easy access to the network. In terms of configuration you make the association
between a Barionet input and a camera through the RSM software and then you set
up a number of actions. It’s so easy.”

For O’Connor, a
key element of the physical installation was maximising use of existing
infrastructure without impacting on data or VoIP – both of which share the
network at the DC. The advantage for The Reject Shop was a reduction in
installation cost.

“With analogue
the cameras themselves are less expensive but when you take in the installation
of coax cable runs on a site this size you are up for a fair amount of money in
cabling costs alone,” O’Connor explains.

“Conversely, if
you are going to leverage existing infrastructure with the only change required
being going to Gigabit instead of fast Ethernet, then it costs a little bit
more but still far less than analogue. And you have a superior network. At the
DC the fibre rings running at Gigabit speed and we just connect cameras into
the nearest network point. It’s completely future proof.”

Alarm integration

If the mere
thought of integrating alarms and video surveillance suggests complexity, think
again. The nature of the integration at The Reject Shop is simple and in some
ways it represents a snapshot of the way all systems might be integrated in
future. It really is very well done.

Del Biondo says
the thing he particularly likes about this system is its neat integration of
the CCTV solution and the alarm system, and it’s impossible not to agree with
him.

“The Reject Shop
wanted to integrate CCTV with their alarm system – they wanted PTZs to swing to
presets when an alarm event such as a door opening occurred,” Del Biondo
explains.

“Of course, there
are multiple ways to do this, you have High Level Interfaces or Low Level
Interfaces and in many cases these integrations are expensive and complicated.
But with this system, all the alarm installer had to do was put in his relay
boards as usual and then give us an output for the relevant doors.”

Integration from
alarm panel to the network could hardly be simpler.

“We just
connected these outputs to a Barionet 50 – an IP Automation Controller with
Modbus/TCP and SNMP support,” Del Biondo says. “The way this unit works is that
you connect your alarm to the Barionet’s I/O inputs and it ports them to the
network via RJ45 and sends the alarm signal via IP.”

Importantly, each
output is associated with a particular camera and can be used to tell a camera
to go to a particular preset. According to Del Biondo, it’s a solution that’s
elegant in its simplicity and extremely affordable.

“A Barionet costs
a couple of hundred dollars and eliminates the need for a high level interface,
making integration so much easier,” he says. “It doesn’t matter which alarm
system or access control system the customer has – they give us an output and
the Barionet will convert this signal to IP and it can be associated with any
Sony camera you want via the RSM software.”

On the management
side, the alarm inputs are tagged to particular cameras and Sony’s RSM software
has a number of recording modes that can run simultaneously.

“In this
application we record continuously at about 3 images per second and we then
have alarm recording based on motion detection from the camera which kicks the
frame rate up to 6 frames,” Del Biondo explains.

“We also have
event recording which occurs when we get a signal from the alarm system – it
also kicks recording up to 6 frames per second.

“The fact the
Sony RSM integrates with the Barionet devices made life so easy for us. What
the Reject Shop liked about it was that there was a clear line between where
the alarm providers responsibility stopped and ours started. And we loved the
fact that getting the Barionets onto the network was very easy.”

Network and
system management

Because the
system is monitored remotely, the WAN a vital element of the mangagement
solution and when moving video over the MPLS network for viewing, the design
exploits the MPEG-4 stream of each camera, with video streams each having a
bandwidth of 2Mb at 3 images per second.

Bringing all the
surveillance hardware together over the network is Sony’s RealShot Manager
(RSM) Advanced Version which incorporates a bunch of capabilities that make it
a competent mid-range management solution. One of the nice features of RSM is
that it incorporates intelligent video analytics using Sony’s Video Motion
Filter Alarms and Video Motion Filter Searches features. These use metadata to
provide operational efficiency and a high level of security.

There are also
Video Motion Filter Alarms that allow users to define parameters and to fine
tune alarm triggers for live monitoring and recording so that crucial events
are easily called to the attention of a guard and are recorded. Video Motion
Filter Searches allow users to define search parameters in situations so events
of interest are easily searched for in recorded information.

The Reject Shop
has not applied video motion detection to its new system yet but Del Biondo
says this is being considered as an option for the future. In the meantime the
video management features of RSM make the system easy to operate.

In terms of the
workstation viewing screen, the RSM combines a site map complete with active icons
on the left with a viewing window on the right. There are also coloured time
lines and all the usual video play buttons. According to Del Biondo the
timelines make the system very easy to use.

“When you go into
the search module of the RSM software you can ask the system to display all
those files or nominate the ones you want to see,” he explains. “The display
shows the different recordings in different colours in the form of time lines –
continuous recording is green – red indicates motion and orange relates to
event recordings.

“This makes it
much easier to search and I think with camera systems if you can make it easier
for a customer to find things, that’s far better. Continuous recording is the
most reliable method but it uses a lot of storage so if you run a combination
you get a better outcome.”

“In terms of live
monitoring, as well as standard camera views there are also a number of presets
you can pull up – entry/exit points and vehicle access points.”

Up in Ipswich,
what is exposed to end users is fixed. According to O’Connor, when it’s turned
on it the LCD screen  automatically links
to 3 camera presets. The primary use of these camera views is to view and
recognise vehicles coming onto the site.

“We went with the
screen and embedded PC solution because if you install a PC, people treat it
like a PC – they reboot it, mess around with it, kick it under the desk,”
O’Connor says. “If you make this interface look like something else even if it
is a PC, they treat it differently.

“It’s proven to be
an excellent solution,” he says. “The screen shuts down at night and comes on
in the morning. It’s capable of 24×7 operation and handles its own cooling and
power management. It takes up very little space and is visible to everyone in
the room. The screen is also very clear and it doesn’t need anybody to do
anything – it’s perfect.”

But where
management is concerned it’s the overall system’s ability to be managed using a
WAN that makes it ideal for The Reject Shop.

“The remote
management features are comprehensive,” says O’Connor. “The final configuration
of the cameras was done from here in Melbourne – setting the exposure levels,
getting the presets right.

“Essentially the
nature of the CCTV system mirrors the use-parameters of the system itself. It’s
the same focus on efficiency. We don’t want the costs of sending techs up to
Qld for system maintenance and because of this, Camvex needs a simple footprint
on the ground to make it easy for them to manage things remotely. It makes so
much sense if we can work in this way.”

Because the
system is being monitored and maintained remotely, the health of the network
component is also important.

“On the network
side edge devices are managed using IBM Director – that includes monitoring for
hardware faults, disk failure and problem predictions,” O’Connor explains. “For
network monitoring we use Cacti, which is an open source networking monitoring
solution. It allows us to poll the environment every 5 minutes and actually see
video flowing around the building at a data network level.

According to
O’Connor, most alerts go to The Reject Shop’s people but there are suppliers
who also get reports and he says that’s how all IP-based security solutions
will be supported in the future.

Del Biondo
agrees.

“One thing Darren
is organising is giving Camvex remote access to the system in order to handle
system maintenance and support,” he explains.

“The way this
will work is that instead of connecting directly to the system up in Ipswich,
we will connect to a desktop here in Melbourne that’s got direct access in
order to keep bandwidth demands down.”

But there are
some other issues to take into account with a megapixel-rich CCTV system
running on a shared data network.

“The image
streams at the DC are on a VLAN in the distribution centre and we keep a close
eye on them – we have to be able to identify traffic for QoS on the network,”
O’Connor explains.

“This is a shared
network and I can’t have video streams interrupting phone calls. We recognise
the fact that bulk video transfer has a significant impact on our network and
if you’re serious about video on shared networks you have to be prepared to
shape it into the network by dropping packets or making some other choice to
reduce network load if required.

“We track video as
soon as it leaves the camera so we can actively manage traffic. Having said
this, we have no problems because the Distribution Centre has significant
bandwidth,” O’Connor says. “The most over-used link would be around 20-30 per
cent utilised so there is plenty of headroom left.”

There’s a lesson
for other security managers and IT managers in the methods employed by The
Reject Shop. This is a true shared network with significant core uses.

“Both the
business use and the surveillance use of the network are QoS rated and we still
prioritise data in order to guarantee refresh rates. It’s a busy network. We
have a lot of radio gear including body worn units, vehicle terminals, hand
held terminals, cart-mounted Panasonic tough books and local network connections
for PCs,” O’Connor says.

“There are also
more than 30 printers but the network is smart enough to work out what’s what
and to manage our needs. We are comfortable having all this data sharing our
network as long as we can treat it appropriately.”

Conclusion

It’s clear from
the start that The Reject Shop is pleased with its networked video solution.

“We went down the
IP Video path to get a fully integrated solution that would allow us to really
capture what was going on inside the Distribution Centre. We did not want to
gamble on cameras always pointing in the right direction, we wanted to leverage
presets and to have a clear demarcation between alarm providers and the
security system with the Barionet devices,” O’Connor says.

“With this system
we can see what happens on the site – it’s very clear, very simple and very
cost effective. It’s just such a basic integration. In comparison, high level
interfaces are fraught with danger, with software incompatibilities, with
upgrades.

“They also have the
potential to dramatically overrun costs for not a lot of value,” O’Connor
explains. “This is different – the alarm installer can deal with the I/O
requirements and on the other side the Barionet module integrates into the Sony
RSM and allows you to pick up events and drive cameras to where you need them
to be.

“Because it’s
simple technology you are more likely to be able to rely on it. When Camvex
first suggested this as a simple layer between the alarms and the CCTV it
appealed as a really simple way to resolve the issues of integration while
allowing us to focus on what we wanted to achieve and we are very happy with
the results.”