Swinburne Universitys Milestone X-Protect Corporate
WHEN we visited Swinburne University of Technology in November 2008 we found a networked IP surveillance system that was ahead of its time. Back then, 170 Axis IP cameras teamed up with the Milestone X-Protect Enterprise VMS and were integrated across the university’s central site at Hawthorn via a 10GB LAN with 1 other site connected via a 150MB microwave link from a remote location. It’s worth bearing in mind that SUT’s evolving IP surveillance system has 2 primary goals – security and safety. There’s a heavy accent on response to reported crimes or incidents rather than vigorous monitoring of cameras. It’s a focus that means image quality and coverage are important. Security officers’ key duties are foot patrols, responses, and building openings and closings with the CCTV system employed for investigations, to assess situations and to ensure the safety of security officers, staff and students after hours.What was special about the SUT’s installation when we first visited was that it was handled by the university’s internal IT department. At the end of 2010, this state of affairs is more common among end user applications but SUT remains at the forefront of a major shift in the way networked electronic security solutions are installed and maintained. Our continued interest in the SUT system relates to the fact this solution is expanding exponentially and as it expands, it places pressure on the network and management software that supports it. The point of interest is that while some network-based solutions can be tweaked to manage a given application, growth undermines stability. According to Milestone’s Angelo Salvatore, this instability evidences itself after initial installation and he says it’s only time and expansion that shows just how capable a VMS is of handling management and expansion of large CCTV solutions in real time. “We often talk about sites that have had a particular VMS installed in them but no one goes back to revisit those sites after they have experienced growth to see whether or not a customer’s expectations were met.“And we talk about future proofing surveillance platforms by putting in open platforms with open standards but we rarely install a solution and then return after significant upgrade and see if a customer has taken a system from A, to B, to C – to see those open standards working in real time,” Salvatore says. “An issue is the means of taking once product and migrating it to another product as the need occurs in a working system. We hear about this but you rarely if ever see it.”So that’s our brief here at SUT. Here’s a fully networked, IP-based surveillance solution installed in large part to future-proof the site. What we want to know is how challenging its rapid organic growth has been.
According to IT security officer, Chris Goetze since 2008, the system has expanded massively, with cameras now installed on all 6 of the university’s smaller campuses at Prahran, Lilydale, Croydon, Healesville and Wantirna, with video recordings from these sites recorded centrally at Hawthorn.“We have a number of building sites at the moment – we have the Advanced Technology Centre being built on Burwood Road – which is 4 towers – 2 of which are 12 stories. We also have a new student amenities building going up, which is seven stories. “We seem to be building up rather than out at the moment – many of buildings date from the 70s so some are being demolished and replaced with multi-storey towers and the results will be more cameras,” Goetze says. “In terms of the cameras we are using across the system we have recently upgraded to third generation of Axis cameras we’ve used – we originally were using Axis 216s, then we moved to the 225s and we have now gone to the P3343s. In terms of resolution we have gone to 600×800 pixels – you definitely notice the difference with the new cameras. The AXIS P3343 Fixed Dome Network Camera features a tamper resistance casing, day/night functionality and wide dynamic range while remote zoom ensures that the viewing angle is optimized for the scene and required pixel resolution at installation. The remote focus function makes the installation convenient, eliminating the need for focusing at the camera position. The new cameras offer multiple H.264 streams, as well as Motion JPEG streams, can be provided simultaneously either in full frame rate or individually optimized for different quality needs and bandwidth constraints.“These P3343 cameras have also made things easier in that it’s just one housing whether the camera is inside or outside,” he explains. “As part of the upgrade of the system in concert with installing the new cameras the fact you can do the camera focusing and zoom settings remotely from a laptop rather than by standing on top of a ladder has made installing and tweaking the cameras is far easier and faster.
“We often talk about sites that have had a particular VMS installed in them but no one goes back to revisit those sites after they have experienced growth to see whether or not a customer’s expectations were met”Angelo Salvatore, Milestone Systems
“We now have 320 Axis IP cameras installed across our sites and we are always expanding,” says Goetze. “Those 2 major new buildings we have under construction when completed will add another 100 cameras to the system – that’s significant growth. “Along with additional cameras, the network has expanded, too. When SE&N was here last we had 105Meg microwave links between our campuses – that’s now all fibre at 10Gb – the entire backbone is 10Gb and the IP video component runs on a VLAN. Our Internet has been upgraded as well and while that doesn’t impact on the cameras it does it make it easier to watch the offline. “In terms of video performance, the system records and streams live footage on motion at 15 frames per second and in full resolution. In addition, the cameras we have added over the past couple of years offer superior resolution giving us improved picture quality.” According to Goetze, the upgraded system is being ‘mixed up’ a bit more than it was originally planned to do. What this means is that the power of SUT’s backbone is such that it allows cameras to act as edge devices across the entire network, arriving back at the server room in Hawthorn across the backbone without remote storage. “Initially we were saying we needed a server at each campus and we planned to take the cameras to that server for live storage and then if you want to retrieve images you would pull them down across the WAN,” Goetze says. “Now with the 10Gb fibre backbone across all 6 sites we are just one big WAN and that means we can have a server rack here in Hawthorn and record all the remote cameras from those sites to our servers here. There’s no degradation in the quality of the vision and we are not putting any strain on the network. “This has been great for the whole migration from Milestone X-Protect Enterprise to X-Protect Corporate because as part of the process we needed to shuffle servers and maintain 2 systems for a period of time. Doing this on a single site in a single rack made things a lot easier.” Goetze explains that as part of the growth in camera numbers SUT has grown the number of servers. “We have 11 servers now and we’ve migrated the storage from iSCSI – with one iSCSI for all the servers to share – to Direct Attached Storage. Having a DAS for each server means we have about 9TB native storage, which gives us between 4-6 weeks of video storage on each server using raw motion detection. “This is a nice amount and it allows for changes in the activity levels around the site. Normally we’d get about 4 weeks – in a busy week like Orientation Week we might get 3.5 weeks and on a quiet week we extend the amount of time we can store because there’s so much less movement.” According to Goetze, since SUT started using the DAS storage it gives the feeling that reviewing of archived footage is a little faster. “Direct Attached Storage has really helped with increasing the speed of reviewing and searching our archives.” As Goetze explains, the system uses a dual database system with low cost, lower speed hardware for archiving and high cost high speed hardware for video management. The result is a balance between economy and performance. “Last time SE&N wrote about the site, we were half way through putting cameras in along the railway and that installation has made a great deal of difference. There’s been a real change in the behaviour of the public and students in and around that location. We actually haven’t caught anything down there because nothing has happened. “As part of this installation we found we could get over the 90m Cat-6 cable limit with some active/passive boosters and that’s worked really well. We now know that using boosters we can run cameras up to 600m from a server – which is great performance and excellent for us. Goetze explains that the system’s 2 Axis wireless cameras have been a real boon. “We use these wireless cameras as mobile solutions and we can move them where we need to – they are incredibly useful as a rapid response solution. We still only have 2 of these cameras but we probably need 2 of them on every campus. Recently we had an incident so we deployed the cameras to that area to see what was going on. “They are WiFi and so all we need is to plug them into a plug pack. Same as the rest of our cameras, they are Axis cameras. We’ve had a really good run with the Axis cameras. We did an initial shootout and the quality and price where judged to be the best. The last couple of years has only endorsed our decision.” According to Goetze, the IT department doesn’t give the cameras any special treatment. “From a network point of view we treat cameras the same as we would any network device, no QoS, they are just the same as everything. We add them through the nearest network closet and then address them over the network using our Milestone management solution.”
Milestone XProtect Corporate upgrade
The heart of the upgraded video surveillance system at SUT is XProtect Corporate, a management solution designed for large-scale multi-site implementations where centralized management is a key requirement. We checked the system out at SUT’s incident response centre and Salvatore was quick to point out that one of the nice things about the system is that the machine running the new system in the control room is a standard P4 – it’s some souped up PC with lashings of ram. The only additional spec is a dual head video card and this modest unit handles the entire system. As we play about, it’s clear the system is quick on standard hardware – there’s no noticeable latency and all functions are instantly applied. Importantly for Goetze, XProtect Corporate supports unlimited cameras, users and sites. Handy too, it incorporates integrated map applications and there’s built-in support for Milestone’s awesome and intuitive XProtect Smart Wall. Milestone’s literature says this application ensures exceptional surveillance overview and control and having seen the functionality first hand, the kudos is deserved.“In terms of our switch from Milestone XProtect Enterprise to XProtect Corporate, there’s very little change from the point of view of the security operators,” explains Goetze. “We do have some more smarts operationally but from my point of view the major difference is with management – the system is now all one console. Previously I had to access each server individually in order to change a setting. “Doing this across 8 servers before we migrated was tedious – you can imagine doing everything – all upgrades and performance adjustments – 8 times across separate WAN links,” he says. “Now it’s just one nice console and wherever I am I can just adjust things from one place and this has saved heaps of time. It’s great.“Having an overall view of the system from the one console is great, too. All the management elements are collated together – I don’t have to look at individual servers to find a fault. So from that point of view it’s been well worth the upgrade path.” According to Goetze, the cut-off point where it became too difficult to manage multiple servers and their cameras was about 230 cameras. He says once the crew settled down to the upgrade task the work itself was not challenging. “The actual upgrade process itself took longer than we expected but this had nothing to do with the product it came down to us allocating the time to the job,” he explains. “It effectively is a matter of setting up another system from scratch but the good thing about the Milestone solution is that it allowed us to link the older servers into the new servers. This meant we could still manage the entire system from the security console and the security officers didn’t notice the difference. “As we moved cameras between systems we’d just update their views,” Goetze explains. “There was a balancing act for us. The ultimate would have been to buy a heap of new servers and put the cameras on them and that would be it but because we had to shuffle servers and had to maintain our four weeks of archiving of our various cameras as we wiped servers and replaced them with the new system.“That’s party why it took so long – that balancing act of trying to maintain your archival footage while moving forward. Realistically the process took about 3 months.” Meanwhile, Goetze says the actual alteration to workstations the operators use was very easy. “It could be done any time we wanted. It’s just a matter of changing which server the workstation logs into and we did that at the halfway point when the old system was starting to be de-commissioned piece-by-piece – we needed to change the log-ins and that was a one or two minute visit to each campus.
“We now have 320 Axis IP cameras installed across our sites and we are always expanding. Those 2 major new buildings we have under construction when completed will add another 100 cameras to the system – that’s significant growth” Chris Goetze, IT security officer, Swinburne University of Technology
“It was so easy that with Lilydale and Wantirna, which are more remote campuses, I talked the security officers on-site through the process of upgrading and they were able to follow the instructions easily so it was quite an easy task from that point of view.” The networked system makes the support of additional workstations very easy. Goetze says a screen in the Vice Chancellor’s office allows senior uni staff to know immediately if any incidents have occurred. Along with this, the uni’s Facilities and Services Department also has a few cameras on the building sites. This allows the management team to watch the building sites live and call up builders if they see any issues developing.
One of the nicest features of XProtect Corporate corporate is a mapping capability called SmartWall. Describing SmartWall as a mapping function is a bit remiss because it allows universal manipulation of images and displays across all workstations in a control room or across a network. “What we have done from a manufacturer’s perspective is we’ve taken what you used to be able to do with an analogue matrix switcher, which was hardwired and connected to cameras, and we’ve made it all digital,” says Milestone’s, Angelo Salvatore. “So what you are looking at the bottom of the screen is a representative view of the monitor wall setup and each one of those represents a screen on the monitor wall. You can have as many monitors as you like.“There are 2 ways the system can work – it can be passive or dynamic. You can setup the map on the right side of the screen and Chris can go into the map and from his location pass views between the workstations in the control room. Alternatively you can use the zooming feature of the map to bring everything into scale. This gives the ability to easily move images from one screen to another. “SmartWall can also be used on the basis of analytic triggers or VMD triggers or any other trigger in our rule system,” Salvatore explains. “If someone moves into a doorway their movement will bring all cameras around automatically. The SmartWall can also be worked to a day night schedule. During the day it will show a particular group of cameras and during the night it will show a different group of cameras. “The operators can also populate different cameras in manually and then reset it back to default when the shift ends. It’s like linking camera 1 to monitor 13 in an analogue matrix but doing it in a seamless and instantly reversible networked environment that is hardware agnostic.” As Salvatore points out, with the map view SUT’s operators can highlight cameras and build a miniature wall. “This means for an untrained operator you can use the map to customise within the interface and build a personalised wall of cameras you want the operator to manage. You’ll can click a group of cameras into the wall and then send them to view to create this custom view,” he says. “It’s also possible to have gate operations and audio microphones on the map. You can click on the map and have a two-way conversation with a person on site, you can open a gate, you can close a gate, or activate any sort of trigger that you like.” The map feature is included with the corporate system and as we run through the system it’s easy to see the advantages. Having presets is a bonus and means that if there are any display changes that are made during the events of an operator’s shift the system can revert to its original configuration at shift end. “This application of presets is just as valuable if there’s a trigger event. In the past it would have been very expensive and you would be hardwired but SmartWall manages it beautifully,” Salvatore says. “There’s also an administration client and an active directory that allows different operators to be allocated access to different camera groups. Active directory is easier than building camera-lists. It’s possible to group devices into particular folders – you can put all Hawthorn’s outdoor cameras into a single folder. And then you might have all the Hawthorn PTZ cameras – but these PTZs can be a member of more than one group. “When you run the rule system you might designate an acceleration of all the outdoor cameras to from 10fps to 25fps. Or you might designate all the PTZ cameras to start a patrol. This makes it easier to group them all. The rules make virtually anything possible and there is no limit to them. “You can integrate these rules with access control. If a door activate, the system can increase frame rate, change to a higher res compression, send the nearby cameras to screens in the control room, start a patrol scheme in the vicinity.” As Salvatore neatly explains it, this functionality means the system is like a smart security operator and will make decisions to act on inputs on the basis of a pre-defined set of rules. “The way the Milestone Corporate system works is that we don’t depend on the network and it does not matter whether the system is on one network or 20 subnets because don’t need to multicast. Our Corporate solution will multicast, but we don’t multicast from the camera, we multicast from the back of the server to the client and this means we are not generating many video streams unnecessarily,” he explains. “People will say that you need multicasting when the camera count goes up. But we can see here that you don’t need it. I’d say multicast has its place but it has limitations because you have to jump over one network to go into another network.” Goetze says the SmartWall gives benefits operationally, allowing the system to be optioned to handle certain chores itself. “We use the rule-based system in our server rooms – generally there’s no one in there all day. When someone walks in there we want to know,” says Goetze. “The way it works is that the system will show the last camera with movement in it for 20 seconds and then drop back to normal. “The rule set is on motion start in this camera view and in the event of motion the system changes the SmartWall screen number two to this camera that caused the trigger so operators can take a look and then after 20 seconds it goes back to the default view. “One of the things our officers have found with the upgrade of the smart client is that when you want to review footage, rather than having to view the entire view you can do individual cameras in that current view and they have found that really useful – and this happens while maintaining live view.
“I’d say the nicest thing between corporate and enterprise – is the ability to globally access cameras. In the past if I wanted to give an operator access to a range of cameras on multiple sites I had to visit each server and adjust each of the access levels separately”Chris Goetze
“This really makes things easier when you have a whole SmartWall so rather than having to upset views by changing things you just view individual cameras live. The other thing officers like is that while we may set up the wall to a fairly standard configuration that they like day to day, if there’s something they would like to do, they can dynamically change the individual views of the wall, across all the sites. You can move cameras views anywhere you like throughout workstations on the campus. “One of the rules we have set up is that if there is a trigger from the client, the operators chose the help rule and send it to me and it shows the directory and site with which we’re having a problem,” Goetze explains. “In terms of organising our system in Milestone Corporate we have done campuses, then buildings and then broken it down to floors or views within those buildings. We’ve found that works well. We have a map of Melbourne and if we click on a site then it comes up with the campus and we are working on being able to then click onto a building and drill down into floors.” As part of the demonstration of Milestone Corporate at SUT, we spend time in the security control room and this experience is an eye opener. It’s such a big system yet can be used so easily and intuitively as if all a single site. Watching this happen in real time is amazing. There are 6 sites and hundreds of cameras and it all works as seamlessly as a single location. I see no noticeable latency – SUT’s monster fibre LAN has to take the credit for much of this. The way the control room works in terms of its position on the network is fairly straightforward. The cameras simply come from the server room and then into the control room through relevant standard PCs and onto the video wall. All the hardware is off-the-shelf. “From an operational point of view the way we manage SmartWall is that we want the camera views to be predominantly of external areas during the night unless there is some movement internally,” Goetze explains. “At the moment the SmartWall shows cameras at Prahan, Lilydale, as well as Hawthorn and you can see that with one control screen we can change views, send cameras anywhere in the SmartWall – it makes things a lot easier for us to manage. “This simplicity carries over to admin. I do a bit at home some nights changing trigger points and Milestone works equally well over an ADSL line when doing administration.” According to Goetze, Milestone Corporate’s ability to allow him to address the entire system from his desk is a huge benefit. “From the one location I can adjust frame rate resolution, motion sensing, where a camera records to, where a camera archives to and how often. And I can do this across all our sites. I can look at a remote server at say, Croydon, as easily as I can look at a local server. “I can also collect all cameras of the same model together in a single group and make changes to them all at the same time. We have one group that is all our Axis 216 cameras and this means we can do a change on them all at once. If we want to change the frame rate we can do that with just 2 clicks. It’s the same with the Axis P3343 cameras.“I’d say the nicest thing between corporate and enterprise – is the ability to globally access cameras. In the past if I wanted to give an operator access to a range of cameras on multiple sites I had to visit each server and adjust each of the access levels separately. “Now with Milestone Corporate’s management interface I can do it all in one place and if I already have a group of cameras created it’s just a matter of giving the operator access to one group.”