Macquarie University Taking 1200-Camera CCTV Solution into the Cloud
John Durbridge, campus security manager, MQU
MQU will take storage of up to 1200 IP cameras into the cloud as part of a wider electronic security upgrade, which will also see the implementation of layers of automation across video surveillance, access control and multiple sub systems as part of a strategy to enhance reliability, scalability and return on investment.
MACQUARIE University is neck-deep in an upgrade process that, when completed later this year, will take 1200 IP CCTV cameras into the cloud in partnership with Macquarie Cloud Services. The solution will have an underlying storage as a service model that, if successful, will see the entire university embrace a cloud-based computing model. The shift to cloud can’t be seen in isolation, however. MQU is imbuing its electronic security solutions with intelligence simultaneously, making the upgrade process a serious challenge.
Before we burrow too deeply into this complex and evolving story, it’s worth getting a sense of MQU as an application. Founded in 1964, it’s geographically large, with more than 70 buildings spread across 150 hectares at Macquarie Park in Sydney. There are a few floors of space in the CBDs of Sydney and Hong Kong, but MQU is a single location with a population of 44,000 students and around 6000 staff.
MQU’s current growth phase has led to a 7-year plan of construction and refurbishment, which feeds directly into the electronic security solution, as well as the university’s future IT strategy. Being a holistic digital upgrade makes the MQU application compelling and challenging to encapsulate in a single sentence. Fundamentally, MQU is racing to secure new and refurbished buildings, while undergoing a major upgrade of existing hardware, a major integration of software across multiple sub systems, and simultaneously migrating core IT functionalities to off-site infrastructure across existing and yet to be completed fibre infrastructure.
The upgrades have also seen the construction of a new security control room, as well as 2 remote security stations in other parts of the site, the building and fitting out of an incident management room, the installation of digital trunking radio soon to be upgraded to soft phones, and plenty more – both underway and soon to begin. Taken as a whole, this is not an application for the faint-hearted. Partnerships have been vital, with considerable input from MQU’s IT department and its contracted security consultant Scott Myles, as well as from suppliers, like Macquarie Cloud Services, Australian internet pioneer AARnet, Milestone Systems, Gallagher Security, and security integrator, Prosys.
As you’d expect, the largest component of the overall system in terms of network requirements is CCTV and the MQU solution includes the usual fixed and PTZ cameras, as well as mobile cameras in security vehicles – there’s even been some preliminary work with drones. According to MQU campus security manager, John Durbridge, the fundamental purpose of the surveillance system is safety and security.
“We are interested in security and safety issues – slips, falls, detection and response to medical emergencies, incident prevention, coverage of help points and more,” he says. “The surveillance system informs response of our security officers on site, supports post-event investigations by our own staff or by police if matters are more serious. We also undertake a lot of medical responses, including the typical sporting or inattention injuries you’d expect. We have the population of a medium-sized town so there’s always something going on.
“Situational awareness with the ability to recognise faces in certain locations is a key for us and as the site evolves we are expanding this. For instance, we have a campus common and a new food court that we need to cover yet at the same time there are plenty of things going on at MQU we don’t need to know about and we don’t need to see, which is why we are so committed to trying to filter events to see the unusual stuff.”
Durbridge says the process of developing a digital solution with a cloud component began 6 years ago.
“We had just refurbished this building – it was our print shop at the time – to create a new control room and we had installed our first significant group of IP cameras when I arrived – it opened a couple of days after I arrived,” Durbridge explains. “That was the first IP surveillance we had on the campus and we also had the existing analogue gear, which looked at doors and help points and had decentralised DVR storage across the campus.
“From there we decided we would move to all IP – we’ve done areas as they have been built and as they have been refurbished. Initially, we took all our IP cameras across to on-site data centre storage but over time we began thinking about a cloud-based solution.”
The overall surveillance system at MQU includes 600 IP cameras – predominately Axis with some Bosch and Samsung – and around 150 legacy analogue cameras, which will be upgraded to IP and brought across to the Milestone XProtect Corporate VMS. At the same time, the system is being expanded to cover new buildings currently under construction, and public spaces that need additional coverage.
“When the surveillance system is fully upgraded we will have around 1200 cameras,” says Durbridge. “Something we need is more coverage of public spaces – traditionally we’ve covered rooms, doors and corridors, as well as key areas of interest. Alongside this we will have coverage of public spaces – roadways, pathways, bus shelters, heavy pedestrian areas – these are things we want to concentrate on.
“Where we at right now is that we want to see the unusual, not the usual – we don’t want to see authorised access control events, or armings and disarmings – it’s the unauthorised actions that are our priority. As you can imagine in a site like this, there are thousands of authorised access credentials presented to busy doors every day. We want to see the access attempts that are rejected, doors left open, doors forced open, the fire alarm events – that’s what’s vital to us from an operational perspective.”
According to Durbridge, the key element of the upgrade is moving from centralised storage in the MQU data centre to a storage as a service model with Macquarie Cloud Services.
“MQU has had an AARNet fibre link on the site for as long as anyone can remember, and we are using this link to connect to Macquarie Cloud Services just down the road,” he says. “This link will be duplicated for redundancy and our surveillance system transition to cloud will be the test case for the rest of MQU’s data requirements.
“For us the motivation is that the solution will be more robust and snappier in overall performance, as well as being fully redundant. Parts replacement will be much faster and there will be full support on hand. Cost-wise there is not much in it for the first 5 years but over time it makes good sense for us.
“Price aside, we want a robust solution for 4-5 years and we apply that rule to every component we use,” Durbridge explains. “For instance, we need a camera that can hold up so Neil from our integrator Prosys doesn’t have to go and fix it every couple of months. We want good performance outside, good performance inside, good depth of field, good reliability, good in different lighting conditions – in this category Axis has consistently met our requirements over many years.”
MQU security consultant Scott Myles says once the network and cloud solution are provisioned and made available, essentially there are 2 stages to the migration process – the first being all current existing IP camera loads and the second being the replacement of all existing analogue cameras.
“The process will involve the rediscovery of all existing IP cameras on the new dedicated security network and pointing these devices and services to Macquarie Cloud Services,” Myles explains. “We will have everything running from the MCS data centre – compute and storage, the lot – the only thing we will have onsite will be workstations to control functionality across the site.”
According to Myles, the AARNet Link offers plenty of bandwidth for the application but a second link will be installed for redundancy and future requirements.
“The existing pipe is 10GB but the second link will share the load across a pair of 10GB pathways taking different routes to the data centre,” he explains. “It’s a big body of work – what we are doing here is creating a base to build upon for the future – getting the network in place, the storage in place so when we want to grow it’s easy.”
When it comes to savings and benefits, Myles says that going to a cloud-based model makes sense.
“It’s basically cost-neutral for the first 5 years – you really start saving money after 5 years when you factor in a system hardware refresh – that’s when the ‘as a service model’ begins to pay off,” he explains. “But that doesn’t take into account the space saved, the cost of power and cooling for storage, as well as management and maintenance costs that are no longer required.”
Myles says the extended time frame led to the change of focus from an onsite data centre to offsite, but he points out that the primary goal of taking the electronic security solution to digital has remained the same.
“It’s been a long process,” he explains. “Initially we were going to undertake the current upgrade using our own data centre, but we were expanding and growing so fast and that side of the equation really nailed the decision take the system into the cloud. We were only just handling the overall workload as it was but with growth, joint ventures, research with private enterprise, it was becoming a very large requirement, very quickly.
“As requirements grew, and with other departments talking about storage as a service, it became logical that we began to think the same way. There’s a lot to like about an off-site managed service that removes the cost and effort of IT management, archiving, power requirements, refresh – with that out of the way, you are just managing your own security solution.
“And when you do the sums over the medium term, it does make financial sense. We can scale up and scale down very fast. The proof of concept showed MCS had the ability to deliver support for 900 cameras in 7 days – we could never do that onsite. We were certainly apprehensive prior to the proof of concept – the proof of concept was vital – Milestone was very helpful to us during this phase.”
Neill Turner from Prosys – MQU’s incumbent integrator, responsible for maintaining and upgrading the surveillance system – agrees that going to the cloud delivers multiple benefits.
“MCS will provide tech support, as well as drives and replacement of any components that fail – outsourcing storage means there’s one less thing for us to worry about as an integrator,” Turner says. “Something else to consider is that enhanced performance is an advantage because it increases operator efficiency while bringing the system into line with what people expect today. In the past, processing was slower, web pages loaded slower – now users want efficient solutions with zero latency.”
According to Durbridge, return on investment for MQU is lateral when it comes to cloud.
“When we start directing some of the wider university load to MCS it will change the equation very quickly and put us in a better position from the point of view of savings,” he explains. “But while savings are important, first and foremost, we wanted a very robust security solution with less responsibility for maintenance – that’s the real priority. Certainly, when we did load testing recently with 900 cameras, latency was virtually zero and after all the testing was completed it seemed we would have an extremely robust solution.
Testing the Load
MQU recently undertook load testing, challenging MCS with 900 IP cameras streaming and recording in high resolution and high frame rate. The results were solid. The team expects to enjoy high frame rates, 30-day storage on all channels, with no limit on resolution once the service is fully commissioned. According to Myles, the partnership between education network provider AARNet and Macquarie Cloud Services was and remains the key.
“The AARNet pipe is big and the data centre is so close it’s as if MCS is on campus, which is the perfect situation for us,” says Myles. “As we have gone along we’ve learned that success in cloud applications of this size requires the provider understand the underlying requirements. For us it’s not just about storage – we will have our management, recording and storage servers all at MCS. You need a good data provider to understand the nature of what we are doing. Typical data centre users solutions require a lot of reading and little writing, but as with video surveillance requires a vast amount of writing and sometimes reading.
“It was interesting to do the load test and it went wonderfully but the wider digital migration is not just what we have right now – it’s about upgrading our existing systems, enhancing integration, building a whole new network on our site, then pushing the completed and proven network over to MCS, while ensuring the security team retains full control of all functionality.”
Challenges of the Application
It goes without saying that there have been challenges to the application but from an observer’s point of view, those challenges seem to relate more to the pace of technological change – MQU was willing but technology was weak.
“Certainly, there has been no problem with funding or with selling the overall concept to university management,” explains Durbridge. “Our vice chancellor has worked all over the world including the U.S. and is very security and safety conscious. MQU’s appetite for safety and security has always been there, which is why my job was created.
“From my perspective, the central challenge of this very complex project, has been knowing with certainty which is the right direction to go in. As an end user, you want to get a sense that you’ve picked the right solution and to have a feel for the way things will operate when commissioned. One good thing is that MQU has always stuck with proof of concepts – we’re happy for anyone to bring a new camera or product to trial. A proof of concept culture makes decisions better informed and easier to live with.”
According to Durbridge, there were a number of processes already in place as far as the electronic security solution was concerned when he arrived.
“What we have tried to do since then is really fast-track the technology to make the systems intelligent, so for example, Gallagher Command Centre doesn’t just control the door, but also helps with the time-tabling to manage people coming and going, manages the lights and manages the air conditioning,” he says. “These integrations mean the system saves you money, so you are getting the best possible returns on investment. Applying those ideas to a working site has been another big challenge.
“Bringing everybody together conceptually so we were all on the same page at the same time in relation to the network was important, too. We’ve spoken about it over time but it’s a big task to achieve on a virtual city-wide scale. Naturally, everybody is focused on their individual areas, so understanding the overall strategy did pose a challenge. When the system changes were explained to people, they understood the reasons and there’s been no negativity about it – decisions go through without friction. For instance, when we decided Briefcam was ideal to help us manage key areas of the site, approval to explore that option went through immediately.”
Access Control, Automation, Analytics
The complexity of the MQU application is all about layers. Chugging along in tandem with the move to cloud are enhancements to access control, including integrations to deliver automation, as well as the application of analytics to particular cameras using the Briefcam system, which turbo charges operator searches by displaying multiple events concurrently on the basis of a wide range of parameters – all cars, all red cars, all red cars driving North between 3-4pm.
“Briefcam is going to be very useful for us,” Durbridge says. “University Ave, our major thoroughfare for all vehicles, as well as the major pedestrian and cycle route for students to traverse when heading to and from their on-site accommodation, is also the route to the railway station. This means we can review the majority of trips onto and off the site in very quick time.”
According to Myles, while Briefcam is excellent for streamlining searches, it’s also useful as a filter.
“Briefcam is a great post-analytic tool but also we wanted to have a more action-based solution where all the middle tiles on the video wall will be blank unless the system is displaying alarms and/or exceptions,” he says.
“There will also be some face recognition integrated into the system in the near future. We will use it for things like exams and to receive notifications of people who are banned from campus, or notification of persons of interest. The police quite often come past looking for someone – face recognition will allow us to help them much more effectively.”
Integration is also going to be a core part of filtering events.
“Central to the new system will be filtration – the ability to see those events that are important – integral to this will be a process of integration between access control and video surveillance systems that allows us to drive cameras when we have particular events – access attempt rejected, door open, door forced, etc,” says Durbridge. “At the heart of this will be more integration work with the Gallagher system.
“Key areas of interest for us will be boom gates and automated hostile vehicle mitigation bollards installed at vehicle entry points – these will be up by default and will be lowered by security staff remotely for authorised vehicle access. We have a lot of deliveries to the centre of campus, but this is a heavy pedestrian area – automated rising barriers are expensive to install but we need to manage that risk. We will also be using an LPR solution at all entry points.”
Durbridge says the automation won’t be limited to security applications.
“Our timetabling system for academics when they book a classroom is managed by Syllabus Plus and we will create and integration with Gallagher, so we can automate opening and closing of rooms at those times,” he explains. “It gives much more control over rooms, over who is using rooms and over availability of rooms as well. Most unis just open the doors in the morning and close them at night but with the high-level integration of Gallagher and Syllabus Plus we will have much more control than that.
“There will also be an interface into the Niagara BMS system that will allow us to automate things like lighting and air conditioning using the Gallagher system as well. That integration will deliver a significant saving in power. We want the MQU system to be as intelligent as possible – we don’t want to duplicate systems – we want to remove human intervention where appropriate using thoughtful automation. We have around 50,000 people accessing the site, as well as being open to the public and we have more than 70 buildings – it’s a lot to manage.”
Gallagher Command Centre event log
According to Durbridge, the security team likes working with Gallagher.
“Our experience has been very good, they are very responsive to our needs and will come and talk with us seeking to resolve obvious issues but also to use automation to help us streamline operational requirements in other areas as well. Gallagher works well with Milestone and with our Jacques intercoms and help points, which will all be integrated into the completed solution.
“We’ve also tacked ASSA ABLOY Aperio onto Gallagher – we have thousands and thousands of keys – our goal is to get to zero keys – as we are re-fitting and re-furbishing we are going to electronic keying,” Durbridge says. “Aperio works well with Gallagher, allowing security operators to override and open doors if they need to. It’s a nightmare managing keys – we need that audit trail – we need visibility within the system.”
Will MQU’s cloud-based, highly integrated security solution become a benchmark for other users looking to haul their electronic security systems into the 21st century? It certainly will. MQU has taken on the challenges of carrying multiple sub system on a legacy site into an entirely digital environment, showing that while it takes time and real commitment, it can be done.
Durbridge concedes that a project like the digital upgrade at MQU is never really finished – there’s always another piece of functionality to include, another building to secure. But he says once the current upgrade process is completed in around 6 months’ time; with the surveillance system managed in the cloud, the deep integration between CCTV, access control and automation completed; the security system will be far more powerful and scalable.
“We are a university, so we should be at the pointy end, pushing into new technologies, pressing the boundaries,” he says. “With the construction, the upgrades and the power outs we’ve experienced in recent years, to have our storage off-site in a fully redundant data centre is a more secure and more reliable solution that the onsite option.
“When completed we will also have a solution that supports us in meeting our operational challenges as a security department, which includes a lot of support for students locally and globally, as well as the usual diversity of security duties. We have sharpened our skills over the last couple of years – who knows what additional skills we will need to 2 or 3 years’ time? And who knows what we will add to our solution? When we are finished it will be an open solution, which is exactly what we need it to be.”