IP cameras come of age for MCG, Swinburne

Deployment allows for new tracking, monitoring capabilities
  • Tim Lohman (Computerworld)
  • 25 December, 2010 08:00

Once a niche area of the physical security market, surveillance cameras capable of utilising IP networks have begun showing up on IT managers' radars as a means to both secure their organisations and help achieve shared business goals.

Emerging a few years back as logical successors to closed circuit television (CCTV) and tape-based cameras, IP cameras have since become more cost effective, capable of producing ever higher resolution images and in some instances, can serve as platforms for applications.

One organisation to cotton on to the power of IP cameras as an application platform is Swinburne University of Technology.

Encouraged by the strength of its own network – a 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) backbone runs between the university’s six Victorian campuses – and the successful roll out of some 310 cameras to date from Axis Communications, the university has since begun to deploy IP-based smart applications to make better use of its visual network.

According to the university’s IT security officer, Chris Goetze, Swinburne has adopted a people counting application supplied by local analytics vendor, SenSen Networks, running over the IP cameras deployed in its main library at the Hawthorn campus as a means of providing business analytics information to IT staff.

“One of the things the library really needs to know is the utilisation of the resources they provide,” Goetze says. “Are students looking at books or using the computers provided inside the library? What are the peak times of use? Where we had positioned the cameras gave us a unique opportunity to track people through the library.”

(Queensland Police add cameras, number plate recognition to arsenal)

As a result, the university has been able to improve the way the Hawthorn Campus Library operates.

“The library now knows it had 12,000 people through on Open Day, and is really looking forward to using this data to say, ‘we needed to change the format of the library as we have too many people traversing up three floors’,” Goetze says. “We hope that’s the sort of data that will come out and it seems it already is.”

Like Swinburne, the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) — the organisation responsible for managing the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) — also began its move to IP cameras a few years back when it became increasingly clear that IP, with the backing of its IT department, was the way of the future.

“If I had a rack of 30 or 40 DVRs (Digital Video Recorders) I have no-one on-site looking after those and if something goes wrong I have to call in an integrator to come in and look at them,” Andy Frances, manager of security and visit management support at the cricket club, says.

“Now, if my back-end storage solution is an 80 terabyte (TB) IBM server I have an IT department who is on-site all the time and who understands it and can look after it. As well as that, the flexibility of the IP systems, the cameras, things like analytics and the quality of the vision you can now get with high definition cameras, it really wasn’t a hard decision in the end.”

Brett Liddle, information systems manager at the MCC says the existing IP camera setup is used for basic security and access control purposes, but the organisation is now assessing whether it will deploy people counting and mass crowd counting solutions at the MCG.

“We are also looking at licence plate recognition just to try and capture the cars and transport vehicles coming in and out of the grounds so we have a very solid record of who has come in and out in case we do have an issue,” he says.

In addition, Liddle says the MCC is assessing deploying a mapping application so that the organisation can look at a schematic of the MCG grounds, click on a certain part of the ground and get an instant view via its IP cameras of what’s happening in that part of the grounds. In this way MCG staff can rapidly respond to incidents affecting the safety of the crowd as quickly as possible.

“We are also exploring things like remote connectivity to the system so we can shoot images to the guards via portable devices,” he says. “If we have a lost child then we can send them that image or project it onto the screens in the grounds.”

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Making the most of IP

Despite the high number of IP cameras Swinburne uses — and high definition ones at that — Goetze says managing network traffic has not been an issue.

“The amount of data is not as much as people seem to expect, especially with the new video codecs you can use [like] H.264,” he says. “One hour of video on a high definition camera if you are running motion JPEG can be about 1GB of traffic, but if you are running a different compression it can be less.

“We are getting 43 kilobits per second (Kbps) of data streaming from each camera. It is not a huge amount but it adds up when you are running [cameras] in the hundreds.” Goetze says to get around the data challenge Swinburne put a recording server in each of its campuses eliminating the need to pull data from the cameras across its backbone. Further, if the network ever loses power, each campus can continue operating its IP cameras under their own steam.

Rather than opt for centralised storage or leverage off its existing SAN infrastructure the university opted for 12TB of direct attached storage for each recording server. On average each server handles 50 cameras, giving the university four to six weeks’ worth of storage capacity of video footage.

“After four to six weeks we just roll over and that satisfies our needs,” Goetze says. “We keep with what the Australian recommended standards [for security feed footage storage] are, which is about four weeks.”

The MCC’s Liddle says one of the biggest benefits of a move to IP-based cameras has been the ability to consolidate six racks’ worth of surveillance gear down to half a rack – thus minimising its data centre footprint – and increased flexibility and control of its surveillance system.

“It’s basically an IP IT system with devices hanging off the end of the network," Liddle says. “Working with our security guys has been good and we have been able to leverage off each other’s expertise. That flexibility in the IP model to be able to chop and change cameras on the fly has been really good."

Another benefit had been the ability for multiple users to access the system from different locations within the MCG grounds increasing the ease with which staff can use the system.

The MCC opted to run its IP cameras over copper with a fibre ring running around the MCG grounds for the backbone and power the cameras using Power over Ethernet (PoE).

“You are probably looking at a third of your cost for the cabling and two thirds, depending on the quality, for your cameras,” he advises. “It’d definitely a large investment in your infrastructure for your backbone.”

For storage, the MCC uses its existing IBM-based storage but has segregated its IP camera storage due to need to constantly write data to disk from the cameras. Footage is kept on hand for 15 days before being recycled, meeting both storage and privacy requirements.

Managing Privacy

To address the concern of using IP cameras in a public environment — and particularly a people counting application — Swinburne University of Technology steered away from facial recognition and instead applied live analytics that guarantees individual subjects aren't personally identified.

“Essentially all it stores is counts so it knows six people came in and five people went out, but it has no idea who they are,” he says.

Then again, Goetze hasn't seen a push back around privacy and, in fact, the university’s staff have actually requested the more cameras to be installed for their own safety.

“That was our three main goals: property protection, the health and safety of staff and the students, and to ensure that security was designed from the start [with privacy in mind],” he says. “We put all the cameras on their own separate VLAN which is locked down — only the servers can access those cameras and only security officers can access those servers with a log in, which lets us track what they are viewing.”

MCC’s Frances says his organisation employs a strict privacy policy whereby IP camera footage is only released directly to police and to insurers for liability matters. In all other cases, the club only hands over footage if demanded by way of subpoena from a court.

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