Multi-camera CCTV software for the Mac
Video Surveillance System Case Study: Furniture Warehouse
Written by Peter Johnston of PSC Consulting Ltd
We are an IT consultancy specialising in video surveillance systems. One of our clients, a furniture warehousing operation in Western Canada, decided they wanted to implement in-house video surveillance monitoring, and asked us to investigate suppliers and make a recommendation.
Our client required 24/7/365 video surveillance of their 45,000 sq. ft. warehouse including all 100 truck doors, plus outside yard, street entrance and exterior building coverage. They wished to achieve as close to full coverage of the entire interior as possible, plus multiple coverage of specific areas where accidents were most likely to occur. Outside coverage would be limited to specific access points.
In consultation with our client we identified some 20+ needs such as motion detection, night vision, ability to read license plates as vehicles enter and exit the yard, reliability, ease of use, etc., plus numerous associated wants. As a completely Mac-based operation, one of our client's main wants was for a Mac-based solution.
We approached a number of well-known suppliers in our area, selected three whom we felt could provide the system required, and asked each to do an on-site demo of their proposed solution. All failed miserably in their presentations: they simply could not satisfy our requirements. In some cases their product did not even work properly, or it appeared they did not understand what was needed. Obviously another approach was required.
So, we agreed with our client that we ourselves would develop a proof-of-concept solution. Their risk would be a fixed amount of funding; our risk would be our time and reputation. We were confident that we could develop a better solution than we had seen so far.
Because the solution would be built around the software, we started there. Based on the specification developed earlier, we identified around ten candidate packages. More extensive research reduced that number to three, and we requested demo copies of each. After hands-on use of these three, we eliminated all but one: SecuritySpy from Ben Software Ltd. As well as being Mac-based, this package met every need our client identified and more.
Next, we had to identify cameras that would meet our needs. There are literally hundreds available at all levels of functionality and price. Some of our more important needs included high resolution, PoE, wide field of view, good low-light capability and good durability (the cameras would be installed both inside and outside, and there are forklifts constantly manoeuvring throughout the warehouse). We narrowed the list fairly quickly (SecuritySpy's list of recommended cameras helped greatly) and decided that the Vivotek IP8362 looked like the best candidate.
A Vivotek IP8362 Bullet-Type Network Camera
When selecting a camera, we wanted one that could be used in all locations, inside and out. The rationale being that should a camera in a critical location fail unexpectedly, it could be quickly and easily replaced by a camera from a less critical area so as to minimize disruption to coverage. Because the replacement unit was the same model, the coverage would be the same, and the time to move, set-up, and re-configure would be minimal. We would have a number of "spares" without the need to have cameras just sitting on the shelf (this approach was validated a couple years later when a camera in a critical area was physically damaged and unusable; we moved in a camera from a less critical location and lost less than two hours of coverage).
A second reason for choosing the Vivotek IP8362 is the price: it matches up very well on specifications while being significantly better value than competing models.
We put together a portable test rig comprising a Macbook Pro, ethernet switch and two cameras, all mounted inside a plasic crate. Over the next week we moved this rig to various locations in the warehouse in order to test image clarity, camera response in various conditions, motion sensing and masking capabilities, usable frame rates, field of view and image resolution at various magnifications and distances. In addition, we used the rig to to estimate storage size requirements, measure download speed of stored video both within the LAN and over the internet, plus learn how to use SecuritySpy. This also allowed us to demonstrate our proposed solution to our client under various conditions.
Following this week, we had learned enough to put together a proposal for a complete video surveillance system. For cost management, we broke the implementation timeline into three parts: two internal installations followed by a third, the external cameras. Our client signed off and we started the implementation.
Installation: Phase One
The first step was to implement a high-quality LAN. Various parts of the LAN and supporting hardware infrastructure had been installed over several years, so we proceeded to test the functionality of the installed network and upgraded it where necessary. We designed the installation using 100Base-T Ethernet from the cameras to the remote switches (one per bay, each a 24-port PoE Netgear FS728TP 10/100 unit). These remote switches, as well as the SecuritySpy server and all users, connect to the main switch, a 24-port Netgear Gigabit unit. For reliability and to proactively protect against cabling failure, the main trunk lines between switches were double-run, one cable staying unused.
We installed the first two cameras on opposite sides of the 60 foot wide bay, facing each other so they could self-protect themselves in the case of physical abuse or tampering. We adjusted the field of view and magnification at installation to meet our client’s stated requirements, each camera covering several truck doors on the opposite wall. Placement was determined in part by the developed sight lines of the cameras. Our client wished to see activity as far into the trailers being loaded as possible and as much floor space as possible, all balanced against the added expense of additional cameras.
Example Camera View (scaled down from 2 MP original)
The cameras were mounted on the walls at the same height as the overhead door tracks so that their field of view would not be blocked when the truck door was opened. Since all cameras were PoE-capable, the need for power wiring was eliminated, saving significant cost and complexity, as well as ensuring optimum reliability. SecuritySpy was initially implemented on a spare 2 GHz Dual-Core iMac with a 1.5 TB external FireWire 800 hard drive.
Two iMac workstations were to be installed for the main users of the SecuritySpy system. Each user could access the video via an internet browser for video viewing. A SharePoint was implemented on the SecuritySpy Mac OS X server to allow accredited users read-only access to all captured video should they need to download a video file and extract a clip for whatever purpose.
In the first three months of operation, while still not covering the entire warehouse, the system provided video evidence sufficient to locate enough misrouted, forgotten, lost, stolen, damaged or missing shipments to pay for all hardware, software, support and installation fees to date.
Installation: Phase Two
The project to date was judged a success and we were instructed to proceed with phase two of the installation. However after reaching eight cameras, we determined that it was time to upgrade both the SecuritySpy server and the associated data storage subsystem.
We determined that a 2 GHz Quad-Core i7 Mac mini with 8 GB RAM running OS X Server would provide the power we needed at a reasonable price. For storage, we needed a system that was easily expandable, offered built-in data protection, and would be large enough to store 60 days of recorded footage. We settled on an 8-bay DroboPro, initially populated with three 3 TB drives, yielding approximately 5.5 TB of usable space.We continued the installation until we had 26 cameras throughout the warehouse, covering all doors and an estimated 96% of the floor space.
SecuritySpy Screenshot (it's difficult to show the sheer detail of the images in a screenshot; each camera's image has over 100 times more pixels that you can see here)
Special Features of the System
All LAN hardware (switches, routers and cameras) plus the server hardware are protected by UPS units to minimize video outages. The UPS units were sized based on the past history of power outages at our client’s site and were selected to provide a minimum of 40 minutes of electrical service in the event of a power failure. Since installation, we have ridden through numerous total power outages where the entire SecuritySpy system continued to operate, night or day.
One problem that we had not initially anticipated is that insects regularly get in during the summer, specifically spiders. When the camera IR illuminators came on after lights out, strands of spider web, blowing in the breeze in front of a camera, was enough to reflect sufficient IR light to trigger motion detection. The solution was simple once identified: a paintbrush and some compressed air. Thanks to the daily records we keep, we are able to quickly detect and correct this anomaly. We also implemented an ongoing four-month scheduled program of proactive camera inspection to address potential problems.
Because the various warehouse bays were of different widths and heights, we had to design camera mounts to accommodate them. One bay was about 70 feet wide and usually had freight piled high in the centre preventing a camera mounted on one side wall from seeing the opposite wall. We resolved this by designing camera drop mounts that hung down from the main beam in the centre of the bay. They were installed so as to place the camera above the normal height of freight but still below the lighting and signage, and aimed outward towards the side walls and doors.
In one area, we needed the cameras mounted on the roof of an internal structure to properly cover the desired area. This was accomplished with a simple but sturdy wooden L-mount.
Another bay was over 80’ wide with five support columns running longitudinally down the centre carrying the main ridgeline beam. Because the columns are structural units we could not drill into them to mount equipment. Instead we designed a collet mount that went around the column then was steel banded to it: a non-intrusive friction mount.
We have had incidents where installing durable cameras paid off. There are forklifts moving through the warehouse continually, and some of the younger drivers are not that experienced nor careful, especially on the evening shift. In one case, a driver wheeling his forklift in a hard turn with the forks high in the air, overbalanced, went up on two wheels, corrected, and came in violent contact with a camera. End result was a broken casting on the camera mount, fixed for $20. Nothing else was damaged. The camera, left hanging by its cabling, was not even knocked out of focus or collimation. And we have some very dramatic footage as the forklift hit the camera almost head-on. All kudos to durable cameras.
The warehouse houses a number of tenants who rent access to one or more truck doors. We found it possible with SecuritySpy to offer restricted views of a single tenant’s door(s) which the tenant could then access over the internet for a fee. This way they could monitor what was going on at their doors 24/7, yet the privacy of other tenants would be maintained.
The system provides full-time surveillance of our client’s warehouse and has met their requirements. We are now coming up on three years since the initial implementation, and during this time we have had one hardware failure (a camera) and no crashes or outages lasting more than 60 minutes. Our overall system reliability and up-time has been almost 100%.
One of the main reasons for the success of this project was the very early buy-in, trust, involvement, and support of our client. We solicited their input at every phase of the project and provided updates, answers, demos, ideas etc. as requested. Costs were always communicated beforehand and we never went over budget.
In short, we followed The Principle of Least Surprise carefully and it has paid off for all involved.