Reaching Each Milestone On Time

Open platform enables SaaS for multiple camera initiatives

The IT division’s network team at WKU implemented Milestone’s open platform video management software, XProtect Corporate. Over time, the school has deployed cameras as needed and now has roughly 300 IP video cameras around the campus. The team uses various XProtect add-ons, such as XProtect Smart Wall, for additional advanced features and leverages Active Directory for managing permissions of users in various departments.

The network team wanted to deploy custom solutions for different departments throughout the university. With an open platform, it has been able to tweak a solution, install add-ons and create specialized integrations to support different scenarios. The central management application allows the team to perform most management tasks from a central location, making it possible for a small team with limited resources to maintain such a large deployment with ease.

Clients Within Clients

This makes WKU a very interesting case. Rather than being a single client with a single scenario, the university is made up of many different clients for the IT department to service, each with a different scenario and a different set of requirements. Fortunately, the flexibility and simplicity of XProtect Corporate’s open platform makes it easy to deploy and maintain a system that is tailored to each department’s needs.

With more than 21,000 students and 3,400 employees, WKU covers a lot of ground. Its main campus has dozens of buildings for academics, residence halls, recreation and entertainment. The university also has several smaller satellite campuses. Like a city, WKU has a vast infrastructure, including a heating plant, health services, road system and police force.

In terms of academics, the university is divided into six undergraduate colleges with myriad departments. It offers a wide range of associate, bachelor and graduate degrees through its numerous award-winning programs. There also is a special high school for sciences with on-campus dormitories.

Finding a Scalable Solution

Several years back, the university’s IT division decided to deploy IT division—and administrators assigned the management of the new system to the IT division’s network team.

Jeppie Sumpter, lead network engineer, said the university surveyed the market and evaluated the candidates in-house. While there were other video surveillance solutions available, the team decided that XProtect Enterprise—XProtect Corporate did not yet exist—offered the features and ease of use the IT team desired. At the time, no one had an idea of the extent to which XProtect would soon grow to cover so many departments throughout the university.

A few years after the initial deployment and subsequent upgrade to XProtect Corporate (once it was available), the team realized it could easily scale out the solution to support the needs of other departments. The XProtect solution is currently being used by nearly 20 different departments, each with different requirements. WKU has several new projects in the works, and the IT team fields regular requests from around campus.

IT Team Consultancy, Integration and Hosting

Today, the network team acts like a third-party integrator.

“We’re essentially providing a hosted and managed service for the diverse groups within the university,” Sumpter said. “It is all taking place under a unified system, a single federated solution, where we can keep things separate where they should be separate.”

When a department expresses a need for video surveillance, the network team arranges a meeting to discuss objectives and consult on possible solutions. They discuss the prospective client’s procedures and make recommendations for the best overall solution, taking into account the full spectrum of the situation. The team develops a design and performs field surveys using the actual camera models in the proposed installation.

“We have developed a mobile field survey kit that allows us to capture images, showing the client exactly what they would see with the finished product, including the viewing angles and matching resolution,” Sumpter said.

Once the client is ready to proceed with the project, the network team implements the solution, placing Axis Communications and Pelco cameras where they are needed, configuring the server and storage backend, and setting up the user permissions.

“We want our client to be able to use the system and not worry about all the things that go into maintaining it. We make sure the solution works for them and continues to be reliable,” Sumpter said.

The WKU network team has been impressed with how easy it has been to train new users. As part of each deployment project, the team sets aside time for users working with the XProtect Smart Client software. They have found that anyone who has used a computer before is comfortable right away. In fact, Sumpter said the software is so intuitive that many of the new users could get started without any training.

Easy to Control and Cost-effective Storage

Demonstrating the flexibility of both XProtect and Sumpter’s team, IT handles the video surveillance projects end-to-end inhouse, leveraging existing IT division functions. The backend pieces in use are common off-the-shelf hardware, using direct attached storage for each recording server.

According to Sumpter, using their existing server/storage vendor relationships has been cost-effective while still retaining critical qualities of performance and scalability. Additional high availability is something the team would like to expand upon in the future. For now, however, it has one recording server configured for failover purposes. If one of the main recording servers fails, the backup server automatically takes over, which is a native function of the software.

Overall, the system is very easy to manage. In fact, the network team currently has only one dedicated person assigned to handle its daily operations and support. For various aspects of the team’s projects, such as implementation, it may place another team member or two on the project to assist.

“The software is stable and reliable. The system allows us to focus on the design work and fieldwork, which is especially important given our limited resources. We can focus on our services and support our clients without worrying about having to babysit the software,” Sumpter said.

Sumpter cites the central management application as a key feature for allowing such a small team to manage a large video surveillance deployment, in addition to all their other roles on campus. He notes team members can do just about everything they need to do in terms of management from one spot. The Milestone Federated Architecture is helpful for managing remote campus situations.

“We don’t need to move around to different boxes, bounce between different apps and RDP into servers,” he said.

Active Directory for User Management

The software allows WKU to easily organize users and departments into different groups and profiles, each with potentially unique permissions. This is an environment where many separate clients with diverse needs run off the same backend. Users can be assigned access to a very specific set of cameras, and they do not have to be aware of the other users and cameras on the XProtect deployment. The software leverages Active Directory, allowing the roles to rely on user credentials that have already been created in Active Directory.

“It’s extremely easy to organize these roles,” Sumpter said. “We don’t have to create and maintain users because they are already in our Active Directory implementation, and it all ties together very efficiently.”

Each internal university client typically has between one and three people assigned to operate XProtect for their group. In this environment, many of those clients have limited need or resources for live monitoring; video data is stored in case there is an incident that requires the department to go back and review the recording.

Integrations Provide More than Security

As the network team rolls out more IP surveillance solutions around WKU, it continues to see people find different ways to leverage the system. One of the major clients is the campus police department, which has gone beyond basic surveillance to add a range of automated features that vastly improve usability to aid in their mission to provide campus safety.

For instance, XProtect has been integrated with the campus emergency phones. PTZ cameras are placed in strategic locations, with presets defined for the areas surrounding the “e-phones.” When someone activates an emergency phone, XProtect automatically displays the live camera feeds for that location on the monitor wall, leveraging the XProtect Smart Wall add-on. As the police operator takes the call, he or she can monitor the situation while officers are being dispatched. For one of the remote campuses that uses the local city’s police force, activating the emergency phones also triggers instant notifications to key contacts within the facility, alerting via emails with image snapshots and text messages.

In testing facilities, on the other hand, the software is used for proctoring tests. A proctor can leave the room and use the cameras to monitor the room in real time. Or, if there is any indication that a student may have cheated, the proctor can analyze the video to assist in resolving it. In this environment, the software can be configured with system rules to record all the time during business hours and record only on motion detection after hours.

Here is another interesting scenario: the university and local city planners recently expressed a need to gather data for traffic planning purposes. They wanted one week of video covering specific locations around campus so they could evaluate the use of certain crosswalks and intersections. The network team used temporary mounts and spare cameras to quickly set up the solution, essentially at no cost. After a week of recording, they simply exported those video feeds so the planners could analyze the video and decide whether certain areas should or should not have crosswalks, stoplights, etc. The team has also set up similar solutions to monitor construction projects.

This is just a sampling of the many ways WKU is using the product today, and it is not stopping there. For example, explorations have taken place concerning mobile video surveillance on campus buses and in police cars. And the addition of interactive maps to afford operators an intuitive way to monitor activity across the campus is currently in the works.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Security Today.

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