Branch office surveillance in a box :Ubiquiti Aircam, Ubunutu Linux & Hyper-V

I pause today from migrating .vhdxs to this:

0217141307

 

and stressing this:

WS-C6509-E

to deploying six of these to a new small branch office:

aircam_3_pack_1

In my industry, we’re constantly standing up new branch offices, tearing down old ones, and so sometimes I have to take off the virtualization/storage guy hat and put on the project management, facilities & security hat, something I admit to enjoying.

And one of my focuses in this area is on rapid deployment of branch offices. I want to be able to deploy a branch office from an IT, security & infrastructure perspective as quickly as overnight and at or below budgeted cost. Tearing down branch offices is more leisurely, but building new ones? I aim for excellence; I want to be the Amazon Prime of branch office rollouts.

Lack of 802.3af PoE standard makes standards guy cry, but for the price, I'll tolerate and use a dongle
Lack of 802.3af PoE standard makes standards guy cry, but for the price, I’ll tolerate and use a dongle

So I’ve tried to templatize the branch office stack as much as possible. Ideally, I’d have a hardened, secure rolling 19″ 12 or 16u rack, complete with a 8 or 16 port switch (SG300 maybe?), patch panel, a Dell R210 II server, 16GB RAM, and 1 terabyte in RAID 1 as a Hyper-V host, a short-depth but sufficient capacity UPS, and a router of some type: it should have 4G LTE & 1Gbase-T as a WAN-connectivity option, VPN ability (to connect to our MPLS) and, ipv6 dreams aside for now, NAT ability, and, of course, the one thing that will never become virtualized or software-defined, a workgroup printer.

Give me that in a rolling rack, and I can drop-ship it anywhere in CONUS overnight. Boom, Instant Branch Office in a Box (structured cabling comes later).

But one of the things that’s gotten in the way of this dream (besides getting the $ spend ahead of time, which is also a big issue) has been provisioning camera security. We need to watch our valuables, but how?

Weather resistant I suppose though I've read the little door that covers this hatch can let moisture in
Weather resistant I suppose though I’ve read the little door that covers this hatch can let moisture in

Usually that means contracting with some slow-moving local security company, going through a lengthy scoping process, choosing between cheap CCTV & DVR vs ip cameras & DVR, then going through a separate structured cabling process, and finally, validating. Major pain, and can get pricey very quickly: the last office I built required six 720p non-IR cameras + IP DVR + Mobile access to camera feeds. Price:$10k, 1.5x the cost of all the equipment I purchased for the 12u rolling rack!!

Meanwhile, you’ve got the business’ stakeholders wondering why it’s all so complicated. At home, they can connect a $100 720p IP camera up to their wifi, and stream video of their son/dog/whatever to their iPhone while they’re out and about, all without hiring anyone. I know it’s not as hardened or reliable as a real security camera system, but in IT, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

And they do have a point.

This is a space begging for some good old fashioned disruption, especially if you don’t want the montly OpEx for the security company & your goal is only to get adequate surveillance (Two big Ifs, I recognize).

Enter Ubiquti Networks, an unusual but interesting wireless company that targets enterprise, carrier and pro-sumers with some neat solutions (60GhZ point-to-point wifi for the win!). After selling the boss on the vision & showing him the security company quote, I was able to get approval for six Ubiquiti Networks Airvision cameras, a Dome camera all for about $850 off Amazon, via the magical procurement powers of the corporate credit card.

The potential for my pet Branch Office in a Box project is huge and the cost was low. Here’s the vision:

  • Cat5e structured cabling contractor can now hang my cameras and run Cat 5e to them, especially since I’m familiar with aperture & focal length characteristics of the cameras and can estimate location without being on site.
  • DVR unit is an Ubuntu virtual machine in Hyper-V 3, recording to local storage which is backed up off-site via normal processes (it’s just a *.vhdx afterall) . That alone is huge; it’s been very painful to off-site footage from proprietary DVR systems
  • Reserve IPs for cameras prior to deployment via MAC address and normal process
  • Simple affair to secure via HTTPS/ssh the Linux appliance, NAT it out to the internet, then send a URL for the Apple Store & Play Store Ubiquiti camera compatible software, of which there seem to be several

Fantastic. I mean all that’s missing from making BiB into something stupid-proof and ready today is fire & alarm systems (yes, I’ve looked at NEST but regulations made me run for traditional vendors).

Demerits on this package so far:

  • Feels a bit cheap but not complaining too much. However it won't survive an attack
    Feels a bit cheap but not complaining too much. However it won’t survive an attack

    The cameras feel a little cheap. They offer minimal weather-resistance but the plastic casing feels like it was recycled from a 1995 CRT monitor: this thing’s going to turn yellow & brittle

  • No vandal-resistance. Maybe I missed the sku for that add-on. May need to improvise here; these won’t survive a single lucky struck from a hoodlum and his Louisville Slugger
  • Passive POE: So much for standards right? These cameras, sadly, require passive PoE dongle-injectors. And no, 802.3af active PoE, the kind in your switch, won’t work. You need a dongle-injector.

Other than, color me impressed.

Out of the box, the cameras are set for DHCP, but if you reserve the MAC on your DHCP server, you can neatly provision them in your chosen range without going through the usual pain.

Building the Ubuntu virtual machine -our DIY IP cam DVR system- on the Hyper-V host couldn’t be simpler. I followed Willie Howe’s steps here and recorded a few Gifcam shots to show you how easy it was.

As far as the management interface and DVR system: well I’ll say it feels much more integrated, thoughtful and enterprise-level than any of the small IP DVR systems I’ve struggled with at branch offices to date.

airvision

The big question is on performance, reliability, and sensitivity to recording when there’s movement in the zones I need to be monitored. And whether the stakeholder at the remote office will like the app.

But so far, I have to say: I’m impressed. I just did in 90 minutes what would have taken a local security company contractor about 2 weeks to do at a cost about 90% less than they wanted from me.

That’s good value even if these cheap $99 cameras don’t last for more than a year or two.

Airvision https interface allows you to post a floorplan, schedule and manage cameras, and  set recordings settings.
Airvision https interface allows you to post a floorplan, schedule and manage cameras, and set recordings settings.

 

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