Images, operating systems and headaches: The realities of security systems running on PCs

Security project designer and consultant Sean Ahrens examines the hang-ups of PCs that can give you IP video headaches


Six 42-inch large format high-definition monitors surrounded me and the manufacturer's camera operator. I had approximately 36 network cameras at my disposal, including a number of remote/off-site cameras. All cameras at my disposal have been pre-arranged in a variety of customized multi-views. As the captain of this spaceship-ready system, I provide numerous instructions to the camera operator. One of those instructions was to move a camera's video from a monitor on the right side to a monitor on the left side -- and that's when it happened. As the operator clicked and dragged the video to be relocated, the hourglass symbol appeared. Suddenly videos on the right monitor were replaced with the words "connection loss" and the video on the left side is frozen and each monitor is displaying an hourglass. It was the precursor to the total undoing of the system. The salesperson attempted a recovery and jested, "You broke it!" He followed with another recovery, "Obviously, we have some minor tweaking to do". After a few minutes, the demonstration was over, and my attention had been misdirected to the inner workings of their network video recorder (NVR). We never returned to the demonstration, and I don't know which option they took: the three finger salute or the hard re-boot? It seems irrelevant now, but it created questions that are worth asking: What is the impact to an organization that utilizes video monitoring to supplement staff? What if the camera system doesn't work?

This article is about preparedness and prevention. What I am presenting to you, could literally save your camera monitoring function and endless hours of work for you and your staff.

Computer "Issues":

There are basically three essential root issues to a computer malfunction. These include, the most basic, which is hardware failure that commonly occurs with the hard-drive or the power supply.

Secondly, software incompatibility can occur with the operating system software, an added software application or a combination of the two. A software incompatibility can manifest itself through a security officer's personal video game that they loaded on the security department's computer or it could be an officially installed third-party program. In addition, network environments can cause issues with the accessibility of network drives, computer functionality and this literally can bring the fastest computer to a crawl.

User-error also accounts for a number of problems, such as when a large file is being written to the hard-drive and a user restarts the computer or otherwise disregards the warnings that are presented by the operating system.

One of the biggest issues related to software incompatibility is the developers' addition of newer software features designed to take advantage of ever-increasing processing power within new computers. Manufacturers are taking advantage of computer speed to showcase their products, but are not necessarily remembering the persons with the older computers. Software updates and improvements tax older computers beyond their capacities.

Precautions:

Obviously the severity of my issue with my computer would be nothing compared to the crash of a vital server running the business surveillance system. Given that we are literally being catapulted into an IP technology era, it is necessary to understand the differences from what we potentially have now and what we will have in the future. Understanding the technology that we will be forced to use will better help us prepare for contingencies on issues, such as the one I have experienced. So, what do you do if you have an IP system or you are planning to move into an IP camera system? What are the issues?

Computer Operating System(s)

The operating system is the core of the computer and is what software applications are written to run on top of. The operating system manages hardware peripherals and software and typically creates a "Graphical User Interface" (GUI), which allows us to do multiple things at once, such as word processing and surfing the Internet. As it relates to security, operating systems allow us to run the programs we use to manage security and cameras systems. However, not all operating systems are alike; they come in different flavors. Personally, I feel that Microsoft Windows is less reliable, less secure and generally a less ideal operating system that is plagued with issues such as the BSOD. In reality, Windows is a surprisingly fragile operating system, but most users don't realize this because they never work their way down into the inner workings of the system. Although Windows is the predominant operating system for security and surveillance systems, I predict that you will start to see manufacturers begin to write software for other operating systems, such as:

Linux
Linux, which is based on UNIX, is an operating system that is very much different than Windows. Only Microsoft makes Windows, whereas Linux is manufactured by multiple sources. For instance, I have a CD-ROM, which boots a Linux operating system. Linux manufacturers and open source coding, in my opinion, makes for a better product. The development of an open-source operating system works in the way that an informed committee can make a decision by sharing their expertise. Open source code means that the collective of developers is working towards a common goal. Additionally, open-source operating systems potentially means the operating system is available at no cost since one of the hallmarks of open-source is freely distributed code. Another preferable difference between Linux and Windows is that Linux is generally less susceptible to viruses, and that means one less piece of software that needs to be managed and installed.