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

The above options are preferred because of expense, but there are drawbacks. Imaged computers don't always work. Secondly, and more importantly, the image of a computer is much like a finger-print; it is unique. Therefore, if you have a hardware failure other than a hard drive, the image will not work, because all of the internal settings that are present on that image are related to the computer's native hardware. If you changed a hardware peripheral or motherboard, the image would have the incorrect information for that equipment to work properly.

Yet another opportunity is to install a fault-tolerant computer, which is basically like a hot back-up computer. In this case, one computer is fully redundant including a redundant motherboard, video card, RAM, etc. You can actually pull a computer board out of a running fault-tolerant computer while watching a video without the video stuttering. The downside, as you can imagine, is the cost, which depending on the configuration can be upwards of $35,000.


So if you're still with me, it's now 8:45 p.m., and I have exhausted every option that I can think of to fix my computer. I have tweaked references, deleted files, scoured the Internet for solutions and adjusted the most advanced settings within Windows. The only time the computer will re-start is if I boot into safe mode. Safe mode, however, disables Windows features and functions, and it's very similar to the BSOD, except I get to see the Windows GUI.

My face cringes as I think about the effort and time it will take to do a fresh install. First I need to load the operating system, then the specific drivers. Once that's complete I need to re-install all of my computers application software and so on. Since I am on a Windows machine, everything is managed by the registry file, so installing will take time. Autocad, a drawing program that I use for laying out security systems, will itself take an hour to install. There's no way to finish in time.

Then it dawns on me. I had made an image of my hard drive with everything pre-configured, including all of my software and most of my data right after I bought this computer. "Awesome," I think to myself, and I scramble to find the disc. I insert it, and by 9:35 p.m., I am essentially up and running -- with the exception of some data loss -- just like I was three hours prior to what I am now calling the "incident".

Completely satisfied with my ingenuity, knowledge, insightfulness and ability to save what would have taken a whole day of time to fix; I open the program that caused me so much havoc previously. Reassuring myself, I think, "Surely, I will not have the same problem again." Yet as the program opens, I am once again greeted with that wonderful hourglass symbol that plagued me three hours before. My fingers come off the keyboard, as not to upset "her". I pause for a moment and really contemplate what I had just done. This time, I think to myself, I will just wait it out, and use the time to outline an article on software, operating systems and the impact on IP systems.

Sean Ahrens, CSC, CPPAbout the Author: Sean Ahrens, CPP, CSC is a project manager for Security Consulting and Design Services with Schirmer Engineering and has over 18 years of experience in the security industry, 12 of which has been as a practicing security consultant. Ahrens volunteers his time on U.L., SIA and the ASIS International Commercial Real Estate Council (CREC) and is responsible for providing security threat and risk analysis, contingency planning, loss prevention, and force protection design and planning for private, public, governmental and state organizations. He can be reached at (847) 953-7761 or via e-mail at