In my decade of working in IT, the one area I’ve struggled to find a great cost-effective solution is internal cameras for the enterprise. There are plenty of advanced options, but they usually break the budget. After years of searching, I finally landed on UniFi Protect from Ubiquiti with its new Network Video Recorder (NVR).
About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.
For the longest time, I struggled with our camera system. We had a legacy system that required us to wire all of the cameras back to the DVR. We had some technical debt to pay down with this system because the software needed to access it was clunky, rarely updated, and seemed to have some severe security concerns. I’ve previously looked at Meraki and Verkada. While they were both robust solutions, they were way out of my price range by the time I figured in the licensing costs. Video footage only grows over time, so I completely understand why companies can’t store footage for free, but it does add to the price. We currently have 35+ cameras, so paying $1k per camera with licensing wasn’t going to fit my budget.
There are countless IT solutions for cameras, but I wanted a turn-key option that fit within my budget, was easy to install, and provided simple access when offsite. After much research, I landed on Ubiquiti’s UniFi Protect. I had been looking at their lineup most of the year, but the Cloud Key Gen 2 storage option was limited to 20 cameras. I had to deploy two cloud keys and segment the cameras by floor. I originally planned to do that, but right before I began to have new CAT6 wiring installed for the cameras, Ubiquiti released their latest Network Video Recorder that supports up to 50 cameras, so I purchased it immediately.
For our camera selection, we used the G3 Dome in the majority of our locations, but for outdoor cameras, we used the G4 bullet models since they do not require an overhang to stay safe from rain. After all of the wiring was done and the cameras were mounted, I plugged up the Ubiquiti NVR and set it up using the UniFi Protect iPhone application. Once I was able to tie the NVR to my UniFi account, I was also able to log in from home to manage and monitor the NVR status. The setup process of the NVR was quite painless and took around a half-hour from start to finish. It contains four drive bays, and I am using a RAID5 format. One thing to keep in mind here is to use NAS rated drives, so they are made to run 24/7.
As we powered up the cameras, they started appearing in the iPhone app, and I was able to adopt them into the NVR. As the cameras were adopted, they installed their latest software updates and then were up and running. The Ubiquiti app has allowed me to give other employees access, provides an easy way to monitor on the go, and is overall an incredible system.
What’s great is that it’s one of the lowest cost IP camera systems you’ll find. One product you’ll want to consider with your installation is the UniFi ViewPort. It’s a small device that has Ethernet on one end and HDMI on the other. If you install it and plug it up to a TV, you can set up an easy monitoring station for a security officer or receptionist. The UniFi NVR web interface allows the administrator to control which view the ViewPort uses, and it can even cycle through cameras based on time or motion.
My only complaint on UniFi Protect is that even when you’re on the same LAN as the NVR, their iPhone app still requires to tunnel you through Ubiquiti’s login system to access them. Normally this would not be an issue, but recently, it was down for a good part of a workday, so those who relied on it to monitor a location were out of luck. This flaw is being addressed in a future update, though.
Wrap-up on UniFi Protect
I could not be happier with the UniFi Protect. We have 36 cameras running today, but I have plans to install additional ones throughout this school year. We’re using the Ubiquiti 48 port switches, so all of the power is handled over PoE, so the only cabling we had to run was CAT6. It checked all the boxes for us in terms of price, simplicity, and ease of access. Since the storage is all local, there are zero recurring fees. Thanks to the UniFi web portal, I can quickly log in to monitor and grab recordings without accessing a VPN or the local IP address. The iOS apps are robust, so monitoring on the go is a breeze. If you are looking to deploy a new enterprise camera system, I recommend you check out the entire lineup of Ubiquiti cameras and NVR products to see if it fits your use case and budget.