iT.Blog

The iT.Blog is the Utopian IT Blog that includes articles, useful tips and general ramblings about various interesting IT related topics.

Wireless Security Cameras: Netgear Arlo Pro

Netgear Arlo Pro

TLDR Summary; Great camera system for those that need a secure and feature rich solution, but want to avoid the pain of wires. Battery life is as advertised (4-5 months) with general use. Not overly cheap for the Pro base station to get the local storage and quicker motion triggering, but they're highly recommended if you have similar requirements.

I've been looking into home CCTV security systems for a few years off and on, but I haven't had that urgency to get one and many of the systems require substantial time for cabling and the setup of a network video server. The downside with all the cabling is that's generally unsightly, can be difficult to hide and in a few years when it potentially needs replacing, the existing cabling may be insufficient.
 
 
I could have got a professional to install one but being in IT and networks, I like to do things like this myself.
My requirements were for 2-3 wireless security cameras that had the following: -
 
  • Record for at least a few weeks;
  • Cheap cloud storage if its used for video;
  • Were of a decent visual quality (HD) for forensics;
  • Had the ability to view in realtime remotely;
  • Had night vision;
  • Could pick up movement and quickly start recording.
 
Over the last few weeks, I'd looked at reviews and prices for various wireless security camera systems and while some of the cheaper self contained units with built in hard disks looked OK, the user interface and the longevity of the platform concerned me. Would the units still get updated regularly or leave me with a buggy or broken system in a year?
 
Enter the Netgear Arlo camera range: It's a wireless security camera system that runs on batteries so it truely is wire free. All the camera data goes over wifi back to a base station and the base station connects to the broadband router to send the video stream to the cloud. Wire free means no cabling, easy and quick installation and painless future upgrades and maintenance.
 
They're a great looking camera and while the battery only aspect sounds like you'd be changing batteries in the units every few weeks, they're meant to operate for 4-5 months based on usage. Obviously if you have them constantly recording they'll be lasting a few weeks I'd imagine but as they only turn on based on movement, they should be perfect. Having the cameras accessible with them being wire free is important though so when installing, I'll need be sure they're easy enough to take off to replace and recharge the battery as required but not so easy to take off without at least a small step ladder.
 
The Pro HD version of the Arlo range is quicker and reviews have shown that the movement sensor is considerably better than the standard Arlo model, so it starts recording in about half a second. You wouldn't want to miss someone running under a camera because it took too long to turn on!
 
Another advantage of the Arlo Pro model is that the base station has the facility to record locally to a USB hard disk (or reasonably sized USB memory stick) so this takes a lot of the pressure off needing more Netgear cloud storage and means that in the event of losing the broadband connection, the video is still saved.
 
Netgear Arlo Pro
I took the plunge and ordered a 3 camera Netgear Arlo Pro HD kit, 3 mounting brackets and 3 black skins.
 
The box of goodies arrived thanks to Amazon Prime and they look very nice. The packaging of the 3 camera kit was obviously made for retail in mind as the cameras are visible at the top with the base unit hidden at the bottom. It wasn't quite frustration free packaging but thankfully all recyclable from what I could see and well packaged.
 
I opted for avoiding the user guide and dove straight into plugging in the base unit and looking at the cameras. The batteries are square and hold 2200mAh of charge which is similar to a modern phone battery. They're quite heavy considering, but the cameras must conserve power quite well if they're stated to last as long as they do. The process of plugging in the batteries into the three cameras, plugging in the base unit and signing up to the Arlo web site was pain free. Syncing the cameras was straight forward and each required a firmware update which took about a minute each. After a few minutes the three cameras where all registered and able to be viewed in realtime using the "Live" button on the sites Devices screen. All very modern interface and intuitive thankfully and the instructions were clear.
 
I'd already scoped around the house and had a vague idea of where I wanted to install them and with a 6mm masonry drill bit, my trusty drill, ladder, hammer and screw driver the cameras were installed within about an hour and half. So from opening the packaging to a fully working 3 camera system was approximately 2 hours which I must say is pretty impressive and pain free from the point of view of not needing to cable the house to provide power.
 
The cameras seem clear and I've been getting push notifications and emails to my phone. These are configurable and you can setup new modes online if required to only notify you about movement being sensed or sound being heard from certain cameras. Being able to start recording on sound is a nice touch as it's generally the motion that you'd want to trigger a recording.
 
Netgear Arlo Pro
To ensure the free (7 day rolling) basic cloud storage was sufficient, I put in a 32Gb USB stick into the Arlo Pro base station, formatted it via the Internet based web interface and have tested that it indeed records the MP4 videos there as well. This means that if and when the cloud storage does fill up, I've got the USB stick to fall back on and it means if the internet goes offline, the USB still will get the video instead. This is definitely one of the plus sides of the Pro unit over the standard unit as the standard base station doesn't have the the USB local storage meaning that you could end up paying for extra cloud storage, albeit a lot cheaper than many of the providers out there.
 
For added resilience, I've got the Arlo Pro base station plugged into a UPS battery that I've got servers plugged into so in the event of a power outage, the unit and cameras will still be powered as will as the broadband router.
 
I did have a slight issue with one of the cameras going offline and I'm thinking this is a wireless strength issue as it's the camera that is furthest away from the base station. I'll resync it and see if that fixes it and move it closer temporarily to see if it is signal strength related or something else. The first two cameras are about 5m away with the 3rd being about 10m with a few very solid walls in the way, but I've a suspicion that it could be wireless interference which will be a case of juggling the wireless channels of other devices so they all play nicely together.
 
Netgear Arlo Pro
The next week or so will undoubtedly be tweaking the sensitivity of the cameras and potentially disabling some of the notifications during certain times. You can schedule different settings to start and finish at different times but the basic "Armed" settings will be sufficient initially. Good experience with the cameras so far and I'm impressed with the ease of setup and flexibility. Being able to view the video (with sound) remotely from Android and iPhones is great and a critical feature these days. There is an option to grant secondary users rights to view (and optionally make setting changes and delete videos) if necessary so for a bigger household this is great.
 
1 Month Later...
 
Well, the batteries in the Arlo units at the front of the house where they get the most triggers are going well and showing as being down about a quarter of the way. This is in line with the 3-4 month battery estimates so seems quite fair. Another camera I've been using inside the house to monitor the cat on a night (don't ask!) does get a lot more triggers through the night and that's got about 1 quarter left. The 3rd camera has a beating with between 40-100 motion tiggers per night each with 10-30 second videos so that's undoubtedly par for the course. If leaving the house or business location for a period of time, it's definitely worthwhile looking at the batteries beforehand and recharging them to make sure they don't die while you're away but there warnings given.
 
The notifications of motion is a blessing and a curse at times and push notifications to phones are undoubtedly better than emails as they're easier to hide or ignore but with the emails providing a direct link to the appropriate video and a nice audit trail, they can be useful. Where you'll be potentially triggering certain cameras a lot during a day, it's not a bad idea to disarm them temporarily but obviously be sure to rearm them afterwards.
 
I'd spoken to a few friends and colleagues about camera systems after my recent investment and learned of someone that had bought a no name brand wireless IP camera system (power still wired, data wireless). While the unit was alright to start with, it lasted about a year before having a hardware failure. Now the IP cameras can be used with another system thankfully but it turned out that only the one camera had been mounted due to the pain of having to wire them up. Having a truely wireless camera system definitely has it's installation benefits but it's certainly not for everyone. Another friend bought a similar 4 camera wireless IP camera system and got an electrician friend to wire them up to power with some 10m low-voltage extension leads. If this approach is feasible and you have the means to quickly and cheaply cable the power to the cameras, then there are certainly more options available to you than such wire-free systems as the Netgear Arlo.
 
Being involved with IT security, I had done my research into the security of the cameras and vulnerabilities affect many wireless cameras. One security researcher at NewSkySecurity discovered a vulnerability (ref: http://blog.newskysecurity.com/2016/09/brute-force-vulnerability-netgear-arlo/ ) with the Netgear Arlo Q's in 2016, however Netgear have already addressed this quickly with automated firmware updates.
 
For other wireless IP cameras on the market that aren't cloud managed this means that such firmware updates are undoubtedly more manual, if they get issued at all, and could easily leave cameras open to local or internet based attacks. This is certainly something to be aware of when choosing a camera system as the latest cameras aren't true Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) any more, but wireless cloud-connected cameras, so we need to be sure these benefits don't compromise their security!
 
I hope you enjoyed the review. :)
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Our Test Lab

Test Lab Servers

 

 

As an IT company that tries to keep ahead of the game, we need an environment to test server technology and software and over the years I've built up a nice little home office setup that’s designed to mimic the enterprise networks that I work in. We have numerous other externally hosted servers for production, but you obviously can't test on production.

I know of a few friends in the industry that create similar network and server environments and it’s an invaluable tool for learning. For a home office network, I’ve amassed a nice 28Tb SAN with a 10Gb/s network used for storage and a decent vSphere cluster to host the servers, but I realised that in order to do more testing on some new technology that I’ll be implementing in the next few months for a client, I needed more.

Short of putting together another custom server at great expense, I’ve decided to look at some older HP workstations that were previously used for CAD work. These workstations are a few years old and would have no warranty but for testing they’re perfect and considerably cheaper than building a custom server with the latest and greatest.

Enter the HP XW6600 CAD workstation with 24Ghz of processing power (2 x Quad Core 3Ghz Intel Xeon CPUs) and 32Gb RAM. Perfect! I’ll put in a few 10Gb/s network cards in it for storage and network and it should be more than ample. Newer processors are marginally quicker and use less power but as far as value for money goes, these old workstations seem great for a test network. 

The new old workstation should be able to run the vSphere hypervisor (v6) easily and give plenty of capacity for testing the latest Citrix Netscaler appliances with the latest Microsoft SharePoint, Skype for Business, Web and Exchange services that I’ll need to test so I’ll update the blog with progress. Delivery of it is expected this week so I’ll be busy!

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Backup, Backup, Backup!!

Backup, Backup, Backup!!

Backup, backup, backup!!

Toms Guide has done a great review of five cloud backup providers and unsurprisingly CrashPlan came out on top and it's definitely worth a look.

CrashPlan is a great cloud backup service and it's what we personally use and recommend to clients. For personal or small businesses, unlimited backup storage with CrashPlan equates to about £35/year and you can't beat that for the piece of mind to keep those important photos and documents safe.

Don't wait for international backup day or for a USB stick to die to get reminded to backup; there's no time like the present! :)

 

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JetNexus Certified!

jetNexus load balancers

Wednesday was a long, but a very rewarding day down in the lovely town of Marlow. I got to meet the lovely and talented people at jetNexus in Marlow and became a Certified Professional through their training. This now means of course that Utopian IT is now ready and able to use the jetNexus Load Balancers in your technical solutions.

The JetNexus Load Balancers come in the form of hardware and virtual appliances and balance requests to servers of all descriptions. These appliances are design to handle a massive number of requests and with the ability to cluster them in active-active or active-passive configurations, they're able to provide rock solid load balancing for presenting Microsoft Exchange, Lync, Sharepoint, RDP connections or traditional web services.

They're great value too as many companies just can't justify the expense of F5 or Citrix Netscalar and quite often don't need the features that these more expensive products provide.

I was very impressed with the interface and ease of use as well as their power for many small, medium or large businesses that require a load balancer or reverse proxy. It's amazingly quick as well, as configuration changes happen on-the-fly and the speedy server monitoring functionality guarantees for a quick and reliable failover to other servers or a secondary load balancer.

The physical appliances come in two specifications although they're both a nice 1 x rack unit high so great for co-location hosting where price is at a premium.

The ALB-X E4 is a respectable quad core CPU with 8Gb RAM and capable of 4Gbs HTTP throughput a 6,000 simultaneous SSL connections. These can be clustered of course to handle more load with the right configuration, but there is a larger model; the ALB-X E5 too.

The ALB-X E5 is a dual-hex core (yes, 12 cores!) with up to 64Gb RAM and capable of 20Gbs HTTP throughput a 10,000 simultaneous SSL connections.

If you have a need to balance the load of web servers either on the edge of a network in the DMZ or on the corporate LAN, let us know and we can look at the potential for using a jetNexus powered load balancing platform in your technical solution.

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If you love something set up SSD!

For some people, there's a love-hate relationship with computers. They may get the job done but all too slowly and as laptops and desktops are generally kept for 2-3 years, there gets a point in their life when the slowness can get really frustrating. Computers are made up of various components as we know; at a high level, those being the CPU, memory, hard disk and video display. There are other components that compliment a computer such as connectivity options (USB ports, etc.) but ultimately it’s those four core components; many of which can be upgraded.

With desktops, most components can be upgraded, to a point but it’s the heart of the computer, the CPU, that is most often blamed for the poor performance of a computer. The perception is that you need something faster, so therefore you need a new CPU and often getting a quicker CPU can mean a completely new system; particularly for proprietary brands that can make major upgrades inherently expensive or difficult.

With laptops, upgrade options are even more restricted with the CPU as they're sometimes soldered into the main board, however; with newer operating systems such as Windows 8 that are designed to optimise and use the system resources accordingly, the CPU is often no longer the bottleneck. Unless your usage habits have changed, it’s often the mechanical hard disk that’s slowing down the loading of the operating systems, of applications and delaying the loading and saving of documents and videos to the system. Extra memory can also often be the culprit but the speed of the hard disk is often overlooked.

If you have a good laptop or desktop, what better way to give it new life than a Solid State Disk (SSD).

Time and time again, I see people bin perfectly good laptops that have become too slow, not realising that a relatively simple upgrade to an SSD and maybe a little extra memory can turbo-charge a system to the point it’s unrecognisable from its previous performance.

A Solid State Disk is like a hard disk that uses high-speed memory chips to store information and therefore has no moving parts. This lack of moving parts brings many benefits and with memory being a lot cheaper in recent years, it’s a must for any frustrated computer user out there. As much as we may like to deny it, the speed of a computer effects our emotions and our experience of using it and such an upgrade can make a massive difference and is well worth the investment.

The list on many sales sites summarise the benefits nicely.

SSDs are:

  • More durable
    • The have a much longer mean-time between failures due to their lack of moving parts and generally have extra memory (10-25%) that can be mapped out as bad memory in the event of a write failure and this process is seamless to the consumer.
  • Faster
    • Most laptop hard disks in 2015 can manage about 80-100Mb/s read speed with a slightly slower write speed whereas SSDs can read and write data at a staggering 500Mb/s.
  • Consume less power
    • No moving parts means less power required for motors so we’re looking at a general difference of 4W between hard disks. This equates to about 86p saving in a year which isn’t really worth worrying about but if you’re looking at hundreds or thousands of computers; it’s worth considering.
  • Lighter
    • No motor and moving parts means it’s lighter so losing a few hundred grams in a laptop can make it easier to carry around.
  • Cost Efficient
    • A natural by-product of using less power and giving off less heat and potentially lasting a lot longer than conventional hard disks.
  • Cooler and Quieter
    • No moving parts means…you guessed it.

To see some of the difference between a hard disk and an SSD in booting a laptop and running an intensive application, this great video from Asus illustrates it brilliantly. Ignore the prices as they're US based and they're referencing the laptop as well rather than just the hard disks.

Rob from ASUS compares the boot times for the ASUS U36SD-A1 with 640GB HDD vs. the ASUS U36SD-XA1 with 160GB SSD

When getting frustrated over that slow laptop or desktop, give a thought to a Solid State Disk upgrade, as it really can make a world of difference and given their extended life-span, can often be removed at a later date an put into a new one so it’s a great investment.

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New Site Goes Live!

Finally the new Utopian IT site goes live and I'm so excited about it! I know it'll be a great tool to communicate with existing and future customers as well as those just browsing the net on an IT topic.

As of this year (2015), I've been professionally working in the information technology industry for 20 years and it's seen absolutely massive growth in that time! Gone are the days that an IT professional could know everything and as technology in each area has evolved, so has the complexity to the point where IT generalists are becoming very rare.

The IT generalists are those that have dabbled in many technologies over the years and mastered several in the process and have a clearer picture of the "big-picture" of IT from design, implementation and support. The IT specialists fill in the gaps on the detail of a technology area that provide an invaluable micro-perspective and attention to detail that is as important as ever in today's ever-evolving world of IT.

It's the experience of these generalists and specialists, that Utopian IT brings to the industry. Through working in different business areas and gaining an understanding of many industry sectors from telecommunications and government to banking and retail, our goal is to add value to your business.

 

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