Content also contributed by: Marcelo Camandona and Darron Howard

The office comms room (network distribution or server rooms) can often become an “out of sight, out of mind” storage closet for old equipment, file boxes, even bicycles and other personal items. With so many vendors and employees working in these rooms, hasty wiring installations can create safety and network outage risks. Working with my colleagues Marcelo Camandona and Darron Howard, we are applying the Meraki Smart Camera solution in Cisco IT to combat problems that we’re sure you face in your own network comms rooms!

With hundreds of server rooms in Cisco facilities worldwide, we suspected that not all of them were being used appropriately. But we didn’t have an effective way of knowing which ones needed clearing out or wiring tidied until we received a report from the site. Once the issues were resolved, we didn’t have an efficient way to continue monitoring the room to make sure problems didn’t arise again.

A View of the Entire Room

Today we have an economical solution for these monitoring challenges: installing a Cisco Meraki cloud-managed smart camera in every row of our comms rooms. In this multiyear refresh program, we will install thousands of cameras, making it one of the world’s largest Meraki MV deployments that is monitored from a single dashboard.

The cameras deliver a live video feed to the Meraki dashboard, which can be monitored by authorized users working in a Cisco office or remotely. The live feed helps our facilities and network teams quickly see concerns such as:

  • Cabling installation that doesn’t meet our corporate standards
  • The presence of items that aren’t allowed in the room
  • Water leaks or other safety and environmental hazards
  • Unauthorized access by employees and vendors

The Meraki MV cameras have a wired connection to a Cisco Catalyst 9000 Series switch in the room for real-time monitoring and video file transfer across the Cisco network. Installation can be performed by a Layer 1 technician and is plug-and-play because the cameras use Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) to connect to the network and obtain an IP address. We configure the camera centrally, meaning no reconfiguration is required on site. Each camera simply needs PoE (Power Over Ethernet) and an Internet connection. Once installed, the cameras are fully managed and updated through the Meraki cloud.

Video footage is stored in the camera’s memory for duration of preference, allowing us to easily look back at recent events. We also have the option to transfer footage over the Cisco network to Meraki Cloud Archive for long-term storage. The combined capacity of the on-camera and cloud storage means we can avoid the expense, operational overhead, and rack space of a digital video recorder (DVR) and video storage server at each site.

We perform follow-the-sun monitoring of the cameras with the Meraki dashboard, meaning we always have global monitoring enabled for authorized users. IT operations previously never had this insight into our network distribution rooms and it gives us tremendous value for improving the resiliency, reliability, and consistency of these rooms worldwide.

Benefits of More Cameras in Comms Rooms

Our initial deployment of 140 Meraki smart cameras in five buildings globally has already delivered benefits for our full deployment, which is now underway.

A key benefit is reduced risk for local or regional network outages because the comms rooms will be cabled and used correctly. This correct usage will be due in part to greater employee and vendor awareness of the rooms’ importance and the need for consistent compliance with corporate standards.

Prompt visibility into problems and concerns in a room enables faster response while the centralized dashboard monitoring improves overall control of installations and activity. We also gain an economical video surveillance solution that is simple to install and manage, even with thousands of cameras.

Cost savings come from reduced training requirements for camera installation, and especially elimination of costs for DVRs and servers. Ongoing operational costs will be lower because of the inclusive subscription model for the Meraki cameras, which combines the purchase and software updates. We also expect to see cost savings from fewer network outages caused by server rooms issues, and faster resolution when those issues are detected.

Lessons Learned So Far

Our initial deployments have taught us two significant lessons. First, installation planning for video cameras must consider local laws and company policies. For example, laws in some countries regulate where and how camera data can be stored. We must also comply with company policies about privacy and notification when video cameras are in use, such as posting a sign on the comms room door.

Second, we found that the new emphasis on monitoring with the Meraki cameras sends a message to our employees and vendors that network distribution rooms need to be respected. We expect to have far fewer “can you believe what I found” stories for these rooms in the future.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve found in your comms rooms? What techniques do you use to control and protect them?

Learn more about the Cisco Meraki MV Smart Camera family