Smile! You're on IP camera

When you least expect it, someone, somewhere comes up with a screwy idea

that's tailor-made for the solutions integrator community. This week's

brainchild is placing a Webcam in every classroom in the public schools

of Biloxi, Miss.

That's about 500 ceiling-mounted cameras in cute plastic domes, with

additional equipment to record the images. That's a bottom line of

around $2 million, or $4,000 per camera. That probably includes cabling,

switches, servers, and other allied equipment. CameraWatch, a Jackson,

Miss. company (http://www.camerawatch.net) specializing in school

security systems, installed Webcams made by Axis Communications

(http://www.axis.com).

How will the Biloxi schools (http://www.biloxischools.net) put the

cameras to use? Well, it seems there's no policy for that yet. Perhaps

they'll catch little Johnny sneaking a peak at little Suzie's test

paper. Or little Patrick passing a note to little Candice. Or little

Scott shooting a spitball at little Jodie. Or little Trent singing the

praises of third-party segregationist presidential candidates. Alas,

there's only video -- no audio.

It will keep honest people "more honest," according to district

superintendent Larry Drawdy. Alas, I wasn't able to learn what effect it

will have on dishonest people. Less dishonest? Call me a cynic.

Never mind that Mississippi ranked 48th in school spending per child,

according to the United States Census Bureau's "Public Education

Finances" report, published in March 2003

(http://www.census.gov/govs/school/01fullreport.pdf). Never mind that

casino revenue paid for the project. We're not here to debate politics,

after all.

According to the Associated Press, only a school principal, vice

principal, superintendent, school board member or board attorney can

view the recordings made from the cameras. Parents, students, or

teachers would have to first obtain a court order.

But you've got to admit, it's a great business opportunity. The heck

with the public schools. Most are near broke anyway. There are private

schools, academies, military schools, boarding schools, prep schools,

parochial schools, religious schools, community colleges, junior

colleges, universities. Almost as many kinds of private schools as Bubba

has ways to prepare shrimp.

Of course there are zillions of corporate, business, and manufacturing

applications, too. Sometimes, we're so concerned about files being

stolen via the network, you've got to wonder who's making sure the

entire server isn't simply carted out the back door.

So why is this great for integrators? Well, you don't have to sell

something that hasn't been sold already. Just hold up a newspaper.

Better yet, print the PDF case study on the Axis Web site

(http://www.axis.com/success_stories/school_us/school_us.pdf). Heck,

this story has been plastered all over the news for days. And the

technology is pretty easy stuff. No doubt nearly every private school

classroom, lab, and other public areas are already shrouded in miles of

Cat5 cable. Ethernet is everywhere, I declare. (How well this would work

over a wireless 802.11 connection, I do not know.)

The toughest part, at least for us IT types, is the physical

construction; installation of those plastic domes, and bringing

electricity to wherever it's needed. But that's why we have security

specialists, carpenters, and electricians. It's time to make some new

friends.

Is this a business worth getting into? Well, I'm not sure about that

either. I've always liked the idea of getting in the door with one

solution, only to find you can sell a whole raft of others. That's not

to say I'd do this as a loss leader, but I've done crazier things with

an initial business deal to enhance the likelihood of landing future

business. There is the opportunity to sell bandwidth, recording

equipment, set up access rights, and more.

Whether it makes sense to install a Webcam in a school's every classroom

is surely a matter for serious debate. Crummy teachers, no doubt, won't

want it, but maybe most parents will. For us, that's not the point. I

really like the idea of offering something so off-the-wall (or suspended

from the ceiling) yet so closely allied with the networking technology

we already know and practice.

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