Video management systems or software (VMS) play a leading role in the overall performance of a surveillance solution. Thus, choosing the right VMS is a crucial video system decision. Although just about any manufacturer involved in IP video surveillance today offers some level of software categorized as a VMS to manage networked video feeds, recordings and storage, there is a broad spectrum of configurations, capabilities, and licensing fees from which to choose.
Every end-user organization that relies on a trusted video surveillance system to elevate security and enhance operations should rely on their integrator to help choose their VMS carefully.
As Jason Burrows, sales director for IDIS America, explains, “Video management software is the backbone of every modern video surveillance system. It drives functionality — for better or worse — and the choice of which to use is one of the top factors affecting your overall system performance. Users and systems integrators often underestimate the importance of a VMS. Instead, they often focus on specifying top-of-the-range cameras. In addition, they’ll often advise customers to invest in ultra-HD video walls and data-crunching NVRs or servers. But without the right VMS that pulls everything together, none of those investments will deliver to their full potential.”
As a basic refresher, a VMS collects video from cameras and other sources; records/retains that video data to a storage device; and provides an interface to view live and access recorded video. A VMS can be the software component of a network video recorder (NVR) or digital video recorder (DVR) but is typically more sophisticated with more options and capabilities than a packaged NVR.
As Michael Brewer, regional marketing manager for Bosch Security and Safety Systems, points out, VMSs can be run in multiple ways. “It’s important to understand the customer need to discern what architecture would be the best fit. An on-premises implementation could be server-based or SD card-based. There is also Cloud-based, or hybrid approaches. There is no right solution — just the one that meets the customer need.”
Today’s modern network cameras offer internal capabilities to record and review video directly themselves via a web browser and without the use of a VMS. However, those built-in web interfaces are typically exclusive to the camera itself and do not normally provide a shared access capability across other network cameras. And a VMS may provide additional features and capabilities, the extent of which may be divided across several product tiers (with lower cost bringing fewer features).
Just ahead, Burrows, Brewer and other experts do their best to sort it all out.
Pros/Cons On-Prem Vs. Cloud
When considering VMS options, there are some key, organization-specific factors that should be weighed and worked through with the integrator. Among them is the decision to opt for an on-premises or Cloud-based solution.
“One of the first differences to consider is the deployment method,” advises William Hinton, product line manager – video, for Genetec. “An on-prem VMS requires its own hardware and the management of this infrastructure. With a Cloud-based VMS, all of that is removed from the equation and is managed by the Cloud provider. To this point, much of this depends on whether the customer has the resources and IT expertise to manage an on-prem system. This also ties into another difference that should be considered — scalability.”
He continues: “Priorities can shift quickly, and the need to scale and grow security solutions may change. A Cloud VMS can scale quickly with your needs while an on-prem system requires additional hardware to expand. Keeping the VMS current with the latest versions, features and updates should be considered. Those updates will be managed for you with a Cloud-based solution but will need to be managed internally with an on-prem solution.”
Jeremy White, Pro-Vigil founder, adds that deciding between on-prem and Cloud ultimately comes down to whether you want to manage your own hardware or not.
“With on-prem, the appliance is on location, which means it needs to be secured and back up plans must be in place. On-prem VMS is powerful and tends to be more enterprise and rich in feature sets — they’re typically bigger systems, which means more horsepower,” he notes. “Cloud VMS, on the other hand, tends to be lighter, newer, and easier to deploy because they usually have fewer features and are best for SMB use cases. An advantage of Cloud is if you have many locations, you can easily roll them up into one.”
Brewer adds that the benefits of Cloud video include the ability to monitor events, manage events, record and replay video security footage from anywhere via the Cloud. It can also help to reduce maintenance and hardware costs with less storage equipment required onsite.
When deciding between Cloud vs. on-prem VMS, it’s important for the customer to decide if they have the resources available to manage a dedicated video server or not, Vincent Capisano, program manager, video management systems, Axis Communications, points out. “They also need to understand the risks associated with where their recorded video is living, what network it may be traversing, and the bandwidth requirements associated with their preferred architecture,” he says.
Another consideration users need to take into account is video latency. With Cloud, live video monitoring will generally have additional latency due to the required network path the video must follow from the Cloud to a viewer, Capisano says. This may range from a nonissue to highly critical in emergency situations depending on the customer’s use case.
Then there’s the issue of total cost of ownership (TCO), to which Capisano adds it’s important to consider payment plans. “In today’s market, many Cloud solutions have different go-to-market strategies than conventional on-prem VMS manufacturers. This may be in lease agreements or yearly fees, though may include extended warranties, as well. Customers should consider TCO over the lifetime of the system, initial and yearly costs, warranty, installation, and certified Mean-Time-Between-Failure rates of the devices they are looking to deploy.”
Reducing Operating Costs
Another big gain from implementing the best VMS is that it will deliver meaningful savings on ongoing operating costs (OPEX), Burrows says.
“With many older systems, it’s common for users to pay for bundled functionality and features, many of which they don’t need or use, or to overspend on complicated annual licensing fees and device connection costs. That means being locked into perpetual maintenance agreements or limiting flexibility to upgrade sites or specific cameras without incurring further significant costs,” he explains.
“These excessive fees drain security budgets and prevent funds from being better used elsewhere, such as adopting new technologies to better mitigate risks and improve security team performance,” continues Burrows. “By choosing a modular VMS, you can minimize annual licensing fees, or avoid paying them altogether in some cases, and you can specify exactly which tools and functions you want so that you only pay for what you use.”
Brewer adds that small and midsized end users should consider all-in-one recording units that bring all the advantages of a professional video recording and management system in a complete solution that works out of the box. “In addition to recording, these solutions allow for advanced video management features, such as event and alarm handling, user and priority management, and more. Expandable solutions can be ideal building blocks for large, distributed systems.”
End-to-End or Not?
Many end users are torn between opting for one end-to-end VMS solution or going with an open architecture VMS. There are benefits inherent to each, and integrators must consider how it really depends on the specific needs of each individual organization.
Choosing a VMS that is part of a true end-to-end solution, which is where you get all the components you need from a single vendor, with instant compatibility assured, is a good place to start,” Burrows contends. “Make sure it’s also flexible enough to let you easily and affordably retain existing legacy analog and IP cameras and peripherals. This route will let you migrate easily, adding as many new cameras as you need, and still run your legacy cameras alongside them. With the right encoders, you’ll also be able to mix third-party analog cameras with IP, eliminating the disruption of ‘rip-and-replace’ and extend the lifecycle of existing equipment.”
It is exceedingly convenient to have only “one hand to hold” when it comes to a surveillance/security device partner, Capisano echoes.
“Using one vendor usually comes with a single point of contact in sales or representation, a single tech support number, and, of course, guaranteed compatibility of devices across the board,” he says. “However, there are two major considerations when using an end-to-end solution: system openness and partner ecosystem openness. Not every company or manufacturer does everything well, and in some cases third-party devices or software may be needed for unique situations or for ‘best-in-breed’ requirements. Even if a system provides everything that a customer needs, if that system’s manufacturer does not have an open partner ecosystem, a customer could become married to a specific installation/integration company that does not meet their standards, needs or price point.”
Brewer adds that choosing an end-to-end solution from a single vendor ensures that all available features of the individual technology components will be supported by the VMS.
“In addition, using products that are designed to work together helps to speed and simplify installation,” he notes. “This approach also ensures that updates or software changes to individual components will not impact the system as a whole, as the manufacturer will have tested for that prior to release. In the end, selecting technology from a single vendor can reduce total system costs for both the integrator and the end user.”
Looking at Licensing Fees
White cautions that organizations should be careful about VMS-related fees that can get out of hand fast.
“As your business scales and you need to add more devices, or a customer adds devices, it’s important to know if there’s a VMS cost associated with that. And it’s not just the per-device fee, everything from annual fees to term commitments and beyond must be considered and budgeted for in advance to avoid surprises,” he points out.
Hinton adds that the first consideration is whether an organization prefers to pay for its VMS on a subscription basis or a perpetual one. Subscription models may offer a lower initial cost and some flexibility with monthly or yearly payment terms, he notes, adding that some organizations may prefer a perpetual structure.
Brewer advises that, when looking at appliance and VMS licensing, it’s best to select a unit that fits a specific customer need. Some manufacturers offer various tiers of equipment, which can address a variety of install footprints and be licensed accordingly, he says. This way, even customers with various sized systems can choose the product and licensing that suits them best, while also budgeting for future expansion needs.
Erin Harrington has 20+ years’ security industry media experience.