Choosing Video Management Systems
Jacqui Thomson at the helm of AxxonSoft VMS.
What are the most important qualities of video management systems? We asked 2 providers and 2 end users what they thought were the most important aspects of video management systems.
VIDEO surveillance systems are complex solutions that bring servers, network infrastructure, surveillance cameras and integrated sub systems into a single workstation. Not all VMS solutions are the same and not all users need the same levels of functionality. For integrators and end users looking for answers, this makes it hard to pin down the most desirable qualities of a video management system.
According to Larry Waite, who manages Ipswich Council’s SafeCity system, the most important qualities of a video management system aren’t strictly related to functionality.
“A few qualities that I look for include the ability to expand, grow and integrate with 3rd party software applications, ease of use and availability of adequate training (and documentation) for operators,” Waite explains. “Support and product knowledge by the supplier and integrator – the product is only as good as the support available. A state-of-the-art VMS system should have an ability for substantial growth, resilience and be ever evolving with new technologies, applications and with the user’s needs.”
Operators are rarely considered in VMS purchasing but what is vital for them, when it comes to VMS selection – what functionalities do they use most in Waite’s experience?
“Speed is the key,” he says. “The quicker they can bring up a camera and access footage the better. Latency is unacceptable. The ability to control a camera’s speed when moving. Not necessarily faster, but a more controllable speed when required. Particularly when they are following or tracking a subject.
“The hard thing for end users of VMS in my experience is support and ongoing costs. A difficult aspect of any VMS product is the add-ons, plugins (bells and whistles) available and the temptation to purchase. Often announced and promoted to whet the appetite of the consumer, these may not actually be viable or available yet.
“Another obstacle is that cost factors are not necessarily fully known or disclosed by the vendor,” Waite explains. “For example, an increase or additional licensing cost, additional hardware or a requirement to upgrade existing hardware that can have unexpected costs totalling tens of thousands of dollars or more to the end user. Other issues include ensuring the VMS is capable of supporting multiple brand cameras and has the ability for 3rd party software integration.”
VMS integration with access control, intrusion and automation means it is becoming more PSIM-like. Does the future include VMS that offers users as much security management system functionality as they require? Waite is not entirely convinced.
“It all sounds wonderful – an all you can eat VMS/security platform,” he says. “It may work but I am a little cautious of putting all my eggs in one basket at this stage, particularly when it comes to security of assets. I’m interested to see where this goes in Australia – and to see how well these types of products are supported here by the manufacturers.”
Perhaps the hottest topic in video surveillance is analytics/AI/IVA/VCA. It’s hard not to see such developments as being a considerable help to security managers. Does Waite see a hunger for systems that can recognise behaviours, threshold/line breaches, even people?
“Certainly – these are exciting times,” Waite says. “As a person who commenced exploring video analytics 20 years ago it has only recently really started to become a viable option for my purpose. Taking an existing camera feed or piece of recorded information and running it through analytics can pay off. From object matching, counting, colour identification and more, we have found some of these platforms to be an effective method of analysing footage in minutes instead of hours.
“It is also capable of providing additional information presented as numbers and graphs that can assist in many other areas, such as traffic and pedestrian management, without compromising the integrity of the camera or VMS system. I think that the collection of actionable data, the use of AI and intuitive platforms will extend into other areas of IP-based security devices and that the industry will continue to leverage the benefits.
“I see this type of technology defining how we interact, communicate and conduct our daily business. This has the capacity to benefit society (liveability, workability and sustainability), providing that correct measures are in place to ensure that data collected is utilised correctly and in a positive manner.”
Something that is beginning to play out on large sites and in enterprise applications is the beginning of a shift to cloud and virtual servers. The question is, how far will this trend will go? Fully networked or hybrid, depending on application?
“The cloud will play a big part for most CCTV systems in the near future,” says Waite. “As costs come down, connectivity and bandwidths speeds increase, the cloud becomes a viable option, as long as CCTV users can quickly and readily have access to their data when required. Hybrid networks should increase with more transmitting options now available. Interconnection of multiple basic topologies will increase and provide flexibility and cost savings for network management and interoperability.”
In a world where almost anything was possible, what is the one feature they don’t yet have that you’d like to see video management systems offer?
“Many items come to mind from asset and building management systems, access control, alarm monitoring, incident and event management although these are available now through a 3rd party application or VMS plugins and add-ons, I would like to see some of these features incorporated into a VMS without the hidden costs,” Waite says. “These inclusions may be what separates one VMS from another as a key selling point.”
Jacqui Thomson, commercial asset manager, Asset Management Services, Tasmania, Knight Frank, manages Devonport Council’s integrated CCTV, access control, intrusion detection and automation solution on a daily basis. In Thomson’s opinion, the most important quality of a video management system is coverage and quality of vision for evidence capturing.
“You rely on the experience and expertise of your installer to ensure there are no blind spots, to cover the key points in and around your facility and to give advice on sufficient system capability in areas like quality, streaming and storage,” Thomson says.
“There is no point having amazing technology if the infrastructure does not support it. You also want the ability for expansion, extra cameras etc. We were very lucky that our security contractor, Stuart Mathews of Degree C, has 30 years’ experience with electronic security systems, that is priceless.”
According to Thomson, there are features end users cannot do without.
“In my experience, search functionality is the most important efficiency, tool together with the ability to zoom in digitally/optically while retaining video quality,” Thomson says. “The speed at which the search functions help find footage when you have a large site is key. My favourite 2 search functions after date/time ranges are ‘motion in area’ and ‘line crossing’. It’s very effective in narrowing down your clip results.
“Other functionalities that are important are remote access features (mobile apps), which I use regularly in conjunction with the Inner Range Integriti Gatekeeper system management system used here at Devonport Council. Being able to log in remotely after hours for building issues has been a regular occurrence in the start-up of the new building and settling in period. It has saved money on after hours call outs of security and service providers.”
Thomson says VMS is not as hard as it used to be for end users.
“Systems these days are very user friendly,” she explains. “We’re just over 6 months in using this system and I’m pretty fluent and confident with it, enough to train other users. It’s a matter of playing with it to get to know and learn the available features. For example, just last month I learnt live tracking and face recognition features.”
Thomson sees analytics as vital to VMS management in the future.
“Powerful analytics in the security industry is very important for quicker results and policing,” she says. “There are people out there who can track someone in a crowd, even with clothing changes just by the gait of their walk or mannerisms. Imagine putting that AI in a system – the speed at which someone can be tracked for security, law enforcement or protection across all available cameras. For example: a missing child in a shopping centre, time is of the essence for the safety of that child.”
In a world where almost anything was possible, what is the one feature VMS does not have that Thomson would like to see on offer?
“Voice control, taking multi-tasking to a whole new level,” Thomson says. “For example, to be able to tell the system to search for (time period, colour of clothing, license plate details etc) and keep track or pull up on screen those clips to view. I would also like to see tracking across cameras. I can currently track on one camera where a person goes, but for the VMS to then capture and keep track when they enter the view of another camera would be beneficial.”
When it comes to cloud use on large sites and in enterprise applications, Thomson argues that there are pros and cons based on quality of infrastructure.
“At this point in time I don’t see it taking off until internet connections are gigabit speeds,” she explains. “For my site, considering the number of cameras we have, we’d need to have a dedicated internet connection and streaming live we’d possibly need to reduce the resolution quality in order to upload to the cloud simultaneously (like live streaming 65 Netflix movies on the one internet connection….it’s going to be slow).
“Quality at the moment is too important for fast retrospective searches. Cloud storage costs, security, reliance on a 3rd party are all important factors to consider but if physical space, startup costs and future proofing are considerations, cloud has its benefits.”
Milestone Systems’ national projects manager South Pacific Mike Metcalfe says the most important quality in a VMS revolves around openness.
“You need the freedom and flexibility to choose industry-leading technologies that can quickly and easily plug into a VMS, allowing users to build and scale solutions with fit-for-purpose products, all based on their individual requirements and budget,” he says. “Choosing an open VMS which gives the user the capability to bi-directionally integrate multiple technologies and manage those processes in either user interface is becoming a standard capability, and one which the market is asking for.
“When it comes to features, an end user should select a VMS that gives operators ease of use and great situational awareness. In other words, the ability to quickly and easily find what it is they’re looking for, either from a map or instant playback. Intelligent searching functionality or rules-based alerting and video wall notifications will then allow the user to note or bookmark the incident and seamlessly export the footage. This makes it extremely efficient to get that footage off to the relevant authorities, allowing them to make informed decisions.”
According to Metcalfe, this is at the heart of operator requirements.
“Operators need to be efficient and responsive – they require the ability to be situationally aware of what is happening in their site or multi-site deployment,” he explains. “This is key to them being able to manage incidents in real time. It also gives them the ability to rapidly respond to those incidents, keeping a running incident report, and the capability to quickly export footage from multiple cameras, in multiple formats, to multiple locations in a single export.”
According to Metcalfe, there are challenges for VMS users in the process of selecting and learning to live with a new VMS but careful selection helps.
“From a user perspective, probably the change that comes with learning something new,” he says. “When selecting a new VMS, there’s a lot of choice out there but they should be aware of falsehoods and incorrect competitive information. Test and trial the VMS where possible and ask questions before making the final decision. Nobody buys a car without test-driving it first.”
Like the others, Metcalfe sees video content analysis of all types being important in the future.
“These technologies will play more and more of a role in assisting operators and managers in making informed decisions and being efficiently responsive to situations,” he says. “Metadata associated with AI and having access to that data will turn the page on how integrated systems function. Automation of processes will have a big impact in assisting operators with their critical tasks, and this will start to become a standard requirement. We move at a fast pace and efficiency will be a key driver in day to day operations. Complete metadata-driven operations and smart searches using AI is something to look out for and is available in some VMS solutions already.”
On large sites and in enterprise applications we see the beginning of a shift to cloud and virtual servers – how far do you think this trend will go? Fully networked or hybrid, depending on application?
“Virtual deployments are here and now but we’re now starting to experience enquiries about having a hybrid setup, where footage is stored both locally, then to a central on-premise location and then off to their cloud datacentre environments,” Metcalfe says.
“What seems to be slowing this transition, with users generally only archiving to the cloud, is not so much the deployment costs, but the costs for storing and retrieving long-term archived footage. In the immediate future we will continue to see more of a ‘fog’ approach – or hybrid approach – until technologies and associated costs really allow for true cloud approaches.”
George Moawad, country manager, Australia and New Zealand, at Genetec argues cybersecurity is one of the most important considerations when deploying a video surveillance solution.
“A poorly secured camera, unencrypted communications between a server and client application, or out-of-date firmware can all be exploited by cybercriminals,” Moawad says. “It’s critical to have a VMS that employs a security strategy that protects your system against both physical and cyberthreats with multiple layers of defence including encryption, multi-factor authentication, and authorization.
“When choosing a VMS, it’s also important to consider the future. Rather than merely looking at your immediate security concerns, consider how the choice of a VMS today will impact what you will be able to achieve as your security needs and video technology evolve over time. Scalability, deep integration of the latest IP cameras, readiness to support the computational needs of HD and 4K video, and adaptability to complex network topologies and new storage solutions are all important considerations when choosing a modern VMS platform.”
When it comes to features end users cannot do without, Moawad argues that one of the most important aspects of a modern VMS is open architecture.
“Will your VMS ‘play well with others’, or will it only communicate with products from its own manufacturer?” he asks. “A VMS must also offer deep support for a wide range of industry-leading cameras, encoders, and CCTV equipment. Third-party cameras and their features should be able to be programmed directly from within the VMS. Make sure the VMS can configure a variety of important parameters, including: discovering the camera or encoder on an IP network; IP address; frame rate; resolution; motion detection (within the camera or server based); bit rate; key frame interval; audio inputs/outputs; firmware update; PTZ protocols; and the like. No one wants to have to toggle between software applications to perform simple commands that should all be available in the VMS platform.”
Operators are rarely considered in VMS purchasing but what is vital for them, when it comes to VMS selection?
“The needs of the operators should be paramount when designing a system: they are after all the daily users of the systems and if the feature and interface don’t work for them, then the system fails,” says Moawad. “They need a user interface that is intuitive and easy to navigate and use. A positive customer experience is one of the most important factors in design and deployment of VMS solutions. Training is a key here. Multiple and regular training sessions give confidence to the end user. Lack of training is the main reason for challenges in navigating any platform.”
A particular quality of Genetec’s Security Center VMS is lateral functionality that makes the system PSIM-like. Does the future include VMS that offers users as much security management system functionality as they require?
“While the security industry is developing a variety of methods to bring separate solutions like video, access control, ALPR, communications, and analytics together via integration, the result remains a set of disparate systems with limited communication and interoperability among them,” Moawad explains. “Integrating separate security systems is a limited and costly approach. The most popular integration methods – network protocols, SDKs, etc, – have served their purpose. They provided a pathway for physical security solutions to become more efficient, but they continue to have several pitfalls that are inferior to a unified solution.
“The better way is a truly unified system. Unification takes stand-alone components of a security solution beyond just being loosely or superficially connected via a software development kit (SDK), application programming interface (API), or physical security information management (PSIM). A unified physical security platform is a comprehensive software solution that manages access control, communications, intrusion detection, video, and analytics through a centralized open architecture, built to provide complete access to all data. A unified platform goes above and beyond tagging or bookmarking video when an access control event occurs or unlocking an access-controlled door from the video surveillance user interface.
“It’s a system that is coded from the ground up to not only work together but to purposefully intertwine functionality to offer a powerful user experience that includes built-in reporting and alarm management functionalities. With unification, it’s possible to configure and manage video cameras, access-controlled doors, print badges, monitor intrusion panels, and have everything at the security person’s disposal to ensure the level of security of a facility within a single software platform.
“For example, our flagship system, Genetec Security Center, offers the only unified platform built from the ground up and coded together for seamless interaction and workflow right out of the box. Employees only have to get to know and use one system. Systems integrators and administrators save time configuring the system and only have one manufacturer to contact – Genetec – with any questions or issues, and cybersecurity protection applies to the entire system and not just one component.”
How important will powerful analytics be to security managers in the future?
“In a complex world, it is becoming harder to understand the everyday,” Moawad says. “An overload of sensors and devices as well as the volume of unstructured events and alarms all make it harder for you to know what is happening around you. Today, video analytics can already help deliver clarity, insights you act on, and eliminate the noise. Analytics can transform video into smart, actionable data. It improves security and operational efficiency and can help take emotions out of a situation, so you make the right decisions at the right time.
“When it comes to AI, the hype is spreading faster than the actual science. Sure, machines are making huge steps forward. But, while they’re able to mimic behaviour on specific tasks, they’re not capable of thinking or acting like humans. In the physical security industry and elsewhere, there are a lot of claims about what current versions of AI are capable of. Like other forms of technology, if we don’t have a fact-based understanding of its potential, AI will fail to meet our unrealistic expectations.
“Having said that, we are achieving increased accuracy using Deep Learning to solve structured problems—problems that involve knowing what the output of the data should generally be,” Moawad says. “For example, automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) is a structured problem because, when we train our algorithms, we work with a data set of raw ALPR images, including letters, numbers, and symbols, to arrive at a classified output. In this case, the output is an image of license plate XYZ123.
“We are actively using Deep Learning for purpose-built solutions that rely on identifying trends and dependencies between features present in the data itself. For instance, we are currently using Deep Learning in AutoVu, our ALPR system, to increase the accuracy and veracity rates of license plate tag reads. By applying computer vision algorithms, we have greatly reduced false positive reads for law enforcement officers when they identify and stop a vehicle of interest. Similarly, KiwiVision Privacy Protector has also been working with deep learning to improve the accuracy of its anonymization tool.
“Genetec Citigraf is another example of one of the products that leverages advanced machine learning algorithms to estimate how different types of crime influence the risk of other crimes occurring in the future,” Moawad explains. “For example, it can determine how close in time and space a robbery has to occur to your home to increase the risk of your home being robbed. In this case, there is no ‘ground truth’ in the original problem and the answers are learned from the data.”
On large sites and in enterprise applications the market see the beginning of a shift to cloud and virtual servers – how far do you think this trend will go? Fully networked or hybrid, depending on application?
“While the cloud might have been considered hype at one point in time, more organizations are becoming interested in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for video surveillance, access control and many more applications,” says Moawad. “There are various reasons why more businesses are turning to cloud solutions. On one level, adoption of the cloud is propelled by economies of scale. For example, installing IP video surveillance cameras and setting up the networks and hardware components that facilitate transmission and live monitoring are costly endeavours.
“Yet the most financially burdening aspect of any surveillance deployment is often procuring and maintaining the servers that are required for hosting applications and storing video surveillance archives. The fact remains that as organizations continue to expand their surveillance efforts, their private data centres will become difficult to manage, maintain and afford.
“SaaS allows organizations to deploy surveillance systems for a cost-effective monthly fee, avoiding the approvals or sourcing of lump-sum capital expenditures to procure more on-premises servers. Cloud services also eliminate the need to find additional rack space, and to cool, power and maintain storage hardware, while freeing up valuable IT resources for other projects. Hosting the system in a public data centre also ensures additional offsite redundancy, as compared to local appliances that are susceptible to theft, damage or failure.”
According to Moawad, Genetec is seeing an ever-increasing number of government organizations with mission-critical and highly sensitive infrastructure leveraging cloud capabilities.
“Understanding the vast computing and infrastructure capacities of the cloud, they continue to implement cloud-first policies which ask federal organizations to consider cloud-based options before building data centres on premise,” he says.
“In response, cloud providers are building facilities and platforms that adhere to public sector security, privacy and compliance standards and to other stringent needs of governments all over the world. Having an entire security system running in the cloud is not the only option when considering cloud-based solutions. Instead, organizations can extend the functionality of on-premises server-based systems by simply adding devices with cloud-based software and storage, implementing remote sites with cloud solutions, or running specific applications in the cloud.
“Hybridization allows organizations to keep on premises servers for existing technologies and uses and to add other security and business components or systems on need-as basis,” Moawad explains. “The sheer flexibility and scalability of the cloud simplifies expansions by accommodating many different objectives, uses and durations. From a front-end perspective, nothing changes for the operator who can manage all components, whether cloud-based or hosted on-premises, from a central location within one platform.”
In a world where almost anything was possible, what new feature would Moawad like to see video management systems offer?
“A video management system that, with the help of analytics/machine learning, could predict an incident before it happens,” he muses. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”