WHEN everybody else started madly making hardware with RJ-45 ports on its rear end, one group of companies went in a different direction, focusing instead on the paradox of open software VMS. Instead of clutching proprietary code to its chest, such solutions depend for their power on their extroverted personalities. Their strength lies in their ability to support thousands of cameras and hundreds of NVRs and off the shelf servers out of the box.
Beneath the surface of such systems huge teams of software engineers labour unceasingly to keep open VMS solutions attuned to the hardware that constitutes their natural environment. This necessarily fearsome sensitivity to changes in their ecosystem is what makes VMS solutions such an important bellwether when it comes to picking CCTV’s early market trends.
One of the most important companies in this market is Genetec. Privately owned and governed, the company seems to be constantly reaching for next-gen operational paradigms. It’s a way of being that sounds exhausting but in such a fluid market, guessing the key shifts is vital to a company’s survival.
Genetec has spent a number of years integrating multiple subsystems into its overarching security management solution – access control, video surveillance, building automation. I asked Charles Cousins managing director, Asia Pacific, if he thought this was the way all solutions will be in the future.
“Yes, exactly,” says Cousins. “The primary vision for Genetec is to offer a fully unified and open platform, via internet protocol (IP), that brings together all the elements of video surveillance, access control, and license plate recognition.
“A ‘unified’ approach provides a common platform that simplifies the life of users while Genetec also develops the solution to open up the possibility for many more extensions, such as Plan Manager which provides interactive mapping functions to better visualize any security environment, or support of other third party solutions.”
Does Genetec see the cloud as a way to bring smaller solutions incorporating SD-based edge recording into a full digital future? I ask. And could cloud ever be used as a model for big systems or do the limitations of bandwidth argue against it?
“The cloud is clearly the next logical step to the future of IP video management surveillance (VMS), especially for the small & medium business SMB) market as it enables these companies to take advantage of enterprise-grade video surveillance functions at a price point that makes sense for this type of business,” Cousins explains.
“SMB organizations are empowered to continue to leverage edge-based recording features but are now in the position to extend their security off of their premise by pushing video footage to the cloud for safe archiving. They are no longer vulnerable to on premise damage or vandalism to their DVR or edge device that could threaten their ability to pull footage if required.
“With Stratocast, our clients simply install the cameras and enrol the edge device to the video surveillance-as-a-service (VSaaS). This takes very little time for integrators and users can get up and running very quickly with very little training.”
According to Cousins, the cloud is also an opportunity for large systems allowing enterprise customers to extend their security perimeter to satellite offices using the cloud, without having to install ‘on-site’ servers or storage racks.
“Satellite offices can be federated into the enterprise’s existing Security Center implementation so that it can be centrally monitored – all via the cloud.”
All this talk of cloud leads me to wonder where is the profit in the cloud for a company like Genetec. Is it RMR-based and if it is, does a successful business model mean alliances with telcos and data centres?
“Cloud-based sales are based on recurring monthly revenue (RMR) therefore working closely with our channel partners to close annual subscription business is very important,” Cousins says. “Alliances with telcos or datacenters may be a new channel that is viable to open up new markets and geographies that are presently underserved.”
As mentioned earlier, once of the biggest challenges with open VMS solutions is making sure they keep up with latest developments and Cousins says plenty of work goes into the process.
“We offer the most current software advancements and feature sets that address the changing landscape for security needs for our customers on a very regular basis throughout the year,” he says.
“We update our VMS software solutions, including our unified flagship product, Genetec Security Center, currently in version 5.2, throughout the year with feature enhancements and optimizations to keep our customers current with the latest advancements in unified physical security.
“We also offer and maintain one of the most open-platform and useful software developer kits (SDK) in the industry, for our integrators, partners, and customers to create customized plug-ins and feature-friendly tools, specialized for any market segment we serve.
“Customers who are part of our software maintenance agreement (SMA) program, also get all software updates complimentary, as part of an annual maintenance agreement.”
Cousins says the company’s latest development is Genetec Stratocast – a new, affordable and easy-to-use Cloud-based video surveillance solution, leveraging Windows Azure cloud server for small & medium business market (SMB).
As for the greatest challenge facing Genetec as a maker of open VMS solutions cites the need to develop and to lead the market towards new technology, like cloud.
“As analogue VMS installations convert to IP, and we see coaxial cables become a thing of the past and Genetec will continue to push the envelope in technology innovation,” he says. “More than 15 years ago we pioneered IP-based VMS, we then introduced the concept of unified security, and today we are helping lead the market toward viable Cloud-based solutions.
“Our challenge will continue to be to find new and valuable approaches to physical security that will not only help our users secure their business but will also help them to optimize their operations in ways we have yet to imagine. We love challenges.”
Something that must confound many end users is the plethora of IP-based solutions available. We currently have system models that include onboard storage and smart app or browser management, cloud storage and smart app or browser management, along with more traditional method of managing LAN-based NVR and server systems.
The big question of course, is which of these models is most likely to prevail, or is the reality of a digital environment a place where any solution that functions well can survive.
According to Mark Shannon of Pacific Communication, distributor of DVTel, moving forward each market segment will have its needs with consultants and system integrators working out what is the best IP solution for their customers as most end users rely predominantly on their expertise and advice.
“I think it’s too early to confidently say a particular type of system will not succeed,” says Shannon. “What we do know is cost, ease of use, practicality and usability are all extremely strong factors to determine products’ lifetime.”
Is analytics coming? I ask. And if so what sort of analytics are we talking about? Is it fair to say analytics is a capability of digital surveillance systems that will never stop being enhanced? That it should be seen as a work in progress?
“Analytics is already here,” Shannon tells me. “However, it is always a work in progress with algorithms being tweaked and enhanced. All the common algorithms from the analogue product are basically in the IP range.
“Common algorithms include Motion Detection, Object removed/abandoned, ‘Trip Wire’ etc. There are also newer or unique algorithms being created around the world that integrate into IP systems, SNAP surveillance with its “Force Multiplier” being one.”
DVTel was one of the pioneers of open platform VMS. Do you feel the hard yards are now done, that open platform VMS is seen by the market as being the benchmark for surveillance system management?
The team at Pacific Communications don’t look at it from a perspective of resting on what has been achieved, nor does DVTEL,” says Shannon.
“Realistically, VMS systems have their space and technology developments can change the landscape. It is a never-ending development and learning cycle to continue to strive for innovation and technological enhancements and find out what makes a difference.”
Something that is noticeable in the market is the simplicity of IP-based solutions. Products like DVTel Meridian really make life easy for installers – an NVR with a built-in PoE switch, embedded OS and an auto camera find is really hard to argue with, isn’t it?
“Installation companies are demanding products that are easy to set up,” he says. “In fact, you could say that they want a product that looks and feels like a DVR but is an IP camera equivalent.”
Another interesting discussion revolves around whether it’s right that open platform VMS is intrinsically the best option from the point of view of being future proof, and being supported adequately by developers on a full-time basis.
Benefits of open platform
According to Josh Simmons of ONSSI distributor, BGWT, as a VMS-only manufacturer, developers can 100 per cent concentrate on software platforms development of features and 3rd party integration.
“Importantly, they don’t need to share R & D resources and funding with the hardware team,” he explains. “They also have the ability to continue developing additional features, while maintaining a platform that can be upgraded in the future.
“In my opinion, OnSSI is the ultimate in future-proof software. Software upgrades are covered by a software upgrade plan and if you want to upgrade to a higher model, the original software has a trade in value.”
What does Simmons think are the key improvements in the latest VMS solutions – what would he argue they do better than they used to?
“The list of integration partners continues to grow exponentially which ultimately provides customers with further choice and including best of breed products as part of their solution,” Simmons argues.
“A number of recent integrations were announced including a high level interface to Gallagher/Cardax and the recent launch of Ocularis- X mobile at ISC West.
“Meanwhile, the new Ocularis-X Mobile application for handheld devices enables the monitoring of live and recorded HD video streams at full resolution and frame rate, from up to 16 megapixel cameras over limited bandwidth networks (3G/4G, broadband and Internet).
“What makes OnSSI’s Ocularis-X work so well is its innovative High Definition Interactive Streaming (HDIS) Technology. It enables delivering multiple HD video streams with no reduction in image resolution or smoothness of playback, with full control over each camera stream. To the user, the look and feel is the same as OnSSI’s award-winning Ocularis Client.”
So if you were an end user looking for a top open VMS platform, what features would you value most?
“I’d be looking for a solution with intuitive, scalable software and a very comprehensive list of 3rd party integrators,” says Simmons.
Something else that’s of interest is where growth is coming in the market and whether the overall market is still growing.
According to Daniel Dunbar national product manager at CSD, distributor of exacqVision, the IP surveillance market is definitely a growing sector with growth that can be observed in several different areas.
“First of all IP camera technology is now more reliable and comprises a plethora of features that are continually improving each year,” Dunbar explains. “These include not only camera resolution, but also picture quality at night, lower noise levels, improved WDR features and of course reliability.
“All of these features combined with solid IP architecture offer flexibility and allow high end projects to rely more fully on IP technology. In addition to this improved quality and reliability, IP cameras are also becoming more affordable which makes the technology an increasingly attractive solution for mid-range and entry level projects.”
But Dunbar says one point to note is that in some lower level installations an entry level skills barrier still exists. He argues that although this barrier will disappear in the long run, at present it stops some customers from more actively utilising IP solutions.
Another interesting development with VMS is mobile management apps. Something that’s intriguing to me is unravelling just how many installations deploy this capability? Does every system go with mobile apps, or only a few?
“For most people, smartphones with their numerous capabilities and applications have become a part of our everyday lives. Based on our observation nearly every Exacq system deployed in the field is complimented by Exacq mobile applications which run on both Android and iOS!
“Utilising SSL encryption for the highest security standard and a variety of the features including live monitoring, intuitive playback, alarm activation, multi server login, PTZ control and camera layouts recall; mobile apps allow Exacq customers to have full control of their surveillance enterprise whilst being completely mobile and dynamic.”
Then there’s the question of cloud – people are talking about it but how realistic is it really? Given users’ love of higher resolutions and higher frame rates is it possible cloud can offer a solution that truly reflects the capabilities of modern systems in terms of performance?
“Cloud technology is already implemented by Exacq as it utilises virtual servers which run on the VMware platform – so it is a reality and not a future,” Dunbar tells me.
“With Australia’s capital cities in the process of receiving a major infrastructure boost with roll out of the NBN and 4G networks we believe that in 2-3 years time most of the IP surveillance servers will be moved to virtual servers allowing system owners to utilise the functionality of megapixel video security without the headache of managing hardware and downtime.”
Finally, where is an open VMS company like exacq putting its investment efforts when it comes to future developments? What features does exacq see as being vital to a competitive future?
“Exacq engineers are doing a great job at staying connected with all the latest security and IT trends,” says Dunbar. “A great example of this is ExacqVision’s edge technology which converts every single camera into a standalone enterprise type recorder and decentralises the whole system.
“Additionally, at a time when everyone in IT industry is talking about virtualisation Exacq have released the new ExacqVision Virtual system which is a pre-configured virtual appliance that can be deployed in minutes on a VMware host server. This is what makes Exacq a true VMware-ready product.”
The open ecosystem
One of the deceptive things about open platform VMS is that while it’s conceptually simple behind the scenes it’s a lot of work, according to Milestone’s Angelo Salvatore.
“It’s all about the ecosystem and the benefits that it brings,” he explains. “Being open should not be about conforming or some afterthought, it should be about core beliefs. At Milestone this is what we believe. It is in our DNA, we are the Open Platform Company.
“Users are demanding more from their devices and technology today. You only need to look at smartphone apps – it is these apps that enable the phone to become a productivity tool rather than just a communication tool.
“Milestone has a wide range of ecosystem partners from Manufacturing Alliance Partners(MAP), Milestone Solution Partners(MSP) and Milestone Technology Partners (MTP)that have transformed the way we look at video from a single purpose security product to a productivity and business tool.”
Ensuring compliance with all possible devices would be a never ending task. It’s hard enough for us to keep up with new releases in the local market let alone integrate them all into an open VMS that works with complete reliability. What’s involved?
“When Milestone pioneered Open Platform VMS a decade ago, you could not have imagined how successful and large the ecosystem would grow and how closely we would work with those partners,” says Salvatore. “Today, Milestone has direct driver support for more than 2000 IP cameras and encoders from over 100 MAP partners, 150-plus integrated software solutions from hundreds of MSP partners and a growing number of Milestone Technology Partners(MTP) partners such as HP, Netapp and Pivot 3.
“To ensure the quality and interoperability between eco system partners Milestone has tried and proven processes which are tailored for each of the three types already discussed. MAP,MSP and MTP. MAP partners request drivers for their cameras, i.e. Sony.
“Our MAP driver team will write, test, document and certify that driver operates, right down to the specific firmware version. The Milestone MAP team will then work with the MAP to provide requested updates as the firmware changes in the camera,” Salvatore explains.
“Typically, a new device pack is released every 6-8 weeks. Milestone also tests ONVIF conformant cameras on request to ensure the compatibility of the devices against our own ONVIF frame work. Such a certification is then documented and labelled as tested by Milestone and/or by the manufacturers.”
Would Salvatore say a lot of companies are leveraging their existing infrastructure, integrating legacy analogue and early IP cameras into open VMS solutions? I ask.
“Initially this was not the case, but more and more business/customers are looking for efficiency gains and the ability to extend the life of their analogue systems that they have already heavily invested in,” he says.
“This allows them to possibly enter the IP market earlier and to take advantage of the best that a true open platform VMS can offer. It is a fair compromise in their eyes. In addition the customer is much wiser now, they do their research and the internet has made information more readily available.”
Something that’s interesting is what open VMS makers think about the hybrid market – how long do you think it has to run, for instance. Some commentators say analogue will be gone in 10 years – could it be longer?
“It is difficult to say,” replies Salvatore. “What I believe is that analogue new sales will continue to decline and the revenue per sale will continue fall into the low touch mass market.
“For current installations the investment in existing infrastructure and/or the physical barriers to installing IP will extend the life of the hybrid market for the short term, but as Milestone has discovered, the speed of innovation cannot be slowed and many customer who rely on the cameras purely for security will be like phone users that only use their phone for making calls.”
And what is the greatest challenge facing open VMS manufacturers in Salvatore’s opinion?
“The challenge facing open platform manufactures is to live up to and even exceed the integrator and customer expectation,” he says. “Gone are the days where a customer is locked in to a proprietary hardware product that ship has sailed now.
“We as an industry are finally becoming more accountable. A true Open platform VMS is just software, (it should not contain any proprietary hardware attached), so if we as a manufacturer do not deliver to an integrator or end customers expectation, then we are replaceable.”