Courtesy of IP Video: Tough Love for Open-Platform VMS
Editor / Provider: a&s International | Updated: 2/21/2012 | Article type: Tech Corner
Video management software (VMS) is exactly that — software that manages a video surveillance system. While this used to mean monitoring the video streams from various cameras, open-platform VMS is gaining momentum, riding on the coattails of the IP revolution and catering to the needs of increasingly complicated and interconnected security systems. Yet the complexity of IP networks mean that VMS providers need to take a more cross-industry approach to problem solving.
Video management software (VMS) allows video users to efficiently and effectively manage their video surveillance systems. VMS can be the software included with a DVR. Yet with the analog to IP revolution, softwareonly VMS is gaining ground in the security industry — especially open-platform VMS.
The reason for the rise of open-platform VMS? End users want more choice. An open platform VMS can use surveillance hardware from different third-party manufacturers. In the same surveillance system, an end user can choose their preferred HD camera from one manufacturer, their preferred PTZ camera from another manufacturer, video analytics from a third manufacturer, and control and manage all components using the same VMS platform. Debjit Das, VP of Marketing, Verint Systems, said, “We want to give customers as many alternatives as they need to be able to leverage our solutions; our open platform philosophy allows us to provide alternatives to customers when it comes to hardware selection.”
In contrast, some VMS like DVR-bound VMS are usually tied to hardware from specific manufacturers. These options are good if most of the surveillance hardware deployed is from one manufacturer, but that becomes less likely as end users scale up or want special products in their surveillance system. Open-platform VMS makes it easier to include solutions from different vendors and to make future upgrades to the surveillance system.
Our familiarity with consumer electronics makes the idea of mixing and matching seem simple. We can take ear buds from any electronics manufacturer and plug them into any desktop, laptop, tablet computer, smartphone or MP3 device. Components of consumer electronics are interoperable due to the existence of standards. However, plug-and-play is still not possible for open-platform VMS.
Standards do exist in security. ONVIF is the most widely adopted standard in network surveillance. Unfortunately, ONVIF still has a long way to go before it can compare with consumer electronics standards. Contrary to popular belief, plugging an ONVIF-compliant surveillance camera into an ONVIF-compliant VMS does not mean that there is interoperability. The problem is that ONVIF is not comprehensive enough to support every feature on compliant devices. There are variables within VMS and different cameras that fall outside the scope of ONVIF, which will affect the ability of devices to integrate in the same system.
Until there is true, complete standardization in the security industry, manufacturers need to come together and make sure that their products are compatible. This is the only way that users can see high-level integration between all video surveillance devices and the VMS. Yet standards are still relevant as they are the first step toward interoperability. VMS that is not truly open-platform will likely see issues arise during the integration process. “Some manufacturers develop an ‘add-on' to make their system look ‘open,' but when real integration is needed, additional costs are required to ‘open' their protocol,” said Patrick Lim, Director of Sales and Marketing, Ademco Far East (an Ademco Security Group company).
The good news is that many vendors make the effort to be as open as possible, partnering with many third-party companies. The bad news is that it is difficult to keep pace with the latest developments. Not only do open-platform VMS vendors need to check in with cameras, but also with an increasing number of security systems such as access control systems, intrusion alarms, analytics and more.
It is not easy, given the number of products on the market. “One of our challenges in terms of product development is to support an increasing demand of software interoperability with third-party hardware and software products,” said Francis Lachance, PM, Genetec. “The VMS is typically the core of the solution, and as an open platform, we need to interface with a wide variety of network cameras, encoders, storage technologies and third-party security software. Each technology has its own API/SDK which needs to be integrated.”
In addition to initial synchronizing, each product upgrade requires communication with partners. Though most do not find this technically challenging, it requires meticulousness and continual communication. Even when VMS vendors do keep up with hardware updates, sometimes previous compatible links are broken in the process.
There is even more complexity in software-software interactions. Whereas hardware-software compatibility is more of a time-and-effort issue, software-software integration often run into business model problems. “Sometimes there are situations that require command and control, and you need to integrate with other software vendors,” Das said. “Two VMS companies may not be that open to collaborating with each other. An example would be if we are serving one agency, and another agency, served by another VMS vendor, has command and control, and wants to have access to the video from the first agency. To make a secure environment and to leverage the infrastructure, the software solutions needs to be able to talk to each other.”
Lots of communication and negotiation are needed to make sure all these moving parts are working together. Unfortunately, this nontechnical aspect of video surveillance needs a great deal of work. Some manufacturers are good at keeping partners updated, while others are less forthcoming with their developments. By providing partners with information ahead of a product launch, interoperability is possible once products arrive on market. Otherwise, partners must react to information, which is not good for the quality of compatibility, nor for business relations. “There are 35 to 40 different camera manufacturers that our VMS integrates with,” said Marc Holtenhoff, CEO, Aimetis. “There are so many cameras, and they all have different road maps. Keeping in sync is hard — especially if the communication is not back and forth.” [NextPage]
Don't Forget the SI's
Proper integration also requires the services of capable system integrators (SIs). When surveillance systems were analog, all c omponent s we re plug- andplay; installation did not require integration. The complexity of IP video and integration, on the other hand, means that SIs are crucial to putting together a functioning video surveillance system.
The migration from analog to IP requires SIs to relearn the installation process. “From an integrator's perspective, with the convergence of IP, there's been a learning curve with VMS," said Gerry Pittman, Manager of Global Security Technology – Building Efficiency, Johnson Controls. "It is more complicated than before and there are more components to know about: network cameras, storage, networking and more. The security world is moving into the IT world. There are definitely growing pains; you cannot implement these systems without IT knowledge.”
Lack of complete standards does mean that integrators need to check that hardware is not only ONVIF-compliant , but also compatible with the VMS. According to Matt Barnette, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, AMAG Technology (a G4S Technology company), as long as the integrator chooses wisely and checks his assumptions with all involved suppliers, it is relatively easy to build and deploy an integrated security management system without the need for custom development.
However, integrators must also deal with compatibility and interoperability issues that have not been addressed. “The common issue experienced during an installation is to find that not all of the bugs have been worked out of the latest version of firmware, or that a particular manufacturer's product utilized in the installation, was not included in the final compatibility testing of the VMS platform,” said Steve Malia, VP of Engineering Services and Marketing, North American Video. “While the majority of these issues can be solved easily, having to do so uses up valuable time.”
Systems integrator Ademco had such an experience many months ago. A customer wanted to use a recommended network camera with a preferred VMS. Ademco made sure that the camera was compatible –according to the vendor, it was certified and tested. But it found that when it came to the actual installation, when video analytics were needed, other features in the VMS became disabled. Lim said, “It was a rather embarrassing experience for the manufacturer, but we managed to sort out the situation eventually.”
Installation and integration of security systems is complicated, and things inevitably go wrong. When something goes wrong, who should be called? If a VMS feature does not work, is it not compatible with a specific camera? Or has the camera been positioned or installed incorrectly? Does the problem lie with the VMS, the camera or the integrator? In the process of finding the problem, integrators and end users often contact multiple sources to, encountering much finger pointing along the way. There is currently no good procedure for solving these problems.
To add another wrinkle to the puzzle, VMS and cameras are sometimes affected by the integration process. Integration might affect the bit rate and frame rate in a system, and this is something that VMS providers need to take into account. “How will the system perform if there is a large amount of integration with significant amount of data flowing between two or more systems?” Lim asked. “Especially for VMS, where external data might be used to trigger video response, will it result in the system overloading should there be multiple events at once? VMS developers should also take into consideration the extra load of integration.”
Instead of finger pointing, Malia suggests that industry players come up with a better way of dealing with compatibility discrepancies. “As technology partnerships are formed among the vendors, VMS providers should take the lead in ensuring a more system-wide approach to support so that integrators have only one phone call to make. As seen from the customer 's perspective, issues such as troubleshooting, diagnosing and problem resolution are accomplished much faster with a single partner than when trying to work with several different manufacturers.” [NextPage]
Full Speed Ahead
For the four phases of a product life cycle — introduction, growth, maturation and decline — most VMS providers agree that VMS is still in the growth phase. Open-platform VMS will continue to ride the IP wave as the security industry transforms itself from an analog platform to a digital one. “As the world moves from fully analog to fully digital, the market is expanding both through new deployments and retrofits,” Barnette said. “This creates opportunities at each tier and in almost every niche, as a wide range of customers have different needs, and chose to satisfy those needs in a variety of ways.”
The number and complexity of components that can be added to a video surveillance system will increase, which results in structural changes to the VMS itself. “As cameras become computers with lenses, you can have more applications, which creates more demand and functionality in the central VMS software that manages that data,” Holtenhoff said. “The point being, there's a whole video surveillance base that has tons of room to grow. As those applications change and evolve, so will be the need to better administer that.”
Eduardo Carlos Bonilha, President, Digifort agrees. “Value-added modules are still being developed, and customers are always suggesting new operational and administrative facilities. We still have much to develop in the coming years.”
As VMS develops, customers will expect more than the basics, and will look to see how sophisticated and how usable different VMS are. Christian Bohn, VP of Product Management and Marketing, Milestone Systems, said, “The market is maturing, customers are moving their focus from purely looking at new technology to see how this technology is implemented, the ‘ease of use' of the solutions and how they interconnect and drive new innovations and benefits.”
To respond to added complexity, manufacturers need strong channels of communication.“As security and surveillance systems become more advanced and complex, functional collaboration at the manufacturer's level becomes even more instrumental,” Malia said. One way may be to streamline the integration/ compatibility testing procedures, Malia suggests.
Communication will help strengthen the industry's ability to deal with further problems encountered by IP network surveillance, for example, vulnerability to cyber attacks. “The fact that IP video is not bound to a closed network nor is it self-contained brings privacy and security issues to the table,” Lachance said. “Video can easily be shared among multiple people and/or organizations and can be accessed from most parts of the world, making security and privacy a concern.”
Eventually the chaos will die down as more complete standards come to market. “As the various standardization efforts either take hold or die off — as some inevitably will — the customer will be presented with a smaller set of more rational and structured options,” Barnette said. Open-platform VMS is on the way up. To face the challenges ahead, vendors need to offer not just open software, but open lines of communication.