Easy Does It
Hayden Hsu | Date:
As hardware and software functions and features become increasingly sophisticated, needs for easier-to-use security “boxes” or “appliances” escalate. a&s investigates the market for and developments in such plug-and-play offerings.
The world of consumer electronics is advancing by leaps and bounds, and some of its effects are making their way to the world of security electronics. Among recent technical breakthroughs, the most important of which is probably not any hardware or software, but how a piece of hardware or software can be easily deployed, used and managed. According to Milestone Systems, the market for preconfigured, smart security appliance is huge. “In addition to market analyst reports, we get our own channel feedback, and we think the worldwide market size is between US$400 to $500 million,” said Christian Bohn, VP of Product Management and Marketing. “We expect growth rates in the 20- to 30-percent range over the next three years.”
Intransa concurred. “From our own business perspective, we see easy-to-use, modular physical security appliances continuing to represent about half of our unit sales,” said Jeff Whitney, VP of Marketing. “More flexible storage and server appliances can now be mixed and matched for project requirements. Bandwidth is also less of an issue for cloud deployments.”
Simplicity versus Functionality
One of the key differences between properly designed security appliances and commodity hardware is installation simplicity. Take Milestone and Hewlett Packard's technology partnership. “Installers or end users no longer have to consider which computer hardware to buy to run their VMS, knowing that their solution will work right away with components that are tested, proven and reliable,” Bohn said. Hardware warranty and software licensing issues are also taken care of in such ready-to-go appliances, ensuring maximum performance and ROI. These devices come equipped with everything necessary for a complete physical security platform for a VMS, access control, analytics, PSIM or other application, Whitney added. “So, they are ready to go out of the box, instead of needing commodity hardware to be purchased, configured and integrated with video cards, disks, memory, operating system and so on, and then tested to ensure that everything works as a system instead of a bunch of expensive parts.”
In addition to simplifying the hardware purchase and installation process from a platform and application software perspective, some appliances also feature multimode options to enable customers to choose and benefit from multiple app modes. “That not only eliminates lots of hardware, slashing hardware cost, energy consumption and rack space, since it is all preconfigured, the installer who wants to virtualize a box has it ready right away, instead of having to set up virtualization software themselves — a huge time saver and error reducer all by itself,” Whitney said. Does simplicity come with a hefty price that sacrifices functionality or scalability? “The way to scale with Milestone is to buy more ‘boxes,' which are perfect for retail chains with many locations, or easily migrate to our standard VMS licensing offerings to install more cameras or even move up to another corporate or enterprise offering, where integrations with other systems are possible,” Bohn said.
A well-designed appliance, according to Whitney, can actually grow two ways. “First, the customer can add storage capacity modules at any time that just plug in, without rewiring. That makes it easy to start small and grow the system. Second, the customer is able to leverage existing management software, which allows additional appliances to be added when needed, as needed, without having to manage them all as separate boxes. Instead, the interface enables them all to be managed as a single system from anywhere with IP access to the network. So there is virtually no limit — just keep plugging in new nodes as needs grow.” The customer can run one or more of video analytics, access control and even PSIM on a single appliance if desired; that not only reduces equipment, but shrinks energy consumption, heating and cooling, and system complexity with a single box instead of many.
Preconfigured appliances are perfect solutions for security installers who have been focusing on analog solutions and now want to make a “risk-free” migration into selling IP-based solutions, Bohn said. “For those who have not yet developed much IT knowledge, all the work that has been put into verifying performance on the hardware, adding the right services such as three-year on-site hardware warranty and preloaded management software, removes a lot of the barriers that they would otherwise encounter.” Another prime market is the larger regional or global integrators and distributors who can see such benefits in a ready-to-use solution as the ability to standardize their offerings and to roll this out in volume to their client base in different verticals. “Many of these partners may be a little less savvy about IT and, therefore, prefer this type of preinstalled software solution that requires no training. With full online documentation and user-friendly interfaces in multiple languages, all it takes is to connect the box and run the camera wizard to discover and connect the cameras,” Bohn stressed.
Recognizing that physical security is very fragmented in market share, both by geographical region and by application environment, is vital and steers customers to select the appliance platform and application that best meets their requirements, Whitney added, with a note of caution. “A VMS application that is seen as the leader in schools in North America may not even be available for sale in APAC or EMEA, so it is important that the preprogrammed appliance offers a truly global selection of applications that meet a variety of customer requirements.” With Intransa, more than three dozens of popular apps are preloaded on standard Microsoft Windows operating environments, while new ones are added every month with continuous joint testing with its technology partners. “In all cases, we provide access to the widest possible range of physical security software, with more than 36 vendors' products available as preloaded choices on our appliances. The dealer or integrator buys the appliance from our distribution channel, and then either from that same channel or their preferred method, they acquire the software license to activate the application software on our platform,” Whitney said.
Who would have thought plug-and-play functionality could be realized in security?