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.”