Deploying, integrating and configuring an IP-based VMS is seldom a turnkey event. Even a relatively small installation can require careful preparation. There are many pitfalls that can trap the unwary, not least of which is managing user expectations. The site could involve an existing network and equipment, including DVRs, analog cameras, monitors and a matrix. A customer may be reluctant to give up on their earlier investment. There may even be an existing VMS in place, which the customer and staff are familiar with.
When deploying a new system, it is important to identify and manage key stages on the way to achieving a successful installation. These include: 1. Planning 2. Training 3. Preparation 4. Deployment 5. Maintenance
Many of these steps are ultimately independent of the actual VMS. The choice of VMS can prove a help or hindrance through the process.
A careful assessment of the existing infrastructure is required, both in terms of network and existing video equipment. On the network side, you need to look at existing usage and topology. Video over a corporate network competes for limited resources, which can lead to a difficult discussion with the customer. Video is a great consumer of network bandwidth. However, due to the nature of streaming protocols, video will tend to give way to other services. For example, a nightly backup could severely impact the quality of video delivery.
Some parts of a network may be physically remote and only allow limited connectivity. The choice of VMS can help out in these cases. If multicast is supported on the network, then this can stream from video devices on poorly served nodes. Another option available in some VMS platforms is to allow a proxy to take the single stream and duplicate it to make available to other parts of the LAN or WAN. A number of products support this capability.
Another existing resource may be computer equipment. Some suppliers will supply hardware to run the VMS and NVR. This can simplify the configuration and maintenance of the system, but restricts customer choice and can add significantly to upfront costs. Software-only suppliers put fewer constraints on the system. In addition to providing adequate training, they often provide tools to manage software-only variables.
A component that can be difficult to manage and plan for is the NVR. Variables that must be considered include average bit rate from the cameras, available storage and total data throughput. In a software-only solution, the provision of accurate end system specifications is important, but knowing how many streams it will record is difficult to answer. Video sources come with different codecs, different resolutions and varying data rates that depend on what is happening.
VMS suppliers can help by providing guidelines to automate and simplify the process. For example, the platform can provide appropriate system alarms on low storage space or when data throughput approaches the maximum.
A common means of interfacing with legacy equipment is to add encoders. If a site already contains DVRs, they offer a level of network connectivity and avoid the need for additional encoders. However, the network interface of some DVRs can be poorly designed. The frame rate and quality of older DVRs also may not meet newer specifications. There are VMS platforms that specialize in interfacing with DVRs, and give the option of installing more capable DVRs in place of encoders and NVRs. In some cases, this can be a more cost-effective solution.
As a replacement or addition to existing hardware, megapixel is often sold on the basis of fewer cameras to cover the same area. While the merits of this can be debated, VMS can offer some helpful features for dealing with megapixel data streams, such as virtual cameras and digital PTZ.
A further consideration when planning for a new system is the availability of an automation interface or API. If there is existing software, or the integrator wants a package that integrates other components like access control, a flexible API can simplify integrating the final system.
On all but the most basic installations, some form of training is invaluable. It is an opportunity to get buy-in to the new system. Most VMS allow for multiple levels of users — administrator, managers/supervisors and the operator. These users require different levels of training.
The most critical training is the administrator's. The complexities involved in this role can approach the requirements of a general IT administrator. Much as we would expect IT administrators to take on appropriate training, it pays for VMS providers to make available training and documentation in the administration of their system.
A VMS that separates and provides interfaces tailored for different roles can help. For example, for the administrator the system overview and configuration is key, whereas the end user will require another kind of interface.
Training can help reduce the costs of on-going support. With adequate training, users may be more capable at dealing with post-installation issues before picking up the phone to call in support.
Successful VMS vendors, including Milestone and Mobotix, make significant investment in the area of training and certification. They put significant requirements on their resellers to ensure they can provide sufficient front-line support.
Preparation and Deployment
If practical, preparation prior to deploying a system can be a good idea. It is an opportunity to test the equipment, saving the cost of spending significant time at the site. Many VMS platforms allow for preconfiguration of the databases. Adding users, devices and maps to the system is ultimately a data entry exercise.
Setting up device parameters is a consideration for the choice of devices and the VMS. A typical strategy employed by a stand-alone VMS is to provide access to the device Web page to offload the complexity of device integration. This reduces the costs involved when creating drivers for the devices, but it does not allow for batch system updates — unless a batch tool is provided by the camera manufacturer. A built-in manufacturer's VMS is more likely to include support for device configuration.
Device configuration is available in the ONVIF and PSIA standards. If adoption grows, there will be incentive for stand-alone platforms to provide a unified tool for system setup.
A strategy for small- to medium-sized systems at deployment is auto-configuration. Firstly, DHCP is used to assign an IP address to the device. Then an industry standard discovery mechanism, such as UPnP or Bonjour, can find the devices and add to the VMS.
The auto-configuration route does have drawbacks. The auto-configured system does not necessarily reflect the physical layout of the site and the installer will still have to identify which device represents each physical location. The VMS may also need to employ a strategy for device identification independent of the IP address, as the IP address may change over time.
Licensing can affect the options available for deployment. A typical component of VMS licensing is based on the number of cameras. Milestone operates such a model that identifies cameras by their MAC address. This can make it difficult to reconfigure the system, such as replacing a faulty unit.
Site licensing being available for virtual machines can benefit customers, as it allows separating the physical hardware from software. A customer can upgrade or fix faulty hardware without having to reinstall the same software package again.
A well-run IP-based VMS should include a maintenance plan. This can be run in-house by an administrator or involve a contract with the installer or integrator. A regular maintenance schedule can prove vital in detecting problems early
The maintenance program can support system upgrades, check the integrity of recordings and check for poor configuration or emerging problems with hardware components. These last issues may only become apparent over an extended period of monitoring. Several vendors offer a comprehensive maintenance plan to monitor system health.