The surveillance market has changed over the past few years, even if we exclude the impact the Coronavirus is having on all markets and economies today. But as the market changes, what is happening to what was (and still is) the foundation for surveillance projects, the video management platform?
In this year’s handbook, we have articles about the move to an app-like model where applications for specific situations or with intelligent functionality can be downloaded to a camera and run on the camera. These apps can also be replaced if requirements change or if the camera is moved to a new location. So if we are going to be doing so much more work on the camera in terms of analytics and decision making (or on the edge as is the fashionable way to describe it), what role will the VMS (video management system) play in the future? Will its functionality be limited? Will we see the convergence of the VMS and PSIM (physical security information management) platforms?
Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked some people in the management platform market for their thoughts on the future of the VMS.
Gus Brecher, MD of Cathexis Africa
Gus Brecher agrees that the edge is becoming an important component of the surveillance and broader IoT market. However, he does not see the end of the VMS or even a lesser role for it. At the most basic level, even if all processing is done on the edge, people still want their video sent to a central server where it will be stored and made available for searching and further analysis. In areas such as retail where video footage is used for business intelligence as well as security, this store-and-analyse functionality is even more important.
Taking an analytical function as an example, while recognition of licence plates can be done at the edge, later analysis or investigations will still be done on the server to improve traffic, parking management and so forth.
Brecher also notes that while many cameras do have the ability to load apps or change the analytical functions the camera is tasked with, these benefits also come at a price. In addition, what happens when a company wants new analytics or wants to manage all the data from various cameras (perhaps different brands that have been bought over time)? Modern VMS platforms are able to manage a host of different cameras and collate the information – the end user does not need to be limited to a single brand.
Additionally, today’s VMS does not simply store video data. The database management functionality and skills inherent in the VMS makes all the difference in terms of performance and allowing users to get the information they want. This is also being expanded into complete security management and building management solutions, incorporating many of the functions we find in PSIM solutions.
The difference between PSIM and VMS solutions is one area where convergence is happening as both solutions start incorporating elements that once belonged to the other. In the case of the PSIM, it will be a challenge for these companies to improve their systems to the level of the VMS when it comes to video management in the solution’s database.
This convergence is accelerating in the IoT world as users need some central platform that will be able to associate video with other transactions, such as access control, point-of-sale monitoring, crowd management and people counting and so on.
Some high-risk scenarios
If the network fails in a traditional set up, most modern cameras have on-board storage to record video and then transmit it once the network is up and running. If all your eggs are in the edge basket, what happens when a camera fails? You lose everything. With a VMS recording everything, you will at least still have historic footage to use in forensic analysis and so forth.
Moreover, when one has standardised on a VMS, the supplier will not only have the technical and database functionality in hand, they also cater for things like cybersecurity and privacy legislation such as PoPIA and GDPR. Any updates can be made available to clients quite easily while new cameras are continually being integrated into the system.
Using analytical apps as if they were apps for a smartphone raises more risks as the user needs to ensure that each app meets the cybersecurity and privacy demands required. You are dependent on a range of suppliers and need to trust they all meet the demands of your local environment. Even with all the precautions taken by multi-billion dollar companies to ensure security in their smartphone app stores, malware, spyware and other unwanted software still gets through. What will the outcome be with a multitude of ‘camera app’ developers?
Then one can look at the firmware issue. If the camera’s firmware changes, how quickly will app developers move to update their applications? The VMS companies have dedicated teams focused on making sure hundreds of cameras (even thousands) work seamlessly with their platform.
Brecher reiterates that the edge does have an important role in the future of the surveillance and IoT markets, but they will definitely not make the VMS vanish.
CathexisVision is the video surveillance management software from Cathexis. The solution was originally developed as an on-site solution that could manage multi-site installations – as were many major VMS platforms in the market. With the world we live in changing, Brecher says that CathexisVision is also changing.
The functionality of the system is continually being enhanced as always, but Cathexis has redesigned the architecture of the system to cater for different customer requirements. Specifically, the new architecture will cater for the benefits the cloud provides and allow customers to host their systems in the cloud, on-site or in a hybrid model. The administration will be easier as access will be simpler and all the functionality, from user and group management to provisioning new cameras will be possible in the cloud – even by mobile devices.
He explains this means that even if there are thousands of cameras being managed by the system, users will be able to add four new cameras for a new branch office (for example) and assign certain users the rights to see those cameras. This will ensure security and privacy as users will only be able to see cameras they have had assigned to them, even though there are many cameras on the same system.
While the cloud-ready architecture has been created, the final touches to the new system still need to be done before the system is broadly available. Brecher even notes that at some stage in the future, Cathexis may have its own cloud infrastructure and sell VSaaS (video surveillance-as-a-service) solutions.
XtraVision and Arteco
Hi-Tech Security Solutions also spoke to Nick Grange and Theuns van Schalkwyk, directors of XtraVision, an Arteco distributor in South Africa and joining in the conversation was Dean Sichelschmidt, Arteco Global country manager.
From Grange’s perspective, there is no threat to the VMS of today. We are seeing a shift as these platforms take on more of the work PSIMs currently do, but the VMS itself is not going anywhere. Some VMS brands are likely to disappear over the next few years, however, but those that pay attention to integration and making it easy to work with their platform via SDKs (software development kits) and APIs (application programming interfaces) have a long future ahead of them.
This is an area where Arteco has proven its ability to integrate many cameras and analytical applications with its platform to serve a variety of customer needs in many verticals. See more about the platform at www.securitysa.com/8854r, www.securitysa.com/10785r and www.securitysa.com/10225r.
The strength of the VMS is that it provides a single interface through which customers can manage a range of functions, primarily related to video surveillance today, but fast expanding to include other aspects of the IoT world. Some companies will develop apps with specific analytics for exacting tasks, but they will find limited scope in the market if they are unable to integrate their software and make it part of a broader management platform.
In addition, system integrators (SIs) are bound by service agreements with their clients and will therefore stay with tried-and-tested solutions. Platforms that have stood the test of time in the field are always given preference over stand-alone products – unless those products can integrate into their existing management systems.
Sichelschmidt agrees with this, noting that customers are looking for an ‘all-inclusive experience’. He admits that the edge is playing a growing role in the surveillance world and does not discount the benefits it and cloud-based systems provide. The value, however, will remain with platforms that deliver an integrated experience.
If a customer is looking for limited functionality for a small installation, perhaps edge-based solutions will meet their needs. A small parking area, for example, will probably be able to make do with cameras loaded with LPR applications, but when one looks at larger installations there is a need to talk back to the server, share data (often from different products) and make it available for later analysis.
Apps are not unique
In addition, Van Schalkwyk mentions that many camera manufacturers are adding value to their hardware by including analytic applications for free. All the user needs do is obtain a VMS licence for the camera and the analytics are free (some WiseNet cameras, which are supported by Arteco fall into this category). Moreover, there are already camera manufacturers that have made it possible to add and remove apps from their hardware as required.
In a case such as above, the VMS will not only support the camera, but the analytics as well. And as the VMS expands its scope, this and other management functionality, from access control to perimeter and more will be handled from the same interface with the same operating procedures. The management of the analytics is also an issue that the VMS can cater to by ensuring that the software is compatible with the hardware’s firmware.
While the interviewees agree that edge-based products do have their space in the surveillance field, they also note that a central platform, whether on-site or in the cloud is necessary for searching and analysis when requiring additional security information or even business intelligence. A central reporting function is also something users would be unwilling to lose.
The future is bright
There can be no doubt that edge-based products and third-party apps which can be loaded onto cameras are going to find a positive reception in many environments. However, those environments will mostly also include a VMS system, perhaps in a different form than before as cloud and hybrid installations become the norm, but the central station is in no danger of disappearing from our industry just yet.
As the interviewees noted, integration is a critical component of surveillance and broader security solutions today. The easier it is to integrate one product into a centrally managed environment, the more interest SIs and end users will be in that product. Nobody wants stand-alone products that require their own technical skills and need special attention.
It’s likely we will see more management platforms incorporating the capability to manage apps customers buy, allowing them to add or remove them while also adding an additional layer of management and cybersecurity to whatever ‘app stores’ may appear. This will allow companies with specialised skillsets to focus on their core strengths and develop the latest AI solutions, while at the same time giving customers the satisfaction of knowing they are not buying a wildcard app that may get up to mischief inside their expensive cameras.
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