Roundtable: Technology Sound-Off: NVRs versus VMS

With technological changes spinning out of control, especially in video surveillance, it is increasingly important to know your options and utilize the best product tool for your needs and those of your customer. This month’s exclusive coverage features the topic of network video recorders (NVR) and video management systems (VMS). Here’s how our experts weighed in.

How do you get trained on NVRs and VMS technology and software?

Prasanna Kattel M.S., manager systems engineering and integration, Avrio Group, Easton, Md.: It is very important to have some background experience on servers, storage and software before attempting to understand the NVRs and VMS Systems. There are about 1,000 NVRs available on the market and it will be impossible to get training on even 10 of the systems. The technology is advancing on an hourly basis; it is useful to attend the vendor training programs.

Jim Walker, executive vice president, Camera Watch Technologies, Jackson, Miss.: We send our engineers and network technicians to manufacturer certified training. Our training extends to the customer where there is not a set period of time for learning about the equipment. We feel it is our business to educate. The more the customer knows how to use the equipment the more business and referrals we get.

Greig Silver, integration engineer, Idesco Corp., New York, N.Y.: Idesco sends senior members of its design, project management and service teams for certification at manufacturer training courses and conducts in-house training sessions. The training information is then passed onto the rest of our staff.

Jim Kauker, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing, Navco Security Systems, Anaheim, Calif.: We have moved to a “train the trainer” program for both platforms where we send regional experts to the manufacturer training programs and use those experts to train our installation and service teams while doing initial installations.

The video management system is software. How do you know what software to use?

Kattel: First, make sure any software picked is open-architecture. Open architecture provides flexibility for integration and it works seamlessly with just about any software application on the market. The video management system can be categorized in two parts; a unicast system and multicast system. After the network has been decided, now it’s a matter of using the software that most fits the requirements. Make sure the software is widely used and has proven record of being stable.

Walker: We have tried a lot of different products and there is some good software out there. We have settled, as it works for us, on one product exclusively. We know we can rely on the products we work with from a small installation of 10 cameras up to thousands. We work with flexible and reliable products.

Silver: We choose software based on the needs of our customers and a particular installation. The challenge is to “future proof” the selection so our customers will have a system they can grow with as their needs evolve.

Kauker: We use VMS solutions that fit the size of the application. Some VMS is perfect for the ‘under 30’ camera market, while there are others better suited for the 100-plus camera applications. Other factors in deciding on the correct VMS for a customer has to do with the primary mission of the system—is it primarily a live monitoring tool or a forensic tool?

How do you know if your NVR is compatible with your camera? Where do you find this info?

Kattel: Camera compatibility is usually discovered and tested prior to picking the NVR system. The camera compatibility can be obtained from the software vendor.
Walker: We receive this information from the manufacturer. We used to have a lot of trial and error but now we stick exclusively to what works.

Silver: Since no integrator has the resources to bench test each new offering in this rapidly developing market, we rely on the manufacturers’ published compatibility matrices and we make sure the camera and recording solution of the manufacturers agree.
Kauker: Working closely with both camera and NVR manufacturers is key in making sure that all of the features that are available in IP cameras can be taken advantage of in both NVR and VMS solutions. Standardizing on a few manufacturers of each helps us avoid compatibility issues.

How do you find compatible VMS software?

Kattel: We look for open-architecture VMS software. This prepares us for any challenges or integration that may be required as the project progresses.

Walker: We find what works and we stick with it.

Silver: Camera manufacturers are eager to make their products compatible with most recording solutions. Once compatibility is stated we check with the VMS publishers for confirmation. It’s especially important to verify firmware and software versions and not rely merely on model numbers.

Kauker: We work with our camera manufacturers to find out which applications are both fully developed and take advantage of the majority of their features.
What are two things integrators need to know about NVRs or VMS products in order to be successful?

Kattel: Understand the network infrastructure and shared application programs. Inventory the cameras, encoders, etc. and make sure that the NVRs will support it.

Walker: Thoroughly, thoroughly check out equipment. The biggest problem we find is in the proprietary equipment. We use open-source software and off- the-shelf servers and computers. If we have a server go down, we pull it out, take one off the shelf and we are back up and running—no down time and fewer points of failure. As a business owner you are building a business and need to stand behind the equipment.

Silver: The most important thing to know is your customers’ needs. Without understanding the functionality your customers require, you will be unable to choose the right solution. Once you know your customer’s expectations, the rest is just attention to detail in the execution.

Kauker: It is important to understand your customers business while at the same time understanding the limitations of the technologies being offered. Take a lot of time on the first installation so that you can program everything properly. If you don’t, you are wasting your customer’s money on a tool that they are not maximizing.

How is the H.264 compression affecting video management?

Kattel: H.264 compression is having a huge impact on video management as a whole. It has a bigger impact on wireless cameras. Wireless has always been a struggle in the video industry and we are always limited on the wireless bandwidth. With the help of H.264 compression, the video packets sizes are smaller and take less bandwidth. This has enabled us to add cameras via wireless in remote places and provide good video back to the command center. H.264 has also had an impact on the size of storage needed to store the video and with its compression the video sizes are about one-quarter the old video size. Less storage, less bandwidth with no video compromise, makes it a huge factor.

Walker: This helps us reduce bandwidth overhead. We can run many more cameras over the same data network as a result.

Silver: We’ve found that the real ‘gatekeepers’ for installations of IP based systems, whether NVR or VMS, are the customers’ IT professionals. The better compression methods get, the more willing IT staff is to open the gates, and these pros seem more aware of H.264 than they were of MJPG or MPEG4.
Kauker: H.264 is just another way to compress video. The actual management process does not change, it merely allows customers to store either bigger images, or keep them for longer periods of time. In 1971 Navco was in the business of storing pictures for customers and today nothing has radically changed in that mission. Analytics is changing video management, not H.264.


DVR, NVR or VMS --- Which to Use?

By Mike Capulli

Okay, you’re moving your customers over to IP video. You and they have decided that analog video systems are difficult and expensive to configure on a network, creating problems with the IT department, which is becoming more and more involved in the selection of security systems. Analog cannot adequately compress video for management and reporting authorities now demand the storage of increased frames per second from an explosion of cameras on the system.
Now, you face additional choices. When do you use a digital video recorder (DVR) and when do you propose a network video recorder (NVR)? Or do you need to go to a video management system (VMS)?

First of all, the only real similarity between the DVR and analog recorders (VCRs) is that both record. However, with the DVR, one can make very quick searches on hard drives much faster than scanning yards of analog tape to find the image needed. Secondly, the DVR performs at a lower total cost of ownership and higher quality. DVR’s cost less and are dramatically more efficient to maintain. Discs are much easier to store. There is virtually no degradation of quality and a hard disk can literally hold months of images.

Where to use an NVR
For larger enterprise-sized security installations, NVRs are becoming an increasingly viable option. In some respects, such an appliance could be viewed as a DVR with digital video management software embedded on it, providing an out-of-the-box plug-and-play solution. NVRs tend to benefit installations with multiple sites and locations, such as a large transportation system. For these expansive organizations, the flexibility afforded by remote access and retrieval and the ability to bring data back to a central location, make NVRs an attractive choice. They also offer enhanced flexibility as far as programming and moving video between several sites. A general guideline is that the bigger the installation, the more cost-effective NVRs become.
Although NVRs clearly give large organizations more programming flexibility, they could potentially offer less reliability than an embedded system in which data is kept on a DVR at the camera site. Many end-users want to ensure they can keep recording even if the network goes down and thus, might prefer isolated DVRs. Images can be retrieved via remote monitoring.

Where to use VMS instead
A VMS is a software solution. Video storage and management is done on a software platform on a conventional server. You need to make sure that the manufacturer of the cameras and other hardware you use has integration partnerships with the VMS provider. If using an open platform, a VMS should work with any open platform camera, processor, RAM, storage or disk system. As such, it will provide many flexibilities and the utmost scalability. It is extremely IT-centric and should typically be used in very large or complex video surveillance systems.
Right now, if you look at most VMS platforms, software is run on an off-the-shelf server, which adds a lot of complexity and is more costly for smaller applications. There are places for the present VMS approach but you may be better served by a near-future line of products that are appliance-based. This means that the servers and software are configured and running on the network.

Mike Capulli is the senior vice president, North American Sales, SAMSUNG | GVI Security.