Editor’s note: This is the 34th article in the “Real Words or Buzzwords?” series from SecurityInfoWatch contributor Ray Bernard about how real words can become empty words and stifle technology progress.
I have seen the term “high performance” in A&E specifications in recent years, and in none of the specs was the term defined. I didn’t think it had any real meaning in documents. But what if a product or system did have very high performance, sufficient to elevate it well above competing products? Could there possibly be a definition for “high performance” that would make it testable or verifiable? The term “performance specification” has been around for decades.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s website contains the contents of a book titled, “Performance Specifications Strategic Roadmap: A Vision for the Future.” Chapter two is titled, “Performance Specifications.” Naturally, the book talks about the mechanical properties of concrete and other building materials. But what about a high-performance software product or a system? We’re writing performance specifications about them. Is there a way to make a requirement for “high performance” meaningful?
The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) publishes guidelines and standards for specification writing, including guidance and requirements for the famous three-part CSI specification, with the very familiar “Part One,” “Part Two” and “Part Three” headings.
The following text is taken from the SectionFormat™/PageFormat™ 2009 document, from Section Format page 21, in a slightly different order than in the document.
“Any section that specifies a product should include ‘Design and Performance Criteria’ in Part 2.”
“Include performance-related characteristics of products.”
“Performance characteristics may apply to systems, assemblies, components, and materials.”
“Include appropriate methods of substantiating performance characteristics . . .”
“Performance should be capable of being verified by observations or tests and stated as: (1) a property name; (2) a value and units of measure, if applicable; and (3) a method of evaluating or verifying performance, such as a test method.”
The challenge with high performance is to develop a definition that would provide or characterize performance-related characteristics that would be objectively verifiable.
A definition for “high-performance” must account for the fact that high-performance characteristics will vary considerably from one type of physical security product or system to another. Thus, it would necessarily have to be an abstract definition that could be easily applicable to various products or systems, and account for the fact that any product’s or system’s performance may be subject to factors that require adjustment over time, so that the initial high-performance was sustainable. That addresses the type of complaint we would often see from end-user customers who were initially satisfied with a product or system but found that over time its performance dropped to an unacceptable level.
Note that it’s “high-performance” with a dash when an adjective, such as “the system has eight key high-performance characteristics,” or “high performance” as two separate words, when a noun, such as “the system achieves high performance through six key capabilities.”
Here is a definition for high performance that addresses those requirements for systems:
High Performance: System performance that is demonstrably and sustainably higher than what is typical in the system domain, providing (a) performance metrics, (b) performance logs, and (c) controls for performance factors, to facilitate ongoing performance management and troubleshooting.
That would be a system with meaningful high performance. Such a definition, then, gives the specification writer the task to define the performance capabilities as design, performance or functional requirements with enough specificity that they can be verified through inspection or testing. For a product promotional piece to be effective the piece must describe what the high-performance factors are – relative to competition if that can be done – and what the value of each high-performance element is. Performance test results can help, especially if comparative to (a) other products in a product line, (b) competing products, (c) a known standard or (d) a deployment constraint (for example, for something to happen within a specific time frame).
Cloud VMS Example
Customer Internet service usage and security video on-premises network usage can change over time. Thus, there must be a way to be proactive in ensuring that video management systems and their networks perform as intended regarding network bandwidth usage. Standard IT tools can’t present the security systems-specific information that is needed, which must include per-camera metrics as well as overall aggregate system metrics. Respecting the available bandwidth is a critical requirement for a networked security video system.
The Eagle Eye Networks Cloud VMS provides a dashboard graphing 13 cloud video system performance metrics for that reason. When transmitting video via the customer’s Internet connection to the Cloud VMS, its on-premises video buffering appliances will store video for up to two days (for example), utilizing configured network bandwidth usage allowances, such as using only 20 percent of available bandwidth during normal business hours, and 75 percent of available bandwidth during off hours. Per-camera and overall aggregate metrics are provided in a 7-day graph, for both Internet bandwidth usage and buffer disk space usage. Service providers can be alerted when either usage approaches a specific threshold, and when business network traffic or camera network traffic changes, appliance configuration can be adjusted if needed.
The Eagle Eye high-performance factors include providing optimum usage of available bandwidth, related metrics, and configuration controls that allow the appliance performance parameters to be adjusted. The costlier alternatives for cloud system appliances such those capabilities would be (a) over-provisioning of both network bandwidth and local storage for worst-case scenarios, to provide assurance that video will always be transmittable in real-time to the cloud, or (b) reducing image resolution and frame rates – neither of which would be necessary with a well-engineered cloud video management system. System performance capabilities should never restrict security system operations capabilities and should always have the capacity to support the desired performance of the security devices that are part of the deployment.
A&E specifications should identify all the performance factors that contribute to the system’s high-performance capabilities, so that the basis of high performance can be understood. Some performance factors may be user-configurable or selectable. Some system high-performance functionality may be dependent on external factors, such as switch configuration and capacity. The effectiveness or accuracy of some video analytics can be dependent upon controllable or uncontrollable factors in the target area being monitored.
Specifying or Selecting Products Based on High Performance
As the physical security industry continues to mature, we’ll see a greater percentage of high-performance claims being documented in ways that make product evaluation and selection an easier task than it is now.
The next Real Words or Buzzwords? article will address a powerful data fault tolerance technology whose name provides no clue as to its meaning or value—but whose use can significantly revolutionize the resiliency and availability performance of security video systems.
About the Author:
Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities (www.go-rbcs.com). In 2018 IFSEC Global listed Ray as #12 in the world’s top 30 Security Thought Leaders. He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is a Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (SEC) and an active member of the ASIS International member councils for Physical Security and IT Security. Follow Ray on Twitter: @RayBernardRBCS.