Uncommon Platforms

The shift to the use of IP networks for video surveillance, as well as the enterprise wide integration of other security applications over IP backbones, has substantially increased the choices large end users have for software platforms that control video surveillance networks.

Common platforms, however, force manufacturers to move away from the proprietary models of the past. Interoperability is in; vendor lock-in is out.

While seeking surveillance solutions that can integrate a broad range of cameras and edge devices, end users balk at platforms perceived as too generic. So video system suppliers are jockeying to differentiate themselves in new ways: by touting the superiority of their underlying technology, by playing to specific strengths in IT networking, by offering a tighter knit with other platforms, such as access control systems and analytics, or any combination of these methods.

The result has been a dramatic increase in the impact management software has on the purchase of a large-scale video surveillance system.

With analog, the purchase was all about the cameras. The management software was there to manage cameras and DVRs and do little else. The IP era changed that.

Suddenly, cameras are nearly incidental and video management software -- especially its compatibility and interoperability with other nodes on the enterprise network -- is central.

Moreover, with video surveillance now an enterprise network application, IT departments are extremely involved in system review and selection. The high degree of IT influence has led software and networking companies like Cisco Systems,

Milestone Systems and Genetec to leverage their expertise in IT -- as well as familiarity among CIOs and IT managers -- to push into the video security market.

Long-time suppliers of proprietary solutions, such as Pelco, Mobotix and Verint, are fighting back, introducing their own IPbased platforms that work across various cameras and encoders, while trying to maximize their existing advantage as established CCTV vendors with strong reputations as one-stop suppliers.

“It’s a trend across the industry,” says Mark Kirstein, president and co-founder of MultiMedia Intelligence, a market research firm. “Legacy vendors have more of the pieces pulled together. IP vendors are pushing hard on the other side, with no analog or legacy business to protect.”

Video surveillance management software essentially ports DVR and NVR functionality onto a PC or server, moving video control out of an isolated, vendor-specific CCTV silo into an environment where it can process, control and direct multiple feeds from multiple cameras,DVRs and NVRs located anywhere in the world, exploiting the scale made possible by IP networking.

Nearly all IP video software can be counted on to control thousands of cameras and to automatically discover and assimilate new cameras when they are added (sometimes drivers are required). All the traditional DVR and NVR functions are there: pan-tilt-zoom, video wall, search and analysis. IP-compatibility means the software can handle multiple feeds from different cameras using different compression algorithms.

All can transmit live and stored video to other PCs and to thin clients like cell phones and PDAs.

So as vendors attempt to differentiate by stressing core background strengths and a unique organization of feature sets, apples-to-apples comparisons fall short.

No vendor has the “right” approach -- or even claims to. Depending on user requirements, size and legacy equipment, some IP video solutions will work better than others.

That’s why it’s important for end users to be aware of the respective strengths of the many vendors and how they are leveraging them to succeed

Strength And Positioning

The biggest and most important difference among vendors is their starting point. Companies like Pelco Inc., Clovis, Calif., and Verint Systems Inc., Melville, N.Y., are examples of legacy vendors whose traditional strength has been integrated CCTV systems. Milestone, in Brøndby, Denmark, and On- Net Surveillance Systems Inc. (OnSSI), Suffern, N.Y., are typical of a growing, aggressive corps of suppliers whose core strength is IP networking and software.

Milestone’s XProtect is built completely around IP and interoperability.The company does not manufacture any video surveillance hardware, choosing instead to develop drivers for a wide range of IP cameras and edge devices.The technology approach plays to common IT procurement methods, where CIOs and CISOs often look to integrators to bring together best-of-breed products, says Eric Fullerton, president of the company’s U.S. office.

“With markets changing fast, it’s notsmart to be dependent on one vendor.You can’t always expect one vendor to give you what you need,” he says.

Jeff Knapp, vice president of marketing at OnSSI, agrees. The company had been rebranding XProtect until this spring, when it introduced Ocularis, its own IP video management platform. “Users are looking at a different kind of integration. It’s become an intuitive market reflecting what security operators want to do on an immediate basis,” he says. “There’s a need for networking best-of-breed.”

Executives at Verint and Pelco, however, say there is still a great deal of interest in a single integrated solution from one vendor.

“There are multiple definitions of ‘wide open,’ especially in this space,” says Mariann McDonagh, vice president of global marketing at Verint.“This is a funky space.You pick your solution from a Chinese menu, but you don’t build [systems] one piece at a time.” Verint’s Nextiva software, she says, has anchored installations involving 750 cameras and 17 video platforms from diverse manufacturers.

“We want to be the de facto video management platform,” McDonagh says.

Pelco moved into the IP space following its 2007 acquisition by France’s Schneider Electric, which then folded Integral Technologies’ DigitalSentry IP software platform into the Pelco product line.

“In moving toward an open architecture, taking components and building them into a solution, we want to allow customers to make choices,” says Rob Morello, senior product manager of digital systems.

While customers want a variety of components from different players, Morello says they also appreciate the comfort level that comes from working through a turnkey vendor.

“Customers like to have one throat to choke,” he says. “[Best-of-breed] integrators can deliver value, but it comes with liability.”

Milestone’s Fullerton, on the other hand, says turnkey players tend to give best-of-breed a bad rap.

“If we had that attitude, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” he says. “We take responsibility. We go a long way to solving any problem.”

From the user perspective, companies like Pelco and Verint, along with IndigoVision, LenSec, March Networks, Mobotix and VideoInsight, can go a long way toward putting together a surveillance solution.

But they may work best for buyers with an enterprise network in place, substantial legacy gear and perhaps an existing relationship with either the vendor or one of its major integrators or resellers. They can get you cameras and NVRs, but might be more limited when it comes to the supply of other IT components.

Users less dependent on legacy CCTV equipment, and who are committed to maximizing value of their IP networking assets, are likely to gravitate toward vendors with a strong software and IT story.

On the other hand, these projects will require more attention, investigation and evaluation, both from the purchasing organization and the system integrator angling for the bid. Companies like Milestone,

OnSSI and Genetec, along with 3VR,Avigilon, DVTel, Exacq Technologies and Telindus, can make recommendations and can even provide a fair number of components, but they will be looking for far more input from customers.

Applications Integration

Cisco Systems is trying to provide the best of both worlds.When it comes to brand equity in IT networking, few rival the San Jose, Calif., company. Yet, while Cisco isrenowned for its support of interoperability and common standards (having written many of them), its traditional strength has been network hardware rather than software.

However, it clearly sees the future of video surveillance as IP, hence its multimillion- dollar push into the surveillance segment, punctuated by its purchases of Broadware Technologies and SyPixx Networks in 2006.

The investment bore fruit this May when Cisco announced a 10-year deal with Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the world’s largest casino operator. Among other networking innovations, the transaction involves the implementation of a large-scale next-generation security and surveillance infrastructure.

Cisco’s IP software serves as “a point of interoperability for entire systems, analytics, encoders and access control,” says Dennis Charlebois, director of product marketing for Cisco. “[It integrates] our systems and others into one nice application. It can manage and parcel out functions at the edge, at the server and at the application level.”

The Harrah’s deal is a template for how users want to turn video security into a network application that runs in tandem with other components and applications. In this case, interoperability is not limited to CCTV integration with access control and alarms, but with a much larger guest management system.

While Cisco might best articulate the strategy, nearly all software vendors are touting some level of turnkey applications integration.

“We’re on the verge of something transformative,” says Stephen Russell, CEO and founder of 3VR, in San Francisco.

Russell sees today’s video management software ultimately morphing into a central point for the enterprise to manage security processes across the global organization, combining access control, alarm management, analytics, storage and, depending on the customer’s vertical segment, ATMs, point-of-sale systems, ticket-in/ticket-out kiosks in casinos and much more.

Nearly all vendors have taken their first steps toward applications integration. For many of the legacy companies, it’s key to their future. The most common function is access control. Of the 17 vendors examined for this article, 10 offered an access management platform, either their own or through an OEM arrangement. Genetec, of St. Laurent, Quebec, which was selling an access control platform before it introduced its Omnicast video software, touts its experience. Pelco considers its partnership with AMAG Technology, which will allow it to link video management to access control and building automation functions, as critical to its turnkey strategy.

Codecs And Compression

To really command the attention of IT departments, surveillance management software vendors must address video encoding, storage and analytics.

These are the functions that prompt the most contention between IT departments and security operations because of conflicting priorities. Different video encoding algorithms such as MPEG-4, M-JPEG and the emerging H.264 standard place different levels of demand on network and storage capacity. Simply put, the higher the resolution and faster the frame rate, the more bandwidth and storage capacity the surveillance network consumes. Security and compliance officers want as much data as they can get. IT directors want efficient network use.

MPEG-4 and M-JPEG, the most common legacy encoding schemes, are bandwidth- intensive. Thus IT managers usually demand frame rates be scaled back, usually in inverse proportion to the camera resolution.

While most networks can tolerate MPEG-4 at 10 to 25 fps, M-JPEG streams generally need to be 5 fps or less.

Users see H.264 as a potential middle ground. Studies by Edinburgh, U.K.-based IndigoVision have shown that compared to MPEG-4, H.264 can achieve typical savings of between 20 percent and 25 percent in bandwidth usage and in excess of 50 percent during periods when there is no movement in the frame.

“H.264 is the most popular.And because it’s standard, it’s cheaper,” says Patrice Belmonte, director of marketing at Genetec.

“But is it ready?” counters Iain Wadds, head of pre-sales consultancy at Telindus, Cambridge, U.K., which does not support the algorithm.

Meanwhile, a handful of vendors, including Avigilon, Genetec, OnSSI and VideoInsight, are looking at leading-edge wavelet compression encoding schemes -- JPEG 2000 for still frames and a variety of nonstandard formats for moving images. Wavelet compression, they say, is the only technology that can allow security departments to get all the advantages from digital high-definition and megapixel video without overtaxing the undergirding IT networks.

JPEG 2000, explains Pierre Parkinson, vice president of marketing and business development for Avigilon, of Vancouver, B.C., which promises HD “out of the box,” uses on-board camera intelligence processing to record large amounts of data and then selectively transmit data.Avigilon’s Control Center software can be set so a 16 megapixel camera transmits one frame per second at the full 16 megapixels, and the other 29 frames at one megapixel. It can also send portions of a single image at full resolution, where a person might be moving, for example, rather than the whole picture.

A few manufacturers offer proprietary encoding techniques, a holdover from the legacy era. Mobotix, for example, offers its own proprietary MxPEG algorithm with its cameras.

“MPEG-4 requires processing power, video compression and storage,” says Peter McKee, director of sales for the Kaiserslautern, Germany-based company.

MxPEG can feed 40 high-resolution camera streams to a single PC, he says.

Analysts such as Kirstein, even as they question whether H.264 is suitable for HD, are skeptical about the long-term viability of proprietary codecs.

“Interoperability is a lot more important,” he says. “You’re not going to get away with a proprietary codec.”

Storage And Analytics

At least four vendors -- March Networks, Telindus, Verint and Pelco -- emphasize their ties with storage companies.

Telindus has an OEM agreement with Steelbox Networks, which provides a storage system geared for surveillance applications. Verint partners with EMC, and Pelco works with IBM. March Networks, Ottawa, Ontario, has a deal with Sun Microsystems.

“As the industry goes to an all-IP platform, storage requirements are going up,” says Peter Strom, CEO of March Networks.

“The Sun platform is extremely compelling from a [total cost of ownership] perspective. It’s open and scalable and uses Windows or Linux.” The relationship has helped March Networks win customers in the retailing, transportation, financial and banking industries.

Analytics provides another point of differentiation. Although products are available from companies such as IQinVision, Orsus and ioimage, analytics packages are increasingly being integrated into video management software. Even Milestone, which started out as the quintessential application- agnostic video software platform, added a license plate recognition feature this spring.

Pricing

Finally, pricing approaches vary among vendors, although gradually manufacturers are moving toward a model based on a license fee paid per camera.

“Per-camera license is the only model that makes sense,” Kirstein says. “It’s the only way vendors can have a sustained revenue stream.” Any resistance stems more from the perception inherent in the legacy market than from outright vendor strategies, he adds. “The perception has always been that hardware has more value than software -- even when it was software in a hardware box.”

Cisco, DVTel, EVT, IndigoVision, LenSec, Mobotix and VideoInsight offer pricing schemes based on factors other than number of cameras. In some cases, the software cost is bundled into the cost of the project, an approach used by Cisco, VideoInsight, LenSec and EVT. Only Mobotix rolls the cost of the software into the cost of the camera itself -- and boasts it will give away control software free for use with non-Mobotix cameras.

Analysts such as Kirstein see the percamera license model winning. But that does not mean the future belongs solely to the software specialists. Still, as procurement processes become more tied to IT networking requirements, it will be legacy players -- and their channels -- that will have to adapt more readily.

“The speed of innovation is so fast,” Milestone’s Fullerton says. “You’re not going to know what the user wants tomorrow.”

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