Where to begin: 3 Considerations when Selecting Your Video Management Systems (VMS)

By Bill Hogan, DA Central

As the security industry evolves to meet changing customer needs, so must the products that companies offer. Users are inundated with choices, ranging from products you can buy online or at big box stores to very complex security VMS platforms with state of the art functionality. It is important to recognize that every system is different; but, here are a few tips to keep in mind to make the process easier for your Video Management System selection.

Commercial VMS is not a one size fits all proposition. Basic functionality is built into all serious VMS solutions including recording of video and audio, camera management and administration, search options and playback. For larger systems with more intense users, the video management system needs to be capable of saving evidence quality video for prosecution, managing multiple monitors and/or for multiple locations. Remote accessibility for mobile devices is expected today. Other considerations are managing low-bandwidth environments, storage on the edge, frame rate needs and storage calculators to determine your server requirements. Cloud solutions for storage are another option. When choosing a VMS, it is important to assess your needs, so you receive and pay for only what you need, rather than wasting money on unnecessary and expensive features. Many people purchase VMS systems with features they’ll never use. Or, alternatively, users buy an inexpensive system that cannot propel them into the future. It is important to have a long-term view of your purchase decision to ensure you are installing a system that is future proof and allows for an expansion of capabilities, extra storage, or analytics features, should there be a need for them in the future. There is a delicate balance between needs vs. wants and therefore, it is something that should be evaluated early in the process by the corporate security team. Start with a features checklist to compare system offerings.

Proprietary vs. Open Source
An open architecture allows a security project to incorporate multiple cameras from a variety of manufacturers. This can provide cost saving benefits, as users are not locked into single manufacturer agreements. This means that if a camera breaks or malfunctions, it can be replaced with a temporary, cost-effective solution without worrying about integration difficulties. Even so, some cameras that are open source have robust analytics built in that are proprietary by nature. So, even though these cameras can integrate with cameras from other manufacturers, choosing to do so may result in the loss of some of those built-in features. In order to retain feature sets between cameras from different manufacturers, it requires the integrator to know different camera types and nuances. It is also important to note that manufacturers will often say that their system is compatible with thousands of cameras, or that they can use ONVIF cameras to alleviate any compatibility issues. While this is partially true, most VMS systems typically sell their own cameras, and in turn are more thoroughly integrated.
Proprietary systems usually function out of the box. They integrate with their systems seamlessly, in turn speeding up the installation process and ensuring that the analytics you want in your system are streamlined and always available. There are real tradeoffs here, so it’s important to keep in mind your needs, both current and future. Remember though, all systems need configuration to take advantage of their features, especially analytics and storage set up.

Licensing varies widely between VMS systems. Many VMS platforms are available virtually free for the first handful of cameras. After that, depending on the features of the camera or whether they are used at an enterprise level, the cost per camera license can become very expensive. Some are up front, one-time costs, but others require annual fees. One VMS system might charge a nominal fee per camera, whereas another might charge over $400 for a single camera license for all of the Enterprise level features you may need. If you are operating at an enterprise level system with multiple sites and advance features needs, it may require an investment of over $100,000 in licensing. By keeping in mind that every company is different, you can ensure you are making a financially responsible decision from the beginning.

From choosing features to determining licensing requirements, selecting a VMS system is no easy task. Ultimately, it comes down to realistically assessing your needs, and choosing a trusted integrator that can walk you through the process.