As camera counts rise and system complexity increases, it’s imperative for enterprise security leaders to make smart choices when it comes to a video management system. If you’re pondering where to start on your purchasing decision, Security spoke with someone who literally wrote the book on VMS systems – Brian Carle, Director of Product Strategy at Salient Systems and author of Understanding Video Management Systems: Video Security Recording Technology and Design Essentials.

“Your decision-making depends greatly on the needs of the organization,” Carle says. “From a very high level, what VMS end users should consider starts with budget and deployment size, and from there, narrowing down what are the necessary feature sets and what platforms will deliver. A retailer’s set of considerations will differ from a casino’s or a prison’s.”

For example, he says, while most organizations will want to understand how the VMS will operate with existing and planned camera systems, and how it will manage bandwidth, a retailer in particular might want to ensure the system can handle centralized monitoring of multiple locations; what management features it can provide, such as centralized health monitoring and alerts, centralized software updates, management of connected cameras; and investigation tools and integrations, such as those that would tie in with point-of-sale (POS) data to detect return fraud (if a return is rung up when the surveillance system does not detect a customer at the register, for example).

On the other hand, a casino may be less concerned with a video management system’s ability to manage multiple sites and more concerned with its ability to handle a high density of cameras in one facility, and its options when it comes to system failover to reduce gaps in coverage and meet compliance requirements. A prison would want options to integrate with access management, so extra alerts could be triggered when key doors or cell blocks are opened.

“In any type of organization, and any scale of deployment, the ideal use of the technology will dictate which feature sets are critical to the organization,” Carle says.

To narrow down which features are “must haves,” Carle recommends sitting down and discussing needs with other enterprise stakeholders – any leaders in the organization with overlap with security, such as operations, facilities, legal and, especially, IT teams. The IT team’s input can be vital when it comes to determining the VMS’s effect on bandwidth and the network.

Apart from features and the scale of the system, budget is another huge facet of the VMS decision. Some basic costs associated with a VMS are the software licenses, software update agreements (a recurring cost), and the cost of hardware. Outside of that core, costs can vary depending on which feature sets are desired, and whether the system is on-premises or off-site in the cloud.

Some recurring costs for on-premises systems include:

  • Software support agreements
  • Technical support
  • Maintaining deployment & equipment costs
  • Firmware updates (maintenance)
  • General cost of maintaining IT equipment

For cloud-based solutions, enterprises face a lower upfront cost, but higher recurring costs throughout the life of the system, Carle says. In this model, end users are paying for storage, bandwidth, software fees, and potentially leasing camera equipment.

Another factor that can impact cost is the type of surveillance technology in use. “Most VMS have broad support for most manufacturers, but some have deeper support for cameras’ features,” Carle says. For example, if a camera boasts video analytics on the camera itself, that could save on VMS costs, but only if the VMS is compatible with those cameras’ analytics. Understanding exactly what results are wanted from every part of a video surveillance system early on can help when narrowing down and testing potential management solutions.

The IP and analog decision factors in here as well. For enterprises using a hybrid system of both analog and IP cameras, there are options on the management side; a hybrid VMS enables both types of cameras to interface directly with the VMS, and an IP-only VMS can still use analog cameras provided they’re connected to an encoder. Carle warns that enterprises using encoders during an upgrade progress should remember that license costs may increase as they shift from analog to IP – while an encoder may enable four analog cameras to use just one VMS license, when they’re upgraded to IP, four licenses will be needed.

To learn more, check out Carle’s book or our Video Management System infocenter.