Selecting the right VMS

The wide variety of video management software systems (VMS) on the market presents a challenge for integrators and end-users looking for the right system for a specific application. There are multiple suppliers, and even within each supplier, in some cases, the different versions of software can be confusing. Do you need a standard system or a professional system? Or a corporate system or an enterprise version? Many of the systems offer a similar range of features, but a familiar, sought-after feature might not be available with a given software “flavor” – or it might cost extra.

What features do you need versus which are offered? Capabilities such as a rules engine, edge storage and alarm/event management may or may not be included with a system. Any given system may not provide centralized management or enterprise features such as system health monitoring, active directory integration and/or storage configurable to group or individual cameras. Users should be wary of buying a lower-tier system that doesn’t have as many features. Upgrading later to the next level can be expensive and disruptive to operations.

The challenge is to find true value – a measure of benefit versus cost – amid the complexity. The price of system licenses can impact whether you are getting true value for your investment.

Here are some factors that can guide you to the best choice when shopping for a VMS:

Scalability. Video systems often start small and grow over time, but sometimes additional costs are involved when scaling up a system. For example, a user might have to upgrade from a “standard” system to an enterprise system to accommodate extra cameras. For maximum scalability, choose a system that is designed for multi-server, multi-location, large-camera-count deployments.

Ease of integration. Most VMSs can be integrated to operate with a large variety of camera models –
2,000 or more in some cases. The more cameras a user can choose from, the better. Centralized control of factors such as resolution, frames per second and motion-based recording also make systems easier to operate. Also, look for suppliers that simplify their interaction with integrators to provide the most flexibility.

Compatibility with hardware. The maximum number of cameras allowed per server also impacts costs, and numbers vary among multiple suppliers and even within the software tiers of a single supplier. Consider hardware requirements on the server side, too. Does a system support pure 64-bit architecture? Does it require a master server? Does it support virtualization platforms? Does it support failover recording servers?

Ability to leverage additional features in the future. An integrator’s and end user’s goal should be to future-proof a system, but the way VMS systems are structured, priced and sold can complicate the strategy. When viewing various VMS options, it’s important to consider how expensive it is to add additional features. How much is the license fee per client, or per server? What are additional costs for video walls or failover support? What are the software upgrade costs for cameras and servers? These future costs may not be included in a price quote, but should be considered by any customer who expects his or her system will grow. Technology also enables plenty of new ways to use VMS systems, but only if an integrator or customer lays the groundwork by choosing an expandable and flexible system at the outset.

Mobile capabilities. The proliferation of smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices makes it critical that VMS systems can interface with these environments. Asking the right questions upfront can ensure that the chosen system can serve the customer’s expanding need to provide video to mobile devices. Are there additional charges for mobile apps? Can the system auto-import cameras and servers? Can it stream full-resolution H.264 video? Can it email a full-resolution snapshot to a smart phone? Are these functions included when the system is purchased?

Hidden licensing costs. In addition to a straight per-camera licensing fee, some suppliers charge additional fees such as a base system cost, cost per server, cost for failover, etc. When a user or integrator is costing out a system, they should be sure all the extra costs are included to allow comparison of apples to apples. Also, look ahead to assess the future impact of a supplier’s fee structure as the system grows. How expensive is to the upgrade from standard to enterprise and how soon might the system grow to need the extra capacity and capabilities? Is it less expensive to buy a system with additional capabilities at the outset?

The Bottom Line
The most important questions to ask when choosing a VMS system are: What does the application
need today? and What will the application need moving forward? Carefully analyze each supplier’s pricing structure. What’s included and what’s not? How much might the system cost over its entire life? Is the system designed for centralized management and to accommodate future changes and enhancements? Ideally, a system purchased today should be able to accommodate additional camera counts and provide new services as the system grows and is used in more and different ways. Accommodating change as a system grows should be part of the original system, not a series of expensive add-ons that increase the total cost of ownership.