The video appliance has become an increasingly common offering from companies that offer software-based VMS packages. Appliances are typically purpose-built servers supplied with an embedded copy of the VMS. Because the manufacturer has specified the hardware, integrators can have confidence with regard to compatibility, performance and support. Does the Husky X8 from Milestone Systems take video appliances to a new performance level?
Ever since the first VMS packages emerged into the security sector, there have been integrators and installers who shied away from the solutions. Despite the fact that a well designed and developed VMS offers a significantly greater level of flexibility than an equivalent NVR, and in spite of the higher level of flexibility offered by a VMS over and above that available from even a well implemented NVR, there are still some engineers who resist the move to a VMS.
Despite VMS packages essentially being IT-based software, everything about them is pure video surveillance (and increasingly, pure security as the software increasingly supports access control, site protection and a host of other integrations). The GUIs and working procedures have been specifically designed for security integrators and for end users with a focus on security and site protection.
Benchmark has lost more hours to troubleshooting poorly implemented NVRs than it ever has to issues with VMS software. This fact alone bears testament to the work the leading manufacturers have put into getting their front-ends right. This begs the question why, if the software interface is so security-friendly, some integrators and installers are resistant to using a superior and more flexible product. The answer lies in IT hardware.
Most VMS packages can be run on a standard PC; many will even operate to their full performance criteria on a laptop. However, while this is fine for demonstrations and temporary implementations, it’s not best practice. VMS solutions should be installed on a server which has the capacity to handle the heavy-duty processing and data flow management which video demands.
Specifying a server isn’t always a straightforward task. There are numerous considerations which need to be made, and while companies selling servers recommend those purchasing them take their advice, there have been instances where the advice from an IT expert is at odds with what is required for a video surveillance server. Many server manufacturers are IT experts, not surveillance experts.
While a VMS is usually a superior product to an NVR, the latter comes with hardware specified by the manufacturer, and as such it carries with it a certain peace of mind. With VMS software, the onus is placed on the integrator or installer to deliver appropriate hardware. If that hardware is not up to the job, the buck stops with the engineer, not the IT expert who sold it.
Recognising this, VMS manufacturers introduced video appliances. In essence, a video appliance is a server which has been specified by the VMS manufacturer to provide the right level of performance for the VMS in question. Appliances have the VMS pre-loaded, or offer embedded installers for relevant software. The specification for an appliance usually contains a limitation on the number of cameras, devices or clients supported. This has more to do with the maximum capacity of the hardware, as specified by the VMS manufacturer, than a physical limitation.
Video appliances allow integrators and installers to select a flexible and powerful VMS, with all the benefits these packages provide, whilst also removing the concerns of specifying a server.
Based on the (sometimes incorrect) thinking that integrators and installers who prefer a complete hardware and software solution will be working with smaller applications, video appliances typically support low camera counts, such as 16 or 32 devices. A few offered higher capacities, but these were less common.
As demand for smart solutions has grown, and developments in processing and data handling have increased, end users are seeking solutions that not only offer security, but allow other video-based benefits to be realised. As such, appliances with higher capacities are increasingly sought after.
To meet this demand, Milestone has upgraded its Husky range with two new models: the Husky X2 and the higher-end Husky X8.
The Husky X8 from Milestone Systems is a high performance server class video appliance aimed at the high-end security and risk management sector. Designed to deliver component, storage and application redundancy, it is suitable for ‘always-on’ applications where resilience is a key consideration. It supports the XProtect video management software family: Essential+, Express+, Professional+, Expert and Corporate. The server specification ensures that advanced features, such as hardware-accelerated video processing, are supported.
The Husky X8 has been tested and certified by Milestone as supporting up to 780 cameras. This figure is based upon an assumption of cameras streaming a HD720p resolution at 25 frames per second with 2Mbps throughput. The Husky X8 can provide server-side video motion detection, but if this is deployed the total camera count falls to 300 devices.
The appliance features eight HDD bays. These can be specified for population using Western Digital Purple HDD drives. Capacities of 4TB, 8TB or 10TB can be added, giving a total maximum on-board capacity of 80TB. Recording throughput is 1.8Gbps.
The internal storage capacity can be expanded with external SANs using 10Gbps connections. Then converged network adapter also enables connections via iSCSI or FCoE.
XProtect VMS archive handling ensures a simple way of managing internal and external storage.
With such a specification, the Husky X8 is designed for higher risk applications, and as such operational resilience is required. As such, redundancy is built-in at many levels, with all critical components duplicated. Dual SSD (solid state drive) Windows OS and VMS software disks mean that critical software is not lost if there are HDD issues, and reboots and system rebuilds are fast and efficient. Recorded video data is protected by RAID 5/10. The XProtect VMS software also supports hot/cold failover functionality.
In terms of processing, the Husky X8 makes use of an Intel Xeon E3-1515M V5 2.8 GHz CPU, and an Intel Iris Pro Graphics P580 GPU.
Connections include dual power supplies, two 1GbE LAN connections, one DVI and two HDMI outputs (two simultaneous displays are supported, with a maximum resolution of 4K UHD via HDMI), and six USB 3.0 ports.
The Husky X8 is supplied as a barebones unit, along with HDD trays: these will be populated with WD Purple HDDs if they’ve been ordered. It is possible to order the basic unit without any drives if you (or the user) intends to supply your own. The unit is also supplied with mains cables and a quick start guide.
The installation guide is a printed A4 booklet, which – in an age when integrators and installers are often sent off to manufacturer’s websites to search out, download and print documentation – is a welcome bonus. Before you get too excited, it only covers the hardware installation which, to be honest, is very straightforward. If you need help with the VMS itself, you’re forced to search out downloadable files.
The first steps are to prepare the network and devices, which is standard procedure for any installation. The next step is to purchase the various licences. For this you will need a base VMS licence for whichever version you intend to run, hardware device licences for connected devices and licences for any add-on products.
A small frustration is the Milestone offers XProtect Essential+, a free-of-charge version of the VMS. Whilst it has limitations in terms of connected devices, it does allow set-up and various system parameters to be explored. However, you still need to obtain a licence to activate this. While Milestone obviously want to collect data from customers, it wouldn’t be an issue for that software element to be pre-licensed. Few people will specify an X8 to run the free version, so it wouldn’t be a hardship.
Preparation of the unit requires the HDDs to be loaded. Once this is done, the various connections – mouse, keyboard, monitor, etc. – are made. An network connection is applied to LAN Port1 for management and viewing, and the camera and device network is connected to LAN Port 2.
Once the connections are made, power is applied to both PSU inputs and the Husky X8 can be powered up.
Performance of the XProtect VMS software isn’t covered in this test, as we’re specifically looking at the Husky X8. However, Benchmark has tested all of the various versions of XProtect in recent times, and the software consistently achieves Recommended status.
The Husky X8 is a more than competent server, and is fast and robust. It is capable of supporting the specified load, although we’d expect most integrators to opt for fewer devices, enabling higher resolutions and greater use of the advanced functionalities inherent in today’s cameras. That said, when you are looking at sites with hundreds of cameras, the reality is that the mix of resolutions and frame rates balances up.
The server-side motion detection does limit the number of supported cameras by more than half, and we’d expect that to be the case more often than not.
Arguably, the most important hardware feature is the processing acceleration, and this is impressive. The use of mobile streams is becoming more common, with users demanding this functionality. The recoding of M-JPEG streams for mobile use is a drain on processing power, and the acceleration helps. Also, displaying 4K UHD streams can eat into available capacity, and again the acceleration helps with this.
The Husky X8 is a video appliance for integrators creating large systems, and as such it competes well with higher end enterprise class servers. Robust, well engineered and ideal for surveillance applications, it achieves Recommended status.