CCTV Test: VMS Appliances

Following on from the recent group test of VMS (video management system) software, Benchmark turns its attention to two options which can be supplied as software or, as is the case for this test, pre-installed on a VMS appliance. VMS solutions are increasingly important for installers and integrators looking to deliver advanced and bespoke surveillance solutions. Whether looking at a standalone system with a few cameras or a multi-site campus-type application, a VMS-based system can inevitably deliver benefits. Here Benchmark looks at options from Tyco Security Products and Wavestore.

T

he impact of VMS on the video surveillance market has been significant. Even for those who have never used a VMS, the software and its flexibility has shifted user expectations of what a surveillance system is capable of.

For the end user, the attraction of a VMS-based system does not lie in the clever connectivity implemented by the code writers or in the tools that installers and integrators can use to build complex solutions with ease. It is much simpler than that. It lies in the delivery of a solution which works for them.

A VMS-based system doesn’t only work for them when a crime occurs or an incident needs to be handled. A VMS-based system can work for them every day, securing their site but also enhancing site management and business operations by delivering a number of value-added benefits­.

If the system offers real benefits and makes those benefits accessible, the user is happy. Accessibility is very important. Operators must be able to get the best out of a VMS solution. While in the past end users might have called an installer or integrator back to make system adjustments, today’s tech-savvy market will expect to make changes themselves.

It’s important not to view such demands with negativity. Customers who want to take control are exactly the type of end users who will actively engage with a VMS, and who will seek to enhance and upgrade their solutions to add an increasing number of benefits.

This means that the GUI is a very important element, both in terms of allowing the user to access the security on offer, but also to drive the added value and benefits that the customer expects.

Meeting end user’s expectations is key to the prolonged success of a VMS-based solution. An appliance-based VMS can deliver the same degree of flexibility as a software-based solution. If there are any limitations, these will have been implemented to ensure that the server hardware is not over-stretched. This requirement also exists for software-only variants, but it becomes the responsibility of the installer or integrator to manage hardware performance.

It is worth noting that in the recent test of software-based VMS, all four participating products had issues with regard to configuration or licensing, all of which could only be addressed by the manufacturers. Because appliances are supplied with the software pre-installed, such issues should be avoidable. However, many appliances will still require license activation.

Wavestore: Wavestore v6

Wavestore v6 is the latest release of the company’s VMS solution. It is available as both a software and appliance-based solution.

The software is available in three variants: Base, Premium and Enterprise. Base is limited to 24 cameras per server, 2 client connections and 1 server group. Premium can manage up to 128 cameras per server, 5 client connections and 5 server groups, while Enterprise supports up to 254 cameras per server, unlimited client connections and 255 server groups.

The Base package does not include support for optional analytics or metadata, advanced remote monitoring, failover or Maps, which are stanbard in the more advanced versions. The selection of the software package will be dependent upon site needs.

The Wavestore VMS is equipped to control video sources (including 360 degree cameras), video analytics, audio, access control, sensors, perimeter protection systems and alphanumeric data from other devices such as POS and ATM devices.

Previous versions of Wavestore VMS were 32-bit, meaning that they ran on both 32-bit and 64-bit machines. Version 6 sees a move to 64-bit only, so installers and integrators should ensure they use suitable hardware. Wavestore also offers a range of servers which are supplied with the VMS pre-loaded.

It should be noted that Wavestore VMS makes exclusive use of a Linux platform, which has some pros and cons.
Firstly, for the beneficial points. Linux platforms are acknowledged in the IT space as being more robust and reliable than Windows. Linux is stable, and if elements of the system crash, they don’t always bring the whole system to a halt. Security is enhanced as most virus and malware attacks are designed to target Windows platforms; many Linux applications are industrial, but the business and commerce worlds (and the consumer market) tend to use Windows.

Linux platform architecture is less complex, so servers can dedicate more processing power to their tasks, in this case streaming, recording and managing video.

There are also some cost savings. Because Linux is less complex than Windows, it is possible to use less powerful servers. Also, many Linux distributions are free, so OS licensing costs can be reduced.

However, maybe the biggest downside of Linux is that if a user has invested in the Windows platform and wants to integrate their security system with other business elements (the ability to do so being a major driver in switching to VMS), there may be compatibility issues or the need for emulation software.

Our server was supplied with Wavestore’s v5 software, but in the early stages of testing v6 was launched. This is a new product and not simply an upgrade.

We asked the manufacturer about changing the software on the appliance and were told that it’s not something that most installers or integrators would do. However, the process is actually very straightforward, and certainly within the skill-set of any competent engineer.

The licensing process is fairly straightforward, but we did encounter a slight issue. The first step is to find the device ID which is found in the Settings menu. The full machine ID was not displayed, which required clicking into the digits and manually moving the cursor to see the full code. It was only after doing this we discovered that hovering over the server name in the device tree screen displays the full machine ID!

The next task is to email the ID code to Wavestore, and a demo licence is returned. The process took around five minutes.

Once licensed, you can start to explore the GUI. It has a modern and clean feel, and whilst it does make use of device trees, the cornerstone of some early Windows server interfaces, the overall feel is one of simplicity.
There are predominantly two main views: Normal and Setup. There are two other view options for Search and Maps, and these create pop-up windows for their relevant tasks.

The set-up view is where most installers and integrators will start, and it is made very easy to navigate due to a tabbed approach. A scrolling icon-based list across the top of the screen allows the selection of individual menu pages.

These include user management, devices, time and region, network configuration, Active Directory, email server, server groups, failover server, schedules, customisation of channel trees, server upgrades, event rules and notifications, I/O devices, disk management, metadata protocols, security and advanced configurations.

With a server appliance, a number of these menus will need little or no adjustment in many applications. However, where tweaks are required, the option is there.

The set-up process is relatively straightforward. With regard to camera discovery, Wavestore V6 found all of the cameras at the first time of asking. These were then added, with an automated request taking care of the log-in details.

It is worth noting that the same cameras were utilised for the VMS software test, and during this we did come across a few identification issues. However, that was not the case with the Wavestore VMS.

When making certain changes the server process needs to be restarted. This is clearly flagged in the GUI, and there is a button for this purpose. The speed of Linux compared to Windows is evident as the restart takes just a few seconds.

With basic configurations such as device additions (cameras, detectors and any other peripherals) completed, you can start to explore other options. It’s best to set up things like schedules before setting more complex functionality, or you’ll find yourself jumping between screens.

The menu for event rules – one of the more popular elements of a VMS solution – is typical of the simplicity associated with the Wavestore product.

Creating a rule is straightforward; add a new rule, name it and select a schedule. You can also select whether the rule is logged or shown on the main screen (this is included in the Event Control pane).

There are then two sub-menus, and these are for the event that starts the rule and the triggered action. Both make use of drop-down menus, and when an option is selected the available devices are displayed. Multiple actions can be selected for the trigger using an ‘OR’ condition, thus streamlining the process if a range of events have the same action. Additionally, multiple actions can be set using an ‘AND’ condition.

Events that start a rule can include video motion or events, input devices, video loss or darkening, alarms or warnings, system faults or log-in conditions. Actions can include recording of video or metadata, frame rate increase, triggering an output, audible or text-based alerts, PTZ preset positioning, email of a clip or text, spot monitor switching or setting a ‘cause’ parameter.

What is interesting is that the Wavestore VMS product was so simple to configure that it had a very intuitive feel. Despite the fact we had an outdated manual due to the last-minute system change, the only time we needed to refer to it was to double-check on some of the terminology used by the manufacturer.

While the installer or integrator will spend most of their time working with the set-up view, the end user will focus more on the main view. This is predominantly based around a single-screen approach. Side panels including the device tree and system control panes can be maximised and minimised, and other interactive elements include pop-up windows. This delivers a clean interface, and ensures the operator can always get back to the main screen quickly.

Wavestore does also offer a Windows-based Client for remote connectivity. For local control, the user can work from the ‘Normal’ view.

Camera streams and other data sources are dragged into the display panes, which are flexible and user-configurable. There is an ability to add rows and/or columns if required. Many of the display controls are graphical, which makes operation simple. If new to the interface, all icons include Tool Tips.

Simplicity remains key to the GUI. For example, the export process has been cut down to very simple stages. The operator simply identifies the start and end point of the video, and a single click sets up the export. The only operator interactions relate to basic housekeeping such as file names, encryption needs, etc..

Benchmark spent a short time with a number of end users who offered feedback on the GUI of the devices on test. It was felt that Wavestore V6 offered a clean and simple interface. The vast majority of typical operator interactions were handled well, and the flexibility with regard to layout was also appreciated.

In terms of search functionality, this was felt to be easy to use, but a smart search function was identified as an item to go on the wishlist by a few people.

Wavestore V6 felt very much like a VMS designed to interact with third party elements, and additions like video analytics are optional. However, this allows the company to tap into those with expertise in specific disciplines.

Performance was very stable, and there were no crashes, freezes or unexpected behaviour from the software. Processes were fast and responsive, and the appliance was consistent throughout the test.

Tyco: Exacq EVIP-01

Exacq EVIP-01 is an appliance-based version of Tyco Security Products’ Exacqvision VMS. Exacqvision is available in both software and appliance-based variants.

The software is available in four versions: Start, Professional, Enterprise and Edge. Start supports 32 cameras (16 IP and 16 analogue) with a single client connection. Functionality is limited to core video management tasks, and some might argue that it lacks the flexibility that makes VMS packages so attractive.

The Professional and Enterprise versions manage up to 192 cameras (128 IP and 64 analogue) per server, with up to 528 client connections, 16 of which are via web clients.

What separates the Professional and Enterprise versions is additional functionality. The former does not include failover, Active Directory support, maps, video push or case management, all of which are standard in the latter’s specification.

The Exacqvision VMS supports a wide range of third party devices, with all of the important market leaders covered along with a number of more specialist companies. Devices include 360 degree cameras and thermal units.

The Exacq VMS range is available in software packages for Windows and Linux servers, and the free-of-charge clients are available in Windows, Linux and OSX versions.

Tyco also offers a range of appliances (they refer to them as NVRs, which underplays their functionality) that are supplied with the VMS software pre-loaded. These include the LC-Series (support for 32 cameras – 16 IP and 16 analogue – with integral PoE switch and up to 12TB archiving), the ELP-Series (up to 40 cameras – 24 IP and 16 analogue – with 200Mbps throughput and up to 12TB archiving), the A-Series (up to 128 cameras – 64 IP and 64 analogue – with 550Mbps throughput and up to 48TB archiving) and the top-of-the-range Z-Series (up to 192 cameras – 128 IP and 64 analogue – with 1,200Mbps throughput and up to 120TB archiving).

The LC-Series servers are pre-loaded with Exacqvision Start, while the others are pre-loaded with Exacqvision Professional.

Our test appliance was the EVIP-01, which is a part of the ELP-Series. Our unit was the IPS ELP version which is supplied without analogue inputs or alarm I/Os. It therefore supports up to 24 cameras; 4 licences are included, and others need to be added to account for any further camera count.

Throughput is 200Mbps. This means that each channel has an average of 8Mbps throughput. This might be a bit tight if HD cameras are used throughout the system. However, in applications where there is a mix of resolutions and frame rates it will be sufficient.

Output is via a Display port and DVI-I and DVI-D ports. The on-line specs for the ELP server state that it has an HDMI output, but this was not the case with our unit.

The operating system is Ubuntu Linux, which is installed on a solid state drive. Like the Wavestore appliance, the benefits of Linux make sense on an appliance. The OS is more robust and reliable than Windows, is stable, and in the event of a crash, the whole system typically won’t go down.

Linux applications are also less likely to suffer from cyber attacks and the more streamlined architecture does result in faster and smoother operations.

If Linux isn’t something you (or your customer) wants to consider, the software variants are available for Windows servers.

As mentioned, the IPS ELP server comes with 4 licences as standard. Increasing the number requires the server MAC address.

When a new licence is issued, you will receive a .key file. This should be imported into Exacqvision. For some reason, our software rejected attempts to load the file, stating that the file name (which is simply the machine’s MAC address) contained unauthorised characters. Instead we simply typed in the licence code, and this was accepted.

At first glance, the GUI is very reminiscent of an NVR. This is obviously intentional, and will suit installers and integrators moving into VMS-based systems for the first time. However, in comparison to some of the other interfaces out there is does feel a little simplistic. In truth, in previous tests of the Exacqvision VMS, the software was more akin to a transitional system than a fully-blown VMS.

That said, it does have a clean feel and the screen are laid out in such a way as to make navigation fairly intuitive. The main screen defaults to four camera windows (2 x 2), with a device tree for cameras on the left-hand side. This can be set as cameras, groups, maps or views.

Across the top of the screen are selectors for live view, search and configuration menus. There are also display grid selectors plus a number of operator function buttons.

Selecting the configuration screen brings up a list of set-up options. These include a set of first-level menus, which are applicable to the overall system. These cover systems (for multi-server applications), clients, event monitoring, groups, maps, views, layouts and tours. The servers are then listed, and settings at this second level are specific to any given server.

This server-specific set of menus includes system, add cameras, audio, storage, serial ports, notifications, auto export, event linking, schedules, archiving and user management.

We did find that whilst navigating the relevant menus was simple, a few times the changes didn’t seem to be accepted. For example, changing the IP addresses for the NICs to suit the camera network was simple enough to carry out. When the changes were applied the various buttons greyed out, and nothing else happened. We therefore assumed that the change was complete. However, on checking that this was the case we discovered the settings had reverted to the previous configuration. It was only when we tried to re-enter them for the second time that they appeared as changed.

Setting the correct time and date also required two attempts. We did wonder whether this was because following the logical order of the menu the correct date and time is set before disabling use of a NTP server (which is active by default). However, as all changes are applied simultaneously this didn’t really explain the issue.

The next stage was to add cameras. There is a choice to scan the network to identify compatible devices. We did this several times and nothing was found. The server was linked with a mix of cameras from supported manufacturers. Some had default log-ins, while others had customised ones. This is something VMS software should be able to cope with, as many camera manufacturers now force installers to change default passwords for devices after the first log-in.

After spending some time rechecking configurations, we tried to manually add a camera. This included adding the manufacturer, IP address and log-in details, which in the first case were the default ones. The camera was immediately added, and its model details were correctly assigned.

Another attempt to scan the network showed no further devices. It appeared that we would have to add all cameras individually, but one final attempt to scan the network saw the cameras finally discovered. Interestingly, they were identified as generic ONVIF devices, and not as the specific devices despite being supported.

The discovered cameras were then added to the system. However, there was something of a sense of deja-vu when we switched to the live view to discover that the new cameras weren’t listed. A check back showed that their status was ‘connecting’.

After around 10 minutes waiting for the connection to occur, we decided the only option was to reboot the software. We did search through the menus to see if there was an option to restart the server process, but didn’t find one. The server is supplied with a very brief quickstart guide, and the manual is then accessed via a Help feature in the software. This didn’t mention any need to restart services. Our only option was a full restart. This requires disconnection, powering down and a full system reboot. This led to the discovered cameras eventually appearing.

It did seem as if changes to the software were not being applied immediately, and this obviously creates frustration when configuring the system. It’s hard to know whether certain changes have or have not been carried out, and in a product sector where an intuitive interface is key (and offered by many manufacturers), it is important these types of issues are addressed.

Software is becoming an increasingly important element of modern security solutions, and the industry will not be able to go through the same period of adjustment that the IT sector previously enjoyed. Security manufacturers have to take on-board the lessons from commercial software vendors.

Once the basic configurations are completed and devices are added, you can move on to the more advanced functionality.

Event handling is one of the areas where VMS options excel, and Exacqvision handles this via its Event Linking function. This is admittedly more basic than some of the Boolean logic based options out there, and allows an event (video motion, analytics, stream loss, input trigger, scheduled event or status alert) to trigger a pre-defined action (record video or audio, send a notification, move device to a PTZ pre-set or switch an output). A target for the action can also be set, thereby allowing a handover between elements of the system if required.

When considering the configuration issues, it is worth remembering that the Exacqvision VMS does have a very intuitive feel, and the ability to tweak certain settings is well implemented. When the application of changes did work first time, it was actually a good user experience. However, the number of times things needed to be done twice was too high to ignore. That said, these will mostly impact on the installer or integrator. The end user experience is far more positive.

The live view and search/replay windows might not win a design award, but they retain a simplicity that is associated by many with video surveillance systems. They may be slightly utilitarian, but you know what you’re doing and that delivers an intuitive feel.

The display screens are flexible and will suit the needs of most mainstream applications. Cameras are simply dragged and dropped into the panes. Drop-down menus at the top of the live view screen allow customisation of the layout, and individual layouts can be saved.

Simplicity pretty much defines the GUI during system operation. Operators can access system functionality with ease, replay and search mechanisms work well and deliver a good degree of flexibility, and interaction with users addresses most everyday needs. Search includes a smart option.

Managing events is also simple, and the ability to adjust or add event/action relationships will be straightforward for any end user with a modicum of sense!

Exacqvision is a VMS best suited to the mainstream market, and its NVR-like interface and hybrid options will suit systems which are migrating to a networked platform.

There will be applications that will find all the flexibility and functionality they require in the VMS, and the GUI was felt to be intuitive by our sample of end users.

However, the temperamental behaviour when applying settings was exhibited by our unit on a number of occasions. Once this is addressed, we’ll reconsider the position, but currently when compared to the competition it misses out on being recommended.

BENCHMARK VERDICT

Wavestore: Wavestore VMS V6

recommendedFor some installers and integrators, the Wavestore brand has a perception of being complex, overly technical and only suited to the largest of applications. Interestingly, this isn’t the case at all. If you consider the range of available VMS solutions – whether embedded appliances or software-only variants – then Wavestore VMS has one of the most installer-friendly set-ups.

The user GUI is clean, well designed and very intuitive. The manufacturer claims it is the ‘operator’s favourite GUI’, and whilst we wouldn’t endorse that, and remembering that such claims are subjective, the feedback from our sample of end users was very positive.

In terms of performance, V6 works well and is consistently stable. It might lack some of the more specialised features of some other VMS packages, such as full control over Boolean operators in the rules engine and advanced search functionality, but it does what it does well. For installers and integrators seeking a solid platform from which to build bespoke integrated solutions, it has to be recommended.

Tyco Security Products: Exacq EVIP-01

Our past impressions of the Exacqvision range have been mixed. The software always had a simplicity to it which delivered ease of configuration and use, but the depth of functionality was slightly behind that of the competition. This was often described as an intentional move to focus more on the features that installers and integrators would be deploying in most applications.

This was a first look at the VMS package since the company was acquired by Tyco Security Products. It has evolved since we last looked at it, as has the competition, and the software still sits in the mainstream space. It delivers video management for the mass market. Those seeking to deploy specialist applications or bespoke systems will most likely find better alternatives with some of the more flexible solutions.

With regards to the GUI, it is basic and simple, and that fits with the intention of delivering a smoother and more intuitive experience. Whilst that comes across for the operator, the experience for the installer or integrator is impacted by the temperamental issues we experienced during initial configuration. If these are addressed by Tyco Security Products, we’ll let you know.

BENCHMARK
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