CCTV Test: VMS and Event Handling

It is interesting that when you view the promotional materials for advanced VMS solutions, often the highlighted features have more to do with the infrastructure being utilised than with everyday security performance. Whilst many VMS solutions feature highly flexible and efficient event-handling capabilities, these aren’t always at the top of the list of benefits despite being an important element for installers and integrators. Benchmark looked at the leading packages to consider what they offer.

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W

hilst it is true that the mainstream video surveillance market in the UK is hardware-based when it comes to recording and system management, the reality is that the case for software-based open platform VMS is becoming ever more compelling. For those that move to a VMS solution, often the driving force for the initial change is the ease with which a range of third party devices can be implemented. Many VMS packages support hundreds of devices from professional manufacturers, with the market-leaders boasting thousands of supported products.

Many hardware-based NVR and management systems have limitations with regards to compatibility. You often find that they will support the manufacturer’s own cameras and codecs, along with a few models from partner companies. If you want to add anything else, then you are left in the minefield that is ONVIF compatibility!

Not only will a VMS offer a vast array of supported third party models, but because the drivers have been created specifically for the individual devices, typically all functionality will be supported. This rarely happens with a common protocol approach such as ONVIF.

The ability to bring together seemingly disparate elements with ease allows installers and integrators to select devices which best fit the needs of the site, and often legacy system elements can also be retained, ensuring that the resulting system is cost-effective.

While this level of interoperability will often be the initial reason for considering a VMS, those that make the step to software platforms for video management often find that the functionality and flexibility on offer is far in excess of what is available from most hardware solutions. Additionally, they usually discover that the feature-set is also significantly greater than anticipated when the VMS solution was first considered!

One area where VMS solutions excel is with regard to event handling. The reason for this is simple.

Software-based solutions have the ability to exploit the full functionality of supported products, and this allows the creation of alarm and event management rules based upon both physical and logical triggers. These can be used in combination to create scenarios, or to apply filters resulting in differing actions dependent upon a wide range of criteria. Events can even be prioritised to create conditions which then affect other configured event actions.

When considering the functionality on offer from the VMS solutions in this test, ratings apply solely to the configuration of events, alarms, actions and rules. Other functionality – which is often diverse – was not considered unless it impacted on alarm and event handling.

Basic information is given about the capabilities of the various VMS packages (see below under the heading ‘In a Nutshell’), as well as general installation information. This  is included to give an overall impression of where the tested variant of the VMS is targeted with regard to system needs.

Most packages are available with different degrees of functionality to allow installers and integrators to select (and purchase) only the features and functions which are required.

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IN A NUTSHELL
Avigilon ACC Enterprise (Avigilon Control Center) is the more advanced of the three levels of theAvigilon VMS. The software supports up to 128 cameras per server, up to 100 servers per site, and unlimited connections to servers can be handled simultaneously. Operation of the system is carried out via Client software, and an unlimited number of workstations per server can run the Client. This makes virtually any a PC a potential control point.

ACC supports video streams using H.264, MPEG-4, M-JPEG and JPEG 2000 compression, and is compatible with specified devices from several leading manufacturers including (but not limited to) Axis, Bosch, Samsung, Panasonic, Mobotix, Sony and Pelco.

Other features include mapping, advanced search options, mobile connectivity, virtual matrix switching, POS and ANPR integration, audio handling and more.

Milestone XProtect Corporate is the company’s top-end VMS. It is best to consider it as a unlimited solution. It supports an unlimited number of cameras per server (obviously this is theoretical, as server capabilities will ultimately dictate how many devices can be supported without an impact on overall performance), an unlimited number of severs, and an unlimited number of users. The video client for system control is free, and so offers freedom with regard to system management. Mobile connectivity is also supported.

XProtect Corporate supports a wide range of video formats including H.264, MPEG-4, M-JPEG and MxPEG. The solution is compatible with devices from over 100 manufacturers, including the vast majority of the manufacturers of professional surveillance equipment. The XProtect software has also been used for integrations with other systems to offer bespoke solutions, and so offers enhanced interoperability.

Features include support for failover servers, scheduled archiving, interactive mapping, support and management of edge storage devices, as well as integration with system elements including analytics, ANPR and video wall management.

Mirasys VMS Enterprise is capable of supporting up to 6,400 cameras along with up to 100 recorders. Ten users per single system can be supported, and three user levels allow permissions to be controlled.

Recording capabilities allow for up to one year of storage, dependent upon HDD capacity, and video streams can be managed in H.264, MPEG-4 and M-JPEG formats. Audio is optional. Mirasys supports third party devices from a number of manufacturers including Axis, Bosch, Mobotix, Panasonic, Pelco, Samsung and Sony.

Other features include adaptive motion detection, scheduled archiving, advanced search options, mapping and customisable layouts. VCA and ANPR can be added via the Carbon range of products.

Seetec Cayuga Infinity is Seetec’s unlimited variant of its newest generation VMS. Of course, much depends upon the hardware being used. Typically a 32-bit installation can support up to 80 devices, and a 64-bit up to 250 devices, per server. A maximum of 250 servers can be supported.

Cayuga supports a wide range of third party devices, including – but not limited to – products from Axis, Bosch, Dallmeier, Mobotix, Panasonic, Samsung, Pelco, Hikvision and Sony.

Other features include a ‘redundancy concept’ which means the system remains operational if a server fails. An analytics interface allows simple integration of third party VCA packages. Modular options packs are also available.

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Avigilon – ACC Enterprise
Once ACC is installed – the process is simple, with each element using a relatively swift installation wizard – and configured, the process of managing events requires the initial creation of designated alarms. These can be generated via a variety of triggers.

Access to the Alarms screen is via the ACC Client, and the first task is to create alarm events. Each alarm has a designated source: motion detection, input activation, ANPR or POS exception, camera error, system error or an event triggered by third party integrated software. Once the type of alarm is selected, the device from which it will be generated is then identified. It’s a simple matter of ticking a checkbox in the list of site devices.

The next stage is to identify devices which will be linked to the alarm; this can include the device generating the alarm, but it doesn’t have to. The screen also allows the configuration of pre-alarm (up to 10 seconds) and post-alarm (up to 60 minutes) recording durations for the linked devices, as well as identifying video sources to be streamed when an alarm occurs. If required, multiple video sources can be linked to an alarm event.

The system also allows users, or user groups, who need to receive alarm notifications to be identified. For example, this allows security personnel to receive information about motion alarms while maintenance staff receive notifications about system errors. If camera errors include sabotage attempts, both groups (or defined individuals within those groups) could receive the notifications. The depth of flexibility allows a high degree of customisation.

Where a defined workflow for operators is desired, the system can require a comment to be entered when dealing with an alarm. Additionally, the system can be set to trigger an output when an alarm is acknowledged; this can be automated, or can require operator intervention.

Alarm events can be allocated a priority level to simplify workflow, and alarms can be set or unset by schedule if required.

The system can generate a local alert to ensure operators are aware of incidents, and email notifications can also be generated. These can include images from any linked devices. Emails can be transmitted due to specific alarms, or for more generic events such as POS exceptions, motion alerts, input activations, etc.. When configuring the latter, all events form all devices can be selected, or specific devices within the site can be selected. This allows certain events to only be notified to specific recipients if necessary.

Effectively, this approach enables a layered approach to be adopted, with notifications being used to good effect, even on very busy and complex sites.

Once the alarms have been created, you end up with a series of independent incident/action relationships. How these interact is then managed by the Rules engine, which is where the true flexibility of event handling in ACC becomes obvious.

The Rules configuration allows a huge range of events to be linked with multiple actions, to deliver response options covering everything from basic system management tasks right through to handling complex security-related incidents.

Events can be based upon server, device, user or alarm triggers, as well as POS or ANPR transactions. Anything from a detected alarm incident through to a lost system connection can be managed, and multiple-action responses are easy to create. In the screengrab to the left, numerous actions can be prescribed, and each link allows the configuration of an action to be defined in greater detail.

Rules can include manually activated actions as well as automated ones, and even a short time working through the possibilities underlines how the potential available is far superior to even the most flexible hardware offerings.
Implementation of even the most complex rules is a very simple task. The structure is intuitive, and whilst ease of use sometimes indicates a ‘dumbing down’ of functionality, you can still create robust and resilient event handling scenarios.

Milestone – XProtect Corporate
During the XProtect Corporate installation process you have time to do a little light reading, which will prepare you for the set-up. The installation process is slightly slow, but everything is automatic so there’s no required interaction.

Control of the system is via the Smart Client, but set-up is carried out via the Management Client.
The process for adding hardware to the Recording Server identifies any inputs and outputs on units, and these can be enabled and set into input and output groups.

Once the hardware has been connected, with configurations completed, the Alarm Definitions can be created. These are generated by the integrator or installer, and an unlimited number can be established.

Each Alarm Definition has a designated event type: analytics, device, external, hardware, recording server or system. Once the type of event has been established from a drop-down menu, a secondary menu is activated to allow the specific event to be selected.

The device with which the Alarm Definition is linked is then identified. The alarm can also be given an activation time by schedule, or can be controlled via other events. This allows some alarms to only be active when certain system status conditions exist, which gives added flexibility.

The range of specific events covers just about everything that the attached devices of systems can report. For example, device events cover everything from equipment status (connectivity, power, temperature, etc.) through to security alerts based upon analytics, detection and input triggering.

Virtually every aspect of system performance can also create alerts, whether due to devices being disconnected or the database becoming full. Effectively, if it can be monitored, either by XProtect or the attached device, it can be included in an alarm description.

There is also the ability to create an element of workflow management, including setting a response time for an operator to address an alarm, specifying actions, setting a priority level for alarms, calling up site maps, etc..

When it comes to managing alarms, the possible actions are also diverse. Whilst a wide range of notifications can be established, not only across the local site but also to remote sites or personnel, there is also the option to trigger events.

However, XProtect Corporate’s real event handling power lies within its Rules settings. When Benchmark first carried out a full test of XProtect Corporate, it was the capabilities of the Rules options which really stood out, and were identified by the Test Team as the best feature of the VMS. This even raised a few eyebrows with some people at Milestone, and whilst today there is a better understanding of how this aspect can help installers and integrators create more effective solutions, we think that the feature still isn’t given enough recognition in the company’s literature or marketing materials.

Rules can be as complicated or as basic as you need. The first step is to decide whether you want to perform an action in response to an event, or as a timed action. The latter can be within or outside of a defined time window, within set start and finish times, on a certain day, or always. This could allow, for example, record rates to increased on Saturday nights if a site is more vulnerable at that time, or recordings to be archived during periods of network inactivity, or for certain PTZ patrols to be initiated during times when cash collections are made! It is the ability to add layers of actions and interactions which makes this more powerful than simply scheduling changes.

However, the depth of options available from Rules come into their own when a response is required to a defined event.

Once the type of rule is decided, the next stage is to identify the specific event and the device from which the event will be generated. Multiple devices can be selected if required.

The next step of the configuration allows conditions to be set for the event. These include whether the event occurs inside or outside of time windows, between defined start and end times, on certain days, or where motion is involved the motion window which has generated the event can be specified.

Once this is finished the event has been defined, so the Rules engine moves on to Actions. This is where one or multiple actions can be created and clearly defined, and as such this element does give a very wide range of choices.

These include defining recording and live stream parameters, controlling telemetry, switching relays, creating logs or bookmarks, activating devices or software, etc.. Each action can also have more specific elements defined if required.

Finally, Stop criteria can be defined, allowing actions to be set after an event has finished. These can include returning any adjusted parameters to normal settings.

One interesting exercise was to think up some challenging actions to follow events, and see of the Rules engine would allow it. Whilst keeping things reasonable, we couldn’t find a scenario that XProtect Corporate wouldn’t be able to address. Admittedly some required a workaround, but all were achievable.

Working with alarms and rules was simple, and allowed an additional layer of security to be added swiftly, and with ease.

Mirasys – VMS Enterprise
Once VMS Enterprise is installed – the task is relatively straightforward – and configured, the process of creating alarms and events can begin. This is done via the Recording Server menus. Alarms are managed at the Alarms screen, but there is also an option to work with alarms via Profiles. This obviously allows the creation and management of events by Profile, if that approach suits a site’s needs.

Access to the Alarms screen is via the System Manager element of the VMS. The client is called Spotter.
The latter has a more modern look and feel, while the System Manager element is more utilitarian. Whilst this isn’t a problem, it does give the impression that you’re working with a less polished product than some of the other VMS choices. The interface isn’t as intuitive as the higher ranking solutions in this test.

Each alarm is given a name, description and priority, and allocated to a Profile. It can also be designated as active until acknowledged. Once this is done, the trigger is identified. This can be a video or audio event, an input or a text string. The next stage is to select an action; multiple choices can be chosen. These include video recording with pre- and post-alarm footage of up to 60 minutes each, audio recording, display of video streams or moving a PTZ unit to a preset position, activating a motion mask, triggering an output, email notifications, etc.. The alarms can also be given active and inactive schedules.

The VMS Enterprise structure is more suited to alarm handling than event management, and takes an ‘alarm/reaction’ approach. As such it is closer to the surveillance-specific NVR-type experience, albeit one with additional scalability and more open support for third party devices.

When handling alarms, the specific way in which information is delivered, and the steps that an operator may or may not take, are established via the Profiles. Each user can have up to five associated Profiles, which delivers an additional layer of flexibility.

For example, the System Administrator can decide whether pop-up alarms are initiated, whether a user can acknowledge alarms, etc..

Alarm events are shown in a list with a graphic identification of the priority. These can be clicked to deliver footage and further information about the event, and the at which the footage starts – alarm trigger, during pre-record or in real-time – can also be specified.

The system can generate a visual alert and a pop-up if required to ensure operators are aware of incidents. Email notifications can also be generated.

Implementation of alarms is simple, and the Spotter interface allows a good degree of control for operators, dependent upon the permissions given via their Profile settings.

For many applications, the Mirasys solution will be sufficient in regards of alarm handling. However, it lacks the depth of flexibility that some of the other solutions deliver.

SeeTec – Cayuga Infinity
The Cayuga Infinity installation process was relatively straightforward, but once installed logging in was a bit frustrating. See the box entitled ‘Installation Issues’ for more information about that!

Configuration of the system, and of the alarm and event handling procedures, is carried out via the Client. At first glance, this seems both familiar and basic. It’s not in any way complicated, and does give the impression that the package might be a bit light on functionality … but that’s not the case!

Adding hardware is a very simple task, and also allows inputs and outputs on the devices to be identified for use. In fact, there is a quite a comprehensive level of control for each specific device.

When it comes to establishing alarm events there are two choices: you can either use the Alarm Wizard, or the set-up can be manual.

You can use the Wizard for basic configuration, and then edit it using the manual mode, which allows access to the Expert Mode. This delivers a greater depth of flexibility with regard to configuring events.

Each Alarm is given a name, description and priority, which affects how it is responded to. You can also identify colours for certain alarm types to make them stand out in an alarm listing, and schedule when they’re active.
The next step is to identify a trigger event. You can either select one event, or link a number of events together.

These must occur within a certain time window for an alarm to be generated. For example, you could specify an alarm only to be generated if an input activation from Camera 1 is followed by a VMD activation on Camera 2 within 60 seconds. Additional triggers can be added, allowing fairly complex scenarios to be created. It is also possible to specify events, or a time period, which cause events to end.

Alarm details, such as how video is displayed and recorded, can also be configured, along with details about who is informed of events, and how they receive the information, such as by email or FTP transfer. A system alert can also be specified.

There is an option to create system events on the start and finish of an alarm event, if required.

When alarms occur, there is a visual identification in the Surveillance window, and alarm information is shown in the alarm list. The operator can confirm alarms, reject them or defer them. All alarms and the subsequent actions, plus any added comments, can be viewed as a report. This can be filtered by time and date, or by specific event if required.

The Cayuga platform is compatible with automatic numberplate recognition systems and various IVA products. These can be added to the possible alarm events, as and when they are used.

When it comes to managing alarms, the Cayuga offers a depth of flexibility with regarding to specifying events, and allows superfluous or random incidents to be easily filtered out. In reality, its focus is more on what constitutes an alarm event than the resulting actions that can be generated. Because of this, it is more firmly targeting security uses, rather than potential Business Intelligence applications. However, SeeTec do offer add-ons which are designed to deliver Business Intelligence benefits.

Verdict
ACC Enterprise leans more towards offering an advanced and flexible video solution, while XProtect Corporate offers much more beyond video and security management. Where they do have a similarity is in the way which they implement Rules, and both will deliver a high degree of flexibility for installers and integrators. Alarm handling is far more efficient than you’d believe from the way the systems are sold – indeed, we still believe that it is the major reason for selecting a VMS solution over a hardware-based system.

VMS Enterprise tends to stick to the more traditional approach, and as such it feels like a hardware solution, albeit without the hardware! It is unlikely to appeal to those seeking functionality which extends beyond video and security management. Cayuga Infinity also places emphasis on the ‘alarm/reaction’ model, although it does offer a decent level of flexibility with regard to how alarms are generated, and this allows some broader aspects of video management to be added to an application.

Overall, the VMS packages do differ, but this highlights the need to ascertain what you need from a system before specifying a product. VMS is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution!

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INSTALLATION ISSUES
ACC Enterprise
is made up of a number of software elements, all of which have dedicated installation wizards. One global installation wizard might be better, but the process is straightforward, and unless you do something odd you’re not going to have any issues. Indeed, we had our system up and running in a very short time, and only needed the manual when it came to configuring some of the more complex parts of the system management.

The only anomaly we found was with the auto-discovery of cameras. This worked, but identified anything we connected as an ONVIF device. It then refused to connect to the cameras, claiming that the passwords were incorrect, which they were not. By searching for the specific models using their IP addresses, the devices were correctly identified, and the previously rejected passwords were accepted. It’s a small point, but one to be aware of!

XProtect Corporate was, in the past, a slightly disjointed installation, but the latest version has seen Milestone create a simple global installation wizard which makes the process painless. If the server you’re installing the VMS to isn’t running .NET 4.0, the wizard will prompt you to download and install it before the XProtect process will run. It’s a Microsoft element and finding the required copy is simple. Once that’s covered the rest of the installation is straightforward, albeit slow. Make sure you’re ready to put the kettle on!

If anything does go wrong – we had a port which IIS uses being held by another program – the nature of the issue is clearly identified. Thankfully we didn’t have to stop the full installation. It waited while we sorted the problem before resuming.

Most of the processes in the configuration have in-program help screens, and whilst the XProtect GUI is straightforward, there are a few little quirks that it has which are worth reading up on before you get stuck in.

VMS Enterprise includes a number of software elements, and while there is an installation wizard, you do find that some of the elements require intervention. It’s not difficult in any way, but it could be more of a ‘click and run’ operation. There are also a number of manuals, and you find yourself jumping around a bit until you become familiar with the system.

Initial configuration is again straightforward, but we found ourselves referencing the manual more often than with the other systems. It’s not that the software is complex, but the interface does lack the intuitive natural progression that you get with the other systems!

Cayuga Infinity uses a simple installation wizard. If the server you are using lacks any of the required Microsoft elements, you will be prompted to install them. You also need to identify the address for communicating with the server. A word of caution is that the software offers ‘localhost’ as an option, and whilst that may seem obvious if it’s a single server application, you can’t use it. The server’s IP address is what you need!

Once our system was up and running it continually rejected the default username and password as incorrect. We were about to call SeeTec and shout at them, when the software decided that the username and password were actually correct. Painstakingly typing it more than a couple of dozen times means we know it wasn’t incorrectly entered!

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