Home System Design How complex is VMS configuration?

How complex is VMS configuration?

by Benchmark

One issue with the implementation of a VMS-based system is the complexity of configuration. The issue isn’t that the process is complex, but that there is a perception of complexity. This isn’t helped by the fact that a number of VMS providers seem to believe that their products are beyond the capabilities of the majority! Benchmark considers the issue, backed up by hands-on experience.  

If you briefly lifted the lid of the security industry and took a random snapshot, it might be easy to consider that the systems sector is filled with backwards-facing luddites with a penchant for the cheap and disposable. Whilst we know that’s not the full story in any shape or form, we must accept that it is possible to form such a view. After all, we’ve all been in a position where we look at some of the things that certain businesses in the industry do and wonder why they seem intent on making stupid into an art form.

As with any industry, it’s a huge danger to judge everyone by the lowest common denominator, and a significant chunk of the systems industry is designing, installing and maintaining innovative and beneficial systems. These typically will exploit the highest levels of performance and flexibility the new technologies have to offer.

There will always be those who compete purely on price, the so-called engineers who believe that devices should always be left on default settings, the handful who strive to deliver the bare minimum from a system and who think that end users all want something for nothing.

However, there are equally many who have realised that users will pay for benefical systems, who understand that adding value makes sense and who see the wisdom in delivering a bespoke solution to meet specific needs.

If you want to differentiate your business, the latter approach is the sensible one. Interestingly, those who adopt the latter approach are inevitably more open to new ideas and approaches. This is because they’ve worked hard to deliver added value with established technologies, and therefore recognise the benefits that can be realised with more flexible solutions. They also appreciate that the investment made in adapting skills and processes will pay dividends in the future.

Despite all of this, there are still a number of forward-thinking installers and integrators who are reluctant to embrace VMS software-based solutions, despite all of it added value and inherent flexibility. There are various reasons for this, but through numerous conversations with installers and integrators Benchmark has identified three core issues which crop up regularly.

Confusion reigns
The first issue is a degree of confusion over the actual functionality offered by VMS packages. In truth, one VMS offering can be very different to another – such is the joy of software – and whilst security hardware manufacturers are used to listing features and functions, VMS providers tend to promote their products with more of a ‘blue sky thinking’ approach. You’ll find a lot of talk about threat correlation and situational awareness, but you have to dig deep to discover exactly what the solution will and will not do.

This is a shortcoming of many VMS suppliers who do not have a background in the security sector. What impresses them – as IT people – is not what impresses installers and integrators. This is a great shame, because the good VMS offerings do have much that impresses!

Most professional VMS solutions offer a high degree of flexibility, coupled with a depth of functionality, which hardware-based systems simply cannot match.

Options with regard to search and replay are diverse, and often alarm handling and event management are significantly more advanced. The inclusion of logical actions, such as AND/OR parameters, mean that alarm and response scenarios can be quickly created. Often these would be very difficult to achieve, or even impossible, with hardware-based options.

It could be argued that because many VMS suppliers do not have a significant history in the market, they fail to grasp just how relevant the potential on offer from their systems is to installers and integrators.

The second issue often raised by installers and integrators is one of licensing fees. In an industry that never has had licensing before, the idea of paying a fee to connect a device or access functionality is alien. However, what you receive for those fees isn’t always made clear by the VMS providers.

VMS companies are constantly providing new and updated drivers, meaning that often when a new camera or codec is launched, it can be supported immediately. This is because manufacturers will work with VMS companies prior to launch. If a system is hardware-based, it is often the case that new devices and even new technologies cannot be supported by legacy machines.

Licence fees create a transaction where a degree of liability falls onto the provider. If you pay for a feature or function, there will be no issues with getting it to work! If there are, the VMS company will have to sort it out.
The largest hurdle?

The final issue, and some will argue the largest one, is the perceived complexity of VMS solutions. During this year’s IFSEC, Benchmark talked to one of the leading VMS providers, and we were surprised when they commented on the complexity of some features in their VMS products.

It is small wonder that many think a VMS will be complex, when the suppliers state that it is! However, in recent years Benchmark has probably handled all of the major VMS options, and interestingly the only issues we’ve had with installing and configuring them have been created by the issue of incorrect licences from the manufacturers!

Software installation modules are typically very good, and if there’s an IT issue the wizards will usually identify it. The creation of a database will be automatically handled, and even if it’s not the standard Microsoft SQL installer is robust and reliable.

For many installers and integrators, the GUI for most VMS systems will be intuitive. There may be a few terms used that differ between a VMS and an NVR, but it’s nothing that will confuse. If you’ve ever configured a low end imported NVR with badly translated manuals and menus, then working with most VMS systems will be a joy.

Many of the allegedly more complex tasks are handled via a combination of drop-down menus and tick boxes.

What might appear complex to someone who has never configured a security system is the sheer depth of options and various event handlers. We’ve come across a few network-based people who find that bewildering. However, for installers and integrators, the inherent flexibility is what makes the typical good quality VMS such an impressive and easy-to-use tool.

Another reason that some might think a VMS will be complex is that some suppliers insist on training for certain products. This isn’t a bad thing; it helps to better understand the full functionality on offer. That said, as an experiment Benchmark recently asked an installer with no previous experience of VMS systems to install and configure one of the high end VMS packages. He might have been a bit slower than a trained engineer, but he managed it without any problems!

A final word on training: some companies will charge for their courses, but often the fee includes a number of licences. As a result, it might not be as costly as you think.

There will always be some people who find a VMS to be overly complex. Having said that, there are so-called installers out there that still make a mess of terminating coax or configuring a camera. Think about some of the legacy systems you’ve had to put right!

VMS systems are not infallible. We’ve had issues where a VMS simply refuses to work and eventually the cause has been traced to an incorrect licence. The same can be said of hardware, and we’ve had plenty of sleepless nights over boxes that simply won’t behave.

It could be argued that if a certain VMS is complex and difficult to work with, then it has been badly designed. As with any software package or hardware device, ease of use is an issue for manufacturers, and often product complexity occurs because the manufacturer can’t or won’t do the job properly.

In summary
VMS packages do offer a depth of functionality and advanced features, and to installers who like to plug a box in, switch it on and walk away, the VMS is always going to be too much like hard work.

However, if an installer or integrator wants to create advanced bespoke solutions, deliver benefits and value to the customer, and differentiate their company as forward-thinking, then a VMS is the best tool.

Are they complex? For the right installer and integrator, the answer is no!

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