Lars Thinggaard – Milestone Systems

It can be claimed that the adoption of networked video – and indeed IP-based total security solutions – has been slowed by confusion over interface protocols, configuration issues and the accessibility of features and functions relating to the full range of benefits on offer from the technologies. Can VMS software packages offer the solution? The Devil’s Advocate discussed all things VMS with Lars Thinggaard, President and CEO of Milestone Systems.

The Devil’s Advocate: Someone who, given a certain argument, takes a contrary position – not necessarily agreed with – for the sake of debate. The Devil’s Advocate seeks to engage others in a discussion designed to test the quality of their argument. Participants in The Devil’s Advocate have no prior knowledge of the questions to be asked or topics debated, and cannot not alter, abridge or approve the final editorial content!

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MS has been around for many years, but do most installers and integrators really understand and appreciate the potential that these systems offer? Many will say that they do; however, this raises the question why – if that is the case – the software packages aren’t more widely employed!

Once those designing and installing solutions switch to a VMS platform, they rarely go back to hardware, and that fact alone speaks volumes. Might it be the case that those offering the VMS solutions are slightly out of step with the needs of the surveillance industry?

With a depth of flexibility, features and ease of use, VMS is a powerful tool which can benefit installers and integrators.

Given the obvious benefits on offer, why has the transition to VMS been so slow?
When I started with Milestone, we looked at the market and though that it would ‘flip’ very quickly. Then we became aware of resistance in the analogue world. This was between 2000 and 2005. Since then we have seen growth along the lines that analysts predicted.

I wouldn’t say that it’s slow, but it’s not as fast as I thought it would be.

Is part of the problem that hardware systems are considered more reliable?
No, absolutely not, because hardware itself doesn’t do anything. You need software to make it run. The average life of a HDD in a DVR it’s 3.4 years. With a best-of-breed solution using VMS software and carefully selected hardware, you get a longer life.

If VMS is superior, why is there resistance?
I see it as the lifecycle of video surveillance, with four separate generations. Generation 1 was video surveillance using VHS VCRs and analogue cameras. This gave way to Generation 2, which saw the introduction of the DVR, still with analogue cameras. Generation 3 is what I refer to as the hybrid NVR market, and you’ll have seen this growing in recent years. Generation 4 separates the hardware from the software, and this is where VMS-based systems are.

Between Generation 3 and Generation 4 there is a relatively steep fence. The first three generations have created security engineers who have, over nearly 40 years, become very accustomed to selling boxes. To help them cross the fence, to use Generation 4 systems, is a big challenge.

We see the IT channel moving into this Generation 4 space too. They are an easier fit because you don’t have to explain to them about IP addresses, subnets, load balancing or the concept of picking and choosing best-of-breed software and hardware.

The real question is how we get those who are working in the Generation 3 space over to Generation 4 systems.
Support and training is a pivotal part of our strategy, to a point where we’ve acquired our own training company.
Training and certification is, for the industry as a whole, a big obligation. We’ve made an investment in training, and our message is, ‘Don’t be afraid; this is the way that the industry will move, so you might as well learn it sooner rather than later.’

It’s not that difficult once you get a grasp of it. Yes, it’s software and hardware and you have to combine it yourself, but it gives you all the flexibility and has many compelling reasons to specify it.

Some claim that analogue technology will always have a market; do you agree?
I don’t believe that. I don’t think there will be a place for analogue technology for eternity! The manufacturers will come to the conclusion – at some point – that it is too expensive to continue. Also, I cannot see why the customers would want to invest in analogue cameras in ten years from now. I can’t see why they would do that.

Maybe analogue technology has been sustained because VMS manufacturers don’t do a good job of selling what they can deliver!

Maybe it is part of the problem for those who are looking to move to VMS from more traditional hardware-based systems. Maybe they’re not seeing the beauty of a VMS solution.

There is a big opportunity in upgrading security installers and integrators, and we’re interested in that. We need to help those people who are struggling to make the transition across that divide between hardware and software solutions to embrace the benefits of a VMS.

Are VMS suppliers more interested in adding functions because they can ‘do’ something, rather than listening the industry demands?
I think we’ve made a point of being intimate with our customers, and listening to what they want. However, if you look at some of the new technologies with regards to, say, analytics, that might be the case.
People are trying to break new ground, and some of what they’re doing might not be commercially viable, but it is technologically viable.

We concentrate on the core interoperability. Because we focus on integration, you can add the analytics from any provider if you need to. If other manufacturers want to invest in creating analytics, we can integrate with them if customers want to use them.

The industry has had the promise of analytic advances for ten years; are any of them commercially successful? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

There are some companies that have invested millions of dollars in R&D, and have taken out many patents. They’ve ended up going bankrupt and have resorted to touting around the portfolio of technologies to see if anyone will buy them.

Is the industry trying to be too clever?
No, I don’t think so. Cutting edge technology – even up to bleeding-edge – is fine, because this is what makes the difference. The industry has to take a chance and innovate, to create commercially successful solutions. If it doesn’t happen, you don’t have a long term sustainable industry. If that isn’t possible, then the technologies disappear.

If you take analytics as an example, if what you have is not up to a functional level now, then millions of dollars have been wasted.

Look at ObjectVideo. After the last round of funding it got rid of R&D personnel and hired attorneys to sue the industry. That is sad! I hate patents!

I am a technologist, and I think we do need to try and break new ground. It might take us beyond what is smart sometimes, but we lose some and we win some.

Is the industry detached from the demands of end users?
Do we actually know what they want? It’s not a yes/no answer. We probably don’t know the requirements of every sector, but with some, like retail, we’ve been there long enough to analyse and understand what they want to achieve with their systems.

Is there an issue that VMS providers present their products as too focused on larger projects, making them seem to be unrealistic for many real-world applications?
You could argue that, but it gets very complex very quickly for some people, and maybe we’re just a few years ahead of what the mainstream market actually wants. This is because they are so bound to the markets that they come from, and as a result they don’t always see the benefits with advanced technologies.

Maybe it is too advanced, communications wise, for those still using Generation 2 and 3 systems.

I don’t believe that. Isn’t it more a case that VMS providers have a mentality where larger sites are considered higher risk, while smaller sites are seen as lower risk?

No, that’s not how we segment the market. I have the highest respect for the installers and integrators fitting Generation 2 and 3 systems. They know what they’re doing, at their respective levels.

We started out with the Corporate product, and were dragged into the high end market, meaning lots of cameras. This is despite our origins being in the SME market. Our emphasis on the Corporate market meant we weren’t serving the SME sector as best we could, which was silly.

The DVR- and NVR-based market was offering a wide range of 16 channel security appliances, so it made sense to also serve this market, as our other products are well suited to that sector. At the lower end we adopted an ‘ease-of-use’ mantra, because that is important. This gives a migration path for those still installing Generation 2 and 3 products, and they can feel comfortable in how the solution works.

The strongest thing about your range is the Rules engine, which is only in the two higher end products. Why isn’t it included in all of your range?
Isn’t the inclusion of Rules counter-productive in that market sector? If we were to apply the Rules engine down through every product segment, it would just add complexity to something that should be basic.

Do you think the Rules engine is complex?
No; it’s simple, it’s basic.

With most NVRs or DVRs, you can only apply alarm/reaction scenarios. Rules delivers something that allows the installer or integrator to create logical and structured events in response to a variety of criteria. That USP is what sets VMS apart, and allows installers and integrators to add value, so why not include it?
This is interesting, because my mind is not there! There could be a case to create an appliance with Corporate, with the Rules engine, pre-loaded, with a limited number of channels, for instance to support 25 cameras.

I never thought that the Rules engine should be applied throughout the whole range of VMS products. I agree that it’s one of the best things we do.

There is a minor technical reason why it isn’t in all products, as there is a code split. We have a Corporate code base and an Enterprise code base. That’s a technical thing, but we can invest resources and resolve this.
If it opens up opportunities for those using Generation 2 and 3 systems, we should consider that.

Rules exceeds what most people expect from a VMS without compromising on core security principles. Should VMS manufacturers be more aware of industry needs?
If we were smart enough, we’d know about this before you told us! From an industry point of view, are the VMS vendors as a whole listening and taking care of the needs of mainstream installers and integrators? The answer is probably no; I won’t argue against that. I think we are doing a lot; could we do more? Probably!

Is VMS, as a concept, being sold well?
If you look at the growth, then the figures indicate it will continue to grow, and I don’t see it stopping where we are today with Generation 4 systems. There will be a Generation 5 and 6.

Todays 4th Generation systems use VMS, and I think that Generation 5 will see software as a service becoming dominant.

At this point in time, I think that we’re doing a good job with the promotion of the whole VMS concept, but I’m not saying that we couldn’t do better.

There are a lot of events based around VMS and new technologies, and while these work well, the problem is that we’re preaching to the converted. We need to focus on the security sector, and underline that we understand the issues they are trying solve.

One major benefit of VMS is the open platform approach. ONVIF was supposed to simplify overall connectivity. Do you think that it has failed?
No, but I don’t think that they’ve moved as fast as they claimed they would. The notion of having Bosch, Axis and Sony – fierce competitors – being able to agree to something such as a common protocol is a difficult thing to achieve! They have moved to a certain level, but is there something today that we can call a standard? No, there’s not. ONVIF compliance is often at a basic level.

We have been involved and helped with regard to ONVIF, but we can’t steer it because our legacy is open platform support with drivers. It something we have to do in order to support our customers.

We have been supportive of ONVIF, because we’d like to free up our resources to do other things. We have around 20 people doing nothing else but writing drivers and testing them.

I’m a believer in standards. Look at what happened with IP telephony. The standards evolved, but the process took ten years more than they anticipated!

The security industry is not good at standards, because there is no real reason to create them. Some see a lack of standards as protection from other vendors, so to have Sony, Bosch and Axis all in the same room is a good notion.

ONVIF not achieving its goals in a quicker time makes us more happy than less happy! It’s a terrible thing to say, but you understand why given the effort we’ve put into the open platform approach. That doesn’t mean that standards won’t evolve, or that we don’t believe in standards, but we won’t be the ones that push them over the line.

Do you think the licensing model is an issue with potential VMS customers?
No; I don’t think so. However, when you’re in a world where people are used to paying a one-off cost for an appliance which has everything included, it takes a change in thinking to conceptually appreciate the differences and the flexibility that an open platform delivers. As a software company, we essentially sell licences, and the costs are not prohibitive.

Do you think VMS companies should have explained licensing to installers and integrators in a better way?
Yes! We probably should. But I think with some of hardware and software packages – the appliances – that we offer, it is easier to understand what you are paying for.

I don’t think that the lack of a clear explanation of licensing holds people back, but it is another obstacle because they’re not used to it.

Having said that, licensing could be vital, because there is a big risk that ONVIF won’t ever fully achieve its goals. There were initially some people who were a great driving force, but many of them are now out of the loop, and I don’t know how well the board and committees are working. We haven’t sent anyone to a meeting for over a year, and we try to attend them all.

How important to the adoption of VMS is support from suppliers?
It is important to help installers and integrators, because they do understand stuff. They understand security, and they understand the basics of networking, but they need some support to make the change to VMS-based solutions, to cross that fence.

If it’s not training and certification that will help them, then it’s trust. We have to look at how to build that trust.

Is the practice of using existing business networks for security surveillance flawed?
It depends upon the application. Security has many degrees of criticality, and where risks are high I think I would agree that people should create a separate and distinct network for security solutions.

In sites where security is an issue, but a business or organisation is not making full use of its network, then you might be able to use what already is in place.

Should the networked video surveillance industry offer more guidance about when existing networks should and should not be used?
Yes; I think clarification about network types would be a good thing and would benefit installers and integrators!

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