Video Test: VMS Installation and Configuration (Part 1)

VMS packages represent a flexible and advanced security tool which enables the creation of innovative and bespoke solutions. Over the years Benchmark has championed the use of VMS software because it enables the simple creation of advanced solutions and assists installers and integrators in the delivery of credible and effective systems that add value for users. Such is the impact of the technology that it begs the question why some are still reluctant to embrace the flexibility that it offers. One often cited issue is the complexity of installation and configuration. In the first part of this test, Benchmark assesses leading VMS options to see how installer-friendly they are.

Whenever the team at Benchmark meets up with installers and integrators who do not deploy systems based upon VMS technology, it is interesting to find out why they choose to not deploy the software.

One argument against VMS use is that the systems can be costly because of licensing and the infrastructure required to implement a solution. This is something of a red herring. Licensing costs can be high, but they can be low as they are totally dependent upon the scale of the systems, the functionality being used and the VMS selected.

Also, many leading VMS systems will run on cost-effective standard IT hardware. It is true that if you want a campus-type system then a significant investment in infrastructure may required, but the same is true for any surveillance system. However, many professional VMS packages will happily run on standard hardware without any issues and often the IT hardware costs are equivalent to a standard NVR.

Another issue often raised, and one which impacts on the question of cost, is that VMS systems are not ideal for smaller applications. The reality is that VMS packages support a variety of features and functions, with options for virtually any capacity. Highly flexible open platform VMS software is available for systems ranging from a single camera right up to thousands of cameras across geographically distributed sites.

Another issue is a lack of clarity about what a VMS will actually do. Whilst DVR and NVR manufacturers are used to listing features and functions, VMS providers tend to promote their products with more of a ‘blue sky thinking’ approach. As a result there is a lot of talk about threat correlation and situational awareness, but installers and integrators need to dig deep in order to discover exactly what the solution will and will not do.

The third reason, and probably the most common response, is that VMS solutions are too complex and require a high level of IT skills.

Those installers and integrators who believe that VMS systems are too complex or too difficult to install are the group that this test feature is aimed at. The goal is to look closely at the installation and configuration of VMS systems, to highlight the features and functions of interest to those seeking security-specific tools, and to illustrate how the functionality and innovation inherent in these solutions can be used in a wide range of applications ranging from local sites with a few cameras up to mid-sized applications with mainstream security requirements.

The reality is that the installation and configuration process isn’t complex. However, there is a perception of complexity. This isn’t helped by the fact that some VMS providers seem to believe their products are beyond the capabilities of installers and integrators.

In recent years Benchmark has handled all of the major VMS options, as well as some of the more obscure choices, and the vast majority of the credible software packages have been less complex than some of the mass-market NVRs.

With VMS, the software installation modules are typically very good and if there is an IT-specific issue the installation wizards will usually identify it. The creation of a database is usually 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 the better 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 anyone with experience of good quality video surveillance hardware. If you’ve ever configured an imported NVR with badly translated manuals and flaky menus, then working with most professional VMS systems will be a straightforward task.

It is important not to confuse flexibility and advanced functionality with complexity. Many of the more advanced tasks are handled via a combination of drop-down menus, links and tick boxes. Whilst the programming that runs the VMS is without a doubt highly advanced, this goes on in the background. The installer or integrator is presented with a simple and effective GUI, enabling a high degree of control.

VMS systems are not infallible, but they’re not reliant upon a high degree of IT skill either. The same can be said of many high-end NVRs and DVRs.

VMS packages offer a depth of functionality and advanced features. For those who like to fit a box, switch it on, leave the settings as default and walk away, VMS is simply not going to appeal. 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 out there when it comes to video (and increasingly security) management.

Milestone: XProtect Essential+

The XProtect Essential+ software is supplied as a single .exe file, which is downloaded from the Milestone website. Milestone offers a single software download which can be used for all version of XProtect. There are also two versions of the Smart Client: server-side and standard. Both are available in 32-bit and 64-bit variants. The XProtect package does include a copy of the Smart Client, so you will only require the core installation file.

You will need to ensure that the server has the appropriate version of the Microsoft .NET framework installed before adding Essential+. This is a free Microsoft software package and is simple to add.

The wizard requires a license file before allowing the installation to start. If you are installing Essential+ there is an option to generate a free licence file. If you’ve gone for a trial version a license file should have been sent via email. An internet connection is required for this part of the process.

You are then prompted to select the type of installation (for Essential+ this will be a single computer) and identify the database, and the wizard starts.

XProtect has never been the fastest installation for a VMS: ours took nearly 30 minutes. However, the process is automatic.

The two main elements of Essential+ (and any XProtect software, for that matter) are the Management Client and the Smart Client. The former is used by the installer or integrator to set up and configure the system, while the latter is the user interface for day-to-day operations.

The two have very different looks. The Smart Client makes use of HTML5 and has a modern feel. This is the part used by the end user. The Management Client is for the installer or integrator, and it has an industrial PC feel to it.

The Management menus use a simple ‘tree’ format. The header of each menu section uses tool-tips and hovering displays some short explanatory notes.

Discovering devices is straightforward, and is carried out by adding hardware to the Recording Server. Milestone supports a wide range of third party devices, with the current device pack including over 6,000 devices. For non-supported devices, ONVIF is supported.

Hardware is automatically discovered; there is an option to update authentication details. Individual devices can also be added manually. If you are building a system which will make use of event-based data for the triggering of actions, it is important to include any functions that will be included, such as audio, metadata and inputs/outputs when adding the cameras.

A number of menus are for system configuration. With regard to performance, the most important steps are to established alarms, events and actions or notifications. This is done via the Rules engine.
Rules make use of AND/OR logic and are easy and quick to implement.

For some the Management Client may seem complex, but if configured one section at a time it makes sense. It is flexible, allowing parameters of any supported cameras to be adjusted from the VMS.
The Smart Client interface retains a modern look and the configurations which need to be set, such as display modes, inserting maps, creating overlay buttons, etc., are intuitive and simple to use.

Axxonsoft: Axxon Next

Axxon Next is supplied as a .zip file which includes a number of software elements. The installation routine not only adds Axxon Next but will also include any additional software. It will duplicate some basics, such as Acrobat Reader, if you don’t have the version the routine expects.

The installer with also add the PostgreSQL database, which is open source, along with a number of drivers. The installation process isn’t the swiftest and you don’t have the advantage of walking away as several of the components need to be manually accepted before they are installed. Allow for around 15 minutes for the whole process to complete. One small point is that you don’t get any indication of progress such as scroll bars, but everything progressed as expected.

When the installation is complete a splash screen gives the default log-in details. The PC or server needs to be restarted to finalise the installation process.

On restart, the Axxon Next program did seem unresponsive at first but after a few clicks it came alive.

Initial attempts to log into the VMS resulted in failure messages. Despite the restart being carried out it transpired the Axxon Next server was not running. Typically with a VMS the server will be a service so it runs automatically. However, it is a simple task to switch it on via the task tray.

It is best to ensure that the server runs as a service (this is done by selecting the appropriate operation level in the Windows services menu) so that if there are any outages it runs automatically on reboot.

Axxon Next runs in demo mode by default. This has no restrictions on functionality, but the VMS is only operational between the hours of 08:00 and 18:00. To change this you need to activate the software. This requires a paid-for licence file or the choice is there to activate as a free product. A utility is used for this, but the server will need to be on-line.

In configuration mode there are five menu pages: Devices, Archive, Detection Tools, Users and Options. The first step is to create a recording archive. This is a simple task and uses a slider to specify how much storage is allocated to each archive. Devices can be tied to specific archives if required.
Adding devices is done through the relevant page, and is merely a case of selecting the server and an ‘add device’ link is available. There is then an option to search for any connected devices or to add them manually.

The auto-discovery feature finds attached cameras without an issue. If you are not using default authentication details these are changed in the camera settings. Clicking on a specific camera brings up the settings: these can be adjusted via the VMS and sent to the camera if required.

You can configure the cameras for event or continual recording, specifying which archive to use, pre-event recording time, frames per second and whether high-quality or low quality streams will be archived.

Alarms and events are set via their Detection Tools menu. To use this you simply click on a camera: this gives an option to set up motion detection, configure inputs and outputs or to create an alarm trigger based on camera events. Depending upon the trigger selected, a secondary menu allows customisation. This gives a good level of flexibility and is very easy to configure.

The VMS has a variety of options designed to enable a bespoke GUI to enhance the user experience. For example, hotkeys can be specified to suit customer requirements. Also many housekeeping tasks can be scheduled, thus simplifying the day-to-day operation.

Getting Axxon Next up and running is quick and simple, and from there a number of customisation options can be added as per the site requirements.

Hanwha Techwin: Wisenet Wave

Wisenet Wave is new, and as such a surprise was that when we started the installation process, nothing happened. The splash-screen showed a Processing bar that didn’t move. After a while of inaction we closed it and received an alert that the installation had been ended by the user.

This gave us a clue that maybe something was happening. It was set to run again and we ignored it. Eventually, after six minutes, the installation process started and took around 90 seconds. This did raise the question how many installers and integrators will download a trial version but give up thinking the installer is duff?

The Wisenet Wave server operates in the background and all settings are made via the Client. At first glance you might be surprised by the lack of copious configuration menus but that is a part of the slick design. By selecting resources (such as the server, cameras, encoders, etc.) and right-clicking, you will see a selection of contextual menus. For installers that might seem alien, but for many users it will be second-nature.

Wisenet Wave does start up in an unlicensed mode so the first task is to select the licensing tag (simply click on the information that reads ‘no licence’) and you can either load one up or generate a trial license. Once this is done the VMS will be capable of recording.

Adding devices is simple enough but the SUNAPI integration will automatically detect most current Hanwha cameras or other devices. The only requirement is to change authentication details.
With regard to camera settings, Wave offers minimal interaction but does provide a single link for each to allow access via the Wave Webviewer for full access. Via the VMS it is possible to set camera rules, allowing actions for a variety of events.

Rules for the system rather than individual cameras are set by viewing the contextual menus for the server. Again, simply right-click on the server name and options appear to allow monitor choices, the addition of devices, camera lists, server logs, server diagnostics, linking to the server via a webpage and server settings.

The various menu screens make use of tabs, and this ensures that the interface is clean and easy to follow. There is nothing that will challenge the capabilities of any installer or integrator who knows their way around a video system.

It is fair to say that Wisenet Wave takes a slightly different approach to many other VMS options with regard to configuration. Some might prefer to have all menus in one place, allowing set-up to be done logically and at one time. Wave takes more of a flow-based approach, in that devices can be tweaked as they are added, server performance optimised for the given application and the user GUI adjusted on-the-fly. This attitude might seem to be unusual if your dealing with campus-type sites with thousands of cameras, but given Wave’s target audience it actually makes a lot of sense.

In terms of the GUI, the approach is very much ‘drag and drop’. This not only facilitates quick changes but also makes the process intuitive for operators who otherwise might have to learn their way around a configuration process to alter the working interface. Wave is flexible but retains simplicity.

BENCHMARK VERDICT

Milestone Systems: XProtect Essential+

XProtect Essential+ offers a lot of functionality and a good ‘taster’ of the software range. Installation is solid but slow and configurations are arguably harder work than other VMS packages in this part of the test. However, you do get a lot more functionality and flexibility. Interestingly, Milestone is about to upgrade its VMS with auto-discovery as a part of the installation process and that simplifies what it, in all reality, a relatively simple installation. The ease of use and configuration means it achieves Recommended status.

Axxonsoft: Axxon Next

Axxon Next includes a number of features that many VMS packages offer as options, but accessing them might require opting for the highest level licence. Despite this, the installation is fairly quick and relatively straightforward. Any installer or integrator should be able to manage the process. Configuration is carried out through clean and easy-to-use menu screens, and many of the features and functions are intuitive with regards to set-up.

Hanwha Techwin: Wisenet Wave

Wisenet Wave has been built for a specific market. Aimed at mainstream applications, it combines ease of use with a good degree of flexibility. The simplicity of installation is aided by the fact that the software isn’t bloated, but the initial six minute lag will see some installers and integrators giving up, thinking the installation tool is non-functional. No doubt Hanwha Techwin will fix this, and currently – despite the wait – it still achieves Recommended status.

Read Part 2 of this test

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