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Technical Director

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Tim Cocks is Technical Director at Center Group, which operates two divisions: Nexus Connect, a nationwide network of independent security integrators and manufacturers providing clients with tailored security systems; and CCTV Center, the UK's premier IP security distributor. Tim has almost 30 years of experience in the security industry, and his interests include rugby, sailing, golf, and maintaining his membership of the Rebellion Beer Club.
April 13, 2014

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VMS: Video management systems and software explained

An effective video management system is, essentially, the efficient combination of video software and server hardware. Here, I’m looking a little more in-depth at the Video Management Systems (VMS), particularly for projects in the mid-range of 30-70 cameras.

Let’s look at video management software

There are some important factors to consider when selecting video/security management software.

• Architecture — An NVR solution, with a number of computer workstations, requires standalone software at each station. Typically, there is a separate configuration between the NVR and each workstation. Modern video management systems use server-client architecture that constantly communicates, which leads to greater flexibility and scalability, and simpler configuration.

• Licensing — In addition to scope and cost, considerations include: is licensing simple to install and maintain? Do you have to install licences individually, or can they be done in block? Do you buy the licence outright, or is there a recurring cost? How many clients are permitted with the licence? Look for licences that are simpler to install and maintain, and minimise valuable engineering resource.

• SMA — Make sure a Software Maintenance Agreement is available at reasonable cost (typically 15 percent per annum) from a trusted vendor to ensure that regular upgrades are available and specialist support is available.

• Efficiency — Elegant code creating efficient processing can make the difference between whether one, two, or three separate servers are required to run multi-camera software, and the more elegant VMS solutions can run over one hundred cameras on a well specified server.

• Camera integration — The latest version of ONVIF, Profile S, ensures greater compatibility between IP cameras and VM systems. However, high end IP camera manufacturers put a lot of R&D effort into adding intelligent features into their cameras, and the experienced recommendation is to only use a VMS that has undertaken full and deep integration of the camera, and includes those details on its integrated devices list.

Milestone's XProtect - an example of a Video Management System

Milestone’s XProtect – an example of a
Video Management System


The size and complexity of this list is a measure of how much work has been undertaken by the VMS manufacturer in collaboration with the camera manufacturer, and key features such as motion detection, alarm triggers, outputs, and audio have, to date, been best addressed by a full and complete integration of the camera to the VMS.

• Connectivity — Connectivity with other platforms, including web interfaces and mobile devices, is now the expected norm on modern VM systems.

• Configuration — Look for simple and intuitive user configuration and menus, and logical and user-friendly engineer interfaces with plenty of built-in help files.

• Communication with other devices — Some modern VM systems allow a simple and cost-effective methodology for basic communication with other devices, such as alarm panels, access control, intercom, and fire systems. Although this isn’t technically “full integration” — with continual two-way communication — it does mean that these systems offer an effective path to achieving some of those integration goals, without the need to revert to enterprise system technology.

Video Management System Hardware

• Load — Servers are generally selected by matching the load capacity of the server in megabytes with the load requirements of the system.

• Storage — Current full depth rack mount servers can typically accommodate up to 8 x4TB hard disks, which is a large amount of storage, unheard of only a few years ago. Kryder’s Law, relating to rapid increases in disk storage density, appears to be holding true. For example, a professional server with a suitable load capacity can be comfortably used with up to 70 cameras and 32TB of storage, based on a load calculation using H.264 compression, 1280×720 resolution, 25fps, 30 days recording, and average motion.

• Operating systems — These are determined by the VM software requirement, and modern VM systems typically run on Microsoft Professional Windows and server formats, with many mid-range VM systems operating successfully on Windows 7.

• Reliability and redundancy — There’s a lot of information out there about this, but general advice in the mid-range is to pick a known and trusted brand — or for those in the know, tried, tested, and trusted components. Modern servers from quality brands tend to be reliable, but power supply and hard disk failures can occur from time to time, and a methodology for dealing with these should be considered.

Important Video Management Systems recommendations

    • Ensure that server hardware is not only fit for purpose, and compliant with the software manufacturer’s minimum specification, but is also correctly matched to the application by form factor (eg. full depth rack mount), and connectivity (eg. network ports and monitor outputs).
    • Seek out software that is well structured, efficient, fully integrated to the cameras you wish to use, and has a simplified methodology to communicate with third-party security devices.

There are many benefits to a VMS, but the downside can be the sheer amount of choice and flexibility, leaving us bewildered and confused like rabbits startled in the headlights of oncoming traffic!

My overriding recommendation would be to find an experienced and trusted channel partner who can guide you through the choices and IT terminology to create fantastic modern video management systems. And once you find the right partner, hold on to them like gold dust! (Assuming you have a suitable gold-holding container.)

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Lami S
Lami S
March 14, 2013 10:00 am

Thank you for your interesting article Little to add I think we need to plan a healthy management system before we start to manage such system, by asking these questions. What is the up time of NVR appliance, or PC with window 7 operating system ? What are the alternatives of down time that can be 10 days per year for a PC level of hardware, the server can be 4 days/year.? If a hard disk crash, is this system capable of writing in the large flow of data coming from such large number of cameras while rebuilding the RAID… Read more »

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
March 18, 2013 10:03 am

What a fantastic detailed post. I think the point on camera integration is really important — while ONVIF’s Profile S covers a lot, a really deep integration between camera and software will make for a much more useful level of insight. Are there any general rules for which manufacturers tend to have the most integrated software/cameras? ie. Sony cameras work really well with X.

Tim Cocks
Tim Cocks
March 19, 2013 10:20 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

Thanks Rob. The merits of full integration over ONVIF compatability has generated a lot of discussion at our company, and I plan to look at this issue further in next month’s blog. Although the vms manufacturer may lead wrt full integration, in my experience those camera manufacturers who have spent time and effort getting their cameras established on leading vms platforms are also very prominent in adopting the latest version of ONVIF – after all, one of the reasons they are leading manufacturers is because they are active in all areas to try and ensure system compatibility, etc.

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
March 20, 2013 7:15 am
Reply to  Tim Cocks

Bu can you be active in all areas? Eventually, you’ve got to back a horse to win, or have a key market differentiator. Could be wrong, maybe end users want the provider that can do everything.

April 29, 2014 4:07 am

Dear Mr Tim,
I am from Sri Lanka ,the head of security of all airports in Sri Lanka. We need a advance technology integration into current security systems and more about SMIS and VMs . Will you send me some more information about this to [email protected] or [email protected] or call me to 0094773698702 or 0094775830786. Tks
Chinthaka Kumarasinge
Lt Col
Head of Security Services
Airport and Aviation Services ( SRI LANKA) limited
Bandaranayake International Airport
Sri Lanka

Gyanendra Bhattarai
Gyanendra Bhattarai
February 11, 2018 8:58 am

Hi, We are a Security Surveillance supplier and installer company, We are in need of CCTV Data back up system for 25-30 branches, Do you have any solutions on it ? please share with me about the solutions if you have. whatsapp +9779851110607

November 20, 2018 7:32 am


christopher bay
christopher bay
March 5, 2019 12:34 am

I would love to know what can VMS offer on our security services .
Thank you
Christopher from Singapore