In the past there were two types of management platforms for video and other physical security systems, those made by the hardware vendors that offered limited capabilities and scalability, and which focused on the vendor’s products; and those that allowed multiple brands from multiple vendors to be integrated into a single solution. While the smaller, limited solutions are still available and widely used in small installations, with a little poetic license we can say that the top-tier platforms today are also loosely divided into two camps.
The one camp we can call an open platform that allows partners and developers to integrate just about any third-party system or solution into the basic platform, expanding its use far and wide. The other we shall call a unified platform that is controlled by one company that ensures all the systems and tools are integrated into the platform and perform optimally. Often these platforms still allow third parties to develop add-ons, but limit access to ‘the crown jewels’.
Both options have their pros and cons, and both can be considered ‘open’ to various degrees as they follow standards and allow development on the platform, again to varying degrees.
As we enter the era of cloud technologies, edge processing, IoT and artificial intelligence, management platforms will have to adapt to changing market demands to meet advancing user requirements and new technologies – not to mention increasing processing and software demands. So which platform will be the right one for users in the future? Which is the right one for today, understanding the changes and challenges organisations and individuals will face in the future? Which vendor can they trust to keep up and provide the tools users will need to thrive in the future?
Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to a number of people about the questions above to find out what’s happening in the management platform market, as well as what we can expect in the future. Our interviewees are:
- Gus Brecher, MD of Cathexis Africa,
- Henry Brown, CEO of LunarX Consulting and Projects,
- Brent Cary, regional sales manager for Genetec,
- Bjørn Skou Eilertsen, CTO of Milestone Systems, and
- Rudi Taljaard, enterprise business architect (smart security and IoT) at Gijima Electronic and Security Systems (GESS).
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: A management platform is meant to make integrating various security systems into a centrally managed whole much easier. How can users be sure their management platform will fully integrate their security systems and not only some basic functionality?
Brecher: There is no simple answer to this. The various security components (access control, intrusion, fire etc.) have differing levels of integration interfaces. For example on some intrusion panels, the Cathexis software can arm/disarm the panel and control zone inclusions/exclusions, but on other systems, the integration is limited to the reception of alarm activity only. We develop with two things in mind:
- What the customers need to improve overall system effectiveness, and
- What the various sub-systems can offer.
I don’t believe that there is one ‘complete’ integration where one centralised system can do everything. Certain functions will need to be performed on the sub-systems, and the extent of these is determined by the level of integration.
Brown: Internationally there are integration driven programs between manufacturers that do deep integration on a manufacturer’s level. The IPP (Integration Partner Programme) is such a drive. The companies involved are Bosch, Genetec and Navtech Radar. The integration between these companies entails functionality that is further developed than simple device streaming and connectivity.
Cary: Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Integration is always an unknown as there are many different platform frameworks, coding languages and communication protocols which could be used when integrating systems. You need to have the SDKs or APIs for each and need to know exactly what needs to be sent between the systems and, of course, when does this get sent.
The only true way to be able to fully ‘integrate’ the security components of the platform with the management system is to use a unified platform which will illuminate all the unknowns of integration and ensure all system components will not only be interoperable, but will be managed from a common database and user interface.
Eilertsen: Milestone is known for the open platform approach. We believe that Milestone together with the community can deliver the right solutions for our customers. It is not a one-solution-fits-all approach. This provides our customers with the opportunity to get just what is right for them. From an innovation perspective, this also means that the innovation muscle is bigger. Time to market is faster since any partner with a great idea can develop and market their solution. With Milestone Marketplace now in place, we make it much easier to find these many innovations and understand what is right for each customer
Bjørn Skou Eilertsen
Taljaard: The key here is to move beyond integration and rather look at a unified security platform. Organisations often overlook the potential financial impact of integration as opposed to replacing a small portion of existing legacy equipment. With a unified approach, you ensure a high level of co-existence and operation of different components in a homogeneous environment. The long-term benefits of a unified solution far outweigh the financial benefits of an integrated solution. Less investment is required for training, maintenance resources and life cycle management are all factors that will drive down the TCO (total cost of ownership). In addition, in an integrated environment, if one vendor or entity updates software or releases a new software driver set it can potentially break the entire integration chain resulting in unplanned expenses.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: If one requires more than video on screens in the control room, is it not better to buy everything from a single vendor that can integrate everything into the VMS?
Brecher: I believe that the open platform gives the option to choose the ‘best-of-breed’ product. In other words, each sub-component of the system is supplied by vendors who are experts in their field. VMS companies are not experts in intrusion, and intrusion companies are not experts in access control etc.
Brown: Enterprise technology suppliers have a big drive to unify more than just video their platform. Fire, public address-evacuation, access control and so on form a vital part of a solution as life safety products in the bigger security solution. The VMS can manage and/or monitor these disciplines, which makes it a much friendlier interface for control room operators.
Cary: Yes, a single vendor which is capable of providing a platform to manage your video cameras as well as other components, such as access control, ALPR, intrusion, radar, key management, IP intercoms etc. from a single interface should be first prize. The amount of data which will provide intelligence from a single unified platform means you will not have to worry about making sure your system is open to work with multiple databases. The operator then only has to be trained on a single platform and interface which makes them more efficient.
Eilertsen: Unlike some of our competitors, for the vast majority of possible applications we do not walk this path. It might look like an easy way, if you create solutions from one single vendor, but there is so much change in software applications and in the end-user’s needs that one single company can’t cope with it all. Combined solutions are the proven way to get best-of-breed solutions that fulfill the customer’s needs; and yes, combined solutions mean more work for the integrator. But it is also a chance for them to add value.
Taljaard: Organisations are rapidly adopting multi-functional ‘Smart Security’ solutions; this means that a lot more is now possible on a single unified platform. There is unquestionable commonality in data sets between the three main legs of an end-to-end Smart Security solution. It therefore makes 100% financial sense to have a single platform where all these functions are configured and managed via a central portal. This approach will be more cost effective in the long run than an integrated multi-vendor approach. It is my opinion that unified solutions will rapidly overtake integrated multi-vendor platforms since it makes more financial sense and is more cost effective and easier to deploy and maintain.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: As security expands beyond the traditional functions we are used to, would it not be a better option to ignore the concept of a VMS and opt for a broader platform that allows more functions to be managed centrally?
Brecher: There is no doubt that there is a place for a PSIM to manage multiple components. Having said this, no PSIM can replace a VMS completely; there is just too much complexity in the higher end VMS products. I see the systems complementing one another rather than one replacing the other. PSIMs are also useful when one wishes to monitor video from multiple VMS vendors.
Brown: The VMS and the access control allows you to have video footage and a time/date stamp on all transactions, however a PSIM is always welcome as it allows you to bring in third-party sub-systems. The first prize, however, is a unified platform to manage all these disciples from a single platform instead of the PSIM route where you sit with multiple independent sub-systems.
Cary: No. A PSIM is simply the presentation layer on top of the VMS, access control ALPR, etc. It still requires these systems below it in order to function. A BMS was made to manage building systems such as power generation, lighting control, HVAC etc. and interact with sub-systems like security using open protocols such as OPC, BacNet or Modbus, it is not made to be the front end and often does not have the capability and functionality for video management or camera configuration, bandwidth and storage management.
For example, Mission Control is based on a platform-up approach, not the presentation layer down approach.
Taljaard: It is inevitable that technology mergers will happen. We already recognise many similarities between Smart Security (CCTV, LPR and access control) and for example, the Internet of Things (IoT). It is just a matter of time and we will experience platforms that combine both functions in a single portal. There is no difference between monitoring a camera and monitoring the temperature of a fridge. This could very well change the face of the security platforms we are familiar with today.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: VSaaS is still one of those things that is ‘set to explode’ at some stage in the future. Is there a cost effective hybrid model of VSaaS that makes optimal use of onsite and remote technologies?
Brecher: Yes, those people who attended our roadshow would have seen our chief engineer talking about the future of cloud. The interesting thing is that the new thinking of ‘cloud’ is now ‘cloud-on-the-edge’, which effectively means having distributed services (like recording video) on the edge (on site) with centralised cloud activity being limited to specific, selected functions.
Brown: Cloud-based storage and VSaaS is the way forward in the modern security era. The potential of cloud-based services has been recognised by international companies like Microsoft, which is already investing in data centres in SA. Video-based solutions are driven by event/alarm activities only and with modern compression methods, the streaming of video over the WAN is becoming more cost effective. The drive behind cloud-based storage is to minimise the cost of hardware and ensure the maintenance and security of your footage.
Cary: We are seeing an increasing number of organisations moving their storage to hybrid cloud solutions; this allows them to divide their data between cloud and on-premises options. There are tremendous benefits here as people can take advantage of the greater flexibility and cost-savings associated with cloud solutions – while maintaining the all-important feeling of control of their data. This also includes having the business data secured and protected from Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks while protecting sensitive information and transactions.
Eilertsen: We have been investing in preparing for the cloud for many years while at the same time we invested to develop our client-server products further. We are now taking a hybrid approach to the cloud. End-user solutions can use the amount of cloud that fits them – to the extent that it fits them.
The hybrid strategy involves that we deconstruct our VMS and look at it in a more modular way. We want to run those services that are most applicable to be run at the edge on the cloud, and those that are better suited to run at the server on the server; whether it is storage, data processing or management. With the great amount of data that is produced by a VMS system, there are great benefits of doing a lot of processing closer to where the generation of data happens [the edge]. Then use the cloud for more advanced cross sensor and cross site processing and/or use of cloud-based AI networks. We do not think that it is an either/or question, we think a combination is the better solution.
Taljaard: The trend to drive down the cost of bandwidth in South Africa and internationally will certainly be the catalyst for cloud-based security-as-a-service solutions. There will be challenges since it is still bleeding edge, but the demand is increasing and we are seeing more possibilities, even with the challenges we face with cost of bandwidth etc.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Looking ahead, how do you see your platform developing over time?
Brecher: Our focus is still on innovation with a view towards improving effectiveness. We do see VSaaS, AI and integration of multiple systems as the main drivers going forward, but within that we will continue to develop features that improve the lives of the users of our software.
Brown: To remain relevant in today’s market vendors need to take cybersecurity seriously. It is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. Data protection and privacy is a key concern and with the explosion of IoT devices, manufactures need to view it as a core facet of the technology, and as important as features such as failover or reliability.
Cary: With the Security Center 5.8 release, we are aiming at making our system easier to use and will allow you to be efficient in your day-to-day operations. This version will feature:
Customisable live dashboard: Security Center 5.8 will enable users to create custom dashboards that will display real-time data, such as video feeds, alarms, reports and charts in a way that is meaningful to them and their specific job function (security, operations, IT etc.). Users can set up their dashboards using simple point-and-click tools, and instantly combine data from the entire Genetec portfolio (video, access control, ALPR, etc.) in one screen to gain a new perspective on the evolution of events and key metrics across their operations.
A map-based collaborative mobile app: Version 5.8 will introduce a new collaborative mobile app to provide operators complete access to their Security Center system when they are on the move and allow them to turn their smartphone into a valuable contributing sensor to their security system.
Health monitoring, privacy, and cybersecurity functionalities: System administrators are acutely aware of the critical nature of security systems, but often lack the tools to assess the potential exposure of their software, operating systems and physical security devices. Security Center 5.8 will introduce a new Security Score feature to track each system’s compliance with hardening guidelines, firmware availability and updates, password strength, as well as several other dimensions of cybersecurity. Available through the built-in System Health dashboard, the Security Score will measure individual cybersecurity processes and verify that they are followed by the system. This will enable users to get a better understanding of the cybersecurity risks they face and enable them to take the necessary steps to harden their system.
Eilertsen: We have touched upon this in our statement of direction, where we describe future developments. It can be found at www.securitysa.com/*milestone1 – (redirects to https://content.milestonesys.com/media/?mediaId=78710BF8-6ABF-4094-AAB7B2F50CAE55C1). Three important aspects of the future include:
Processing power: Fast-moving technologies have a major impact on almost any industry including security and the reach of video management systems. Rapid advances in capabilities offered by camera manufacturers, together with video installations growing in size, and users aggregating more connected devices per location, led to an increase in the number of devices that need to be supported per recording server. With the understanding that more processing power is an integral prerequisite in a modern VMS, we introduced hardware accelerated video decoding in the Recording Server and in the Smart Client in 2018. This new capability in our VMS allowed users to utilise additional GPUs for video processing, resulting in excess processing power.
Connected devices: Recognising that video processing can take place in different components in the system makes it possible to leverage advanced analytics of metadata derived not only from video related devices that are growing in number, but also from non-video related IoT devices. In 2019, we plan to make it even easier and more cost-efficient to use metadata and deploy video analytics applications. IoT has transformative effects on automation, offering new and better ways to increase people’s efficiency and productivity while stimulating the development of new innovative services and functionalities in connected devices. Our new Driver Framework to be released this year will offer a secure and easy way for device vendors to develop their own drivers and increase their reach and the speed of development of device drivers without having to use the video optimised ONVIF standard.
Metadata: Early endeavors around AI and IoT are turning into maturing technologies and introducing new possibilities and use cases. In order to address these growing use cases, we are investing in our video technology platform to allow technology partners specialising in AI and machine learning to enable our users in making better and faster decisions. We are also accelerating the development of our GPU decoding capabilities.
Taljaard: We certainly see more value in a ‘Unified Smart Security’ platform. That does not mean there is no space for integrated solutions, but in today’s technologically advanced environment I would certainly lean strongly towards unification instead of integration. Making more information available to the end user via a single interface is key, and then the undoubtable business value that business intelligence (BI) and artificial intelligence (AI) can add to any business. Those platforms that can keep up with this trend will be the ones that survive.
The vendors that show commitment to open standards and software platforms will be the ones that will own the majority of market share. End users today don’t want to be prescribed and restricted in the choices of technologies they want to use; they want freedom of choice and software vendors need to take notice of this.