What Ever Happened To NVR NAS Appliances?

A few years ago, NAS appliances with embedded NVR software seemed to be a growing alternative. Instead of buying a PC/server and loading VMS software, the NAS came ready to go, enabling cameras to essentially be directly connected to storage.

While edge storage / direct to NAS is now a growing phenomenon for IP camera manufacturers (e.g., Axis Camera Companion), NAS NVR providers like QNAP and Synology continue to be niche players with not much traction or momentum. Why?

The big plus of NAS NVR providers is that they support a wide array of 3rd party IP cameras so unlike camera manufacturer offerings, you are not locked in.

The two big minuses I suspect are cost: QNAP is actually fairly expensive (e.g., $2400 for a 16 channel model w/o hard drives). Synology is less but they charge ~$50 per camera license, which begs the question of why not buy Milestone or Exacq for the same price.

The other big question would be feature sets. I have not seen or used either NVR NAS in a few years so I am not sure how they stack up.

Can anyone share any experience / thoughts on this?

Btw, last year, iomega announced that it was opening up its NASes to run 3rd party VMS software - an interesting and different approach but it still seems limited in what 3rd parties run on it.

[UPDATE: Now Milestone has announced a new platform that, among other things, runs on NAS appliances. This could reinvigorate the NAS NVR market.]

I played with Synology's Surveillance Station app on my DS-412+ when I first got it and found it confusing and ineffective (it wouldn't even find my IQ511s). The app saw a major version update a couple months ago and I did look at it a little bit, but didn't really put it through its paces... but it was a MAJOR improvement in the interface.

Honestly, I really like the idea - it's effectively a standalone NVR with built-in RAID. But in our particular market at least, it doesn't seem to have a place to live - we're either using the higher-end Vigils, or we've just started offering the EYEsurv/Dahua systems for budget installs. We've only done a few all-IP installs and they've all been Vigil. And almost nobody is interested in RAID storage. A single 2TB drive in the NVR tends to hold enough video for most of them, and few are concerned about losing their video to a drive failure (naturally that changes when some critical footage is lost... and changes right back when they hear the cost of adding RAID storage).

I should really give my Synology's setup a closer look. It's got some nice features, like auto-detect of a number of cameras... unfortunately it relies on camera-based MD so it would have to be constant recording with my IQ511s. Haven't yet got it to work with the EYEsurv cameras, although it should support them through OnVIF.

Edit: I stand corrected - Surveillance Station now has the option to select camera-based or server-based MD on a per-channel basis. Storage can also be limited on a per-channel basis, either by space or by days (so one camera could be set to recycle after 15 days, another to use only up to 15GB).

No experience with the QNAP, but Synology did rev the Surveillance Station platform and they're making headway into turning it into a reasonable product. As for the licensing costs, that may place it out of range when compared against comparable systems. Synology includes a camera license for free with every NAS, then you have to add from there.

Additionally, Synology uses Intel Atom processors for the low-end units, so they can only handle a few cameras. We've found the Synoloy scales very well when it's used for surveillance data storage instead of full VMS. This is, of course, with their higher-end NAS/SAN-like offerings.

I think NAS for small scale installations lost it's opportunity. A market could of developed a few years ago when SD capacity wasn't improving quickly. Now with 64GB cards inside the camera, and larger coming, there's a hard justification to make for NAS or any other type of storage at the center of a small system (16 or less cameras).

Good insight there, Seth. One thought though: even 64GB won't give you a lot of storage if you want high quality and framerate. I recently put an 8GB microSD card in a 1080p Dahua camera, set it to record constantly at max quality, and the card was full within 12 hours. At that rate, 64GB would give me two days at most. If you need to keep video for 30, 60, even 90 days or more (we have one customer who requires 90 days), that just won't do. Sure that's an extreme example - you won't normally use maximum quality and would normally use motion detect recording, but it still reinforces the point that in-camera storage is still somewhat limited.

There's also a cost issue with onboard storage, as prices tend to ramp up sharply as size increases... and with larger-resolution cameras and higher bitrates, you need faster cards (Class 4 or better, sometimes even Class 10 for full performance). For example, retail at a local supplier for a SanDisk 64GB Class 10 SDXC is around $100. For the same price, you can get a 1TB Seagate Constellation or WD RE4 enterprise-grade drive. Yeah, there are cheaper cards... there are also cheaper drives. I'm comparing pretty much the top of both price scales here.

Regardless of your quality, framerate, motion, and other settings you can use to save space, there's still a large price premium on flash vs. spinning storage.

Matt, there is a large premium for the drive space but in small camera count applications, this is offset by not having to buy another appliance/machine. I realize you know this, but I want to make this clear for the sake of the discussion.

I found multiple SanDisk 64GB Class 10 SDXC for $65 or less online (e.g., Amazon, Newegg). It is still a lot more expensive than hard drives though...

All that said, I agree that even when using things like Axis Camera Companion, coupling that with a NAS (regular one, no VMS software) makes more financial sense (though see this new review saying ACC ran poorly on a fairly robust NAS).

For the sake of discussion then: $200 for a pair of 1TB enterprise drives, $225 for a Synology DS212j (for example; others may be cheaper, but I've had good success with Synology), so for well under $500 you have the equivalent storage, with RAID1 redundancy, to sixteen 64GB cards. Even at $65 each, that's over $1000.

Of course, such comparisons assume 64GB will give you enough storage for the retention you need; if you need more, the whole thing becomes academic.

It also assumes the camera supports 64GB SD cards - from what I've been told, not all of them do. Sean at Nelly's can confirm, but I believe he's had mixed results with 64GB microSD cards on some of his cameras. If you're stuck at 32GB or less, the relative storage size becomes even more of a factor.

Matt, NAS is overall much cheaper. This is not something anyone is debating with you.

And most cameras only support SDHC today, so that's 32GB max.

On the other hand, performance concerns are a lot more likely with a NAS than with onboard SD cards.

And thus my other point: retention is the main limiting factor for onboard storage.

Ironically, NAS and network performance will be a bigger concern the more cameras you add... as the price gap increases. Assuming the above math and the relative prices are about equal for eight cameras, the NAS at 1TB still gives you twice the space per camera... and I don't think most of them would see serious performance issues at that point (depending on software-performance issues as discussed in the "RAM vs. CPU" thread).

You don't think most would see serious performance issues because you've tested this or deployed this and confirmed this or because theoretically it should not be an issue? Because I am hearing many issues with NASes (like the one today referenced above).

I'm extrapolating based on several years and a dozen or so installs using various iSCSI NAS units as primary storage for Vigil systems ranging from 10 to 32 cameras. Even the consumer-grade four-bay QNAP models have been handling the constant operations well (can't say as much for their reliability, as one suffered multiple power-supply issues before it was replaced by an Enhance Tech unit). Some of the older installs have two or three internal drives as well as the NAS for their rotating storage, and I've never seen a noticeable difference retrieving video from one or the other.

Now granted, these are not performing the additional NVR operations, hence my final caveat above, where the one thing that may have a larger effect is the performance of the actual NVR software. When we get moved and I'm able to set up a proper test bench, I may pull out the QNAP I have packed away and actually put it through its paces... I'd love to do it with my Synology but the license fees are a gotcha.

So yes, THEORETICALLY, based on my experience with these types of appliances, smaller systems should not see significant performance issues that negate their cost effectiveness... unless of course, you're trying it with the truly bottom-of-the-barrel units.

In order to see the evolution of embedded NVR, there is a unit with IP ONVIF camera completely support, where cameras can be connected directly to the unit using an integrated PoE switch. It includes two hard drives up to 3TB each. This opens the NVR to all cameras brands with ONVIF compliance in a compact solution.

Now Milestone has announced a new platform that, among other things, runs on NAS appliances. This could reinvigorate the NAS NVR market.

I think the Synology/Qnap solutions suffered from combination of factors: As to being an inexpensive system, I think most users looked to the box store analog systems for that. Analog was traditional and known. If you move just up from the bottom end market, I think the problem they had was they did not have an established, well known VMS for their embedded recording system. They might have gained traction if they were able to embedded maybe a better known and established VMS, but which of the major VMS players might have been really interested to do it? I couldn't/didn't see Genetc or Milestone doing it. Exacq was inexpensive enough, but Exacq also sells they're own, low end "budget" hardware so why would they want to help out a QNap or Synology who would compete with them on hardware? Or any other VMS company that also sold hardware. You could argue the right or wrong of it, but I think that was part of the thinking and I think John was right, they had a window of oppurtunity that is now pretty small if not closed now.

We are not seeing any decrease in demand for NAS based appliances. In fact, just the opposite. The economics are very compelling for smaller installations.

Bill, what specific NAS NVRs are you offering? Can you briefly overview the economics? Also, what do you think the impact of Milestone Arcus will be on incumbent NAS NVRs?

We distribute QNAP and Toshiba NAS based NVRs. I don't want to disuss pricing but If you are installing VMS on a computer you are into the hardware for $6-700 for a machine with a decent spec. The NAS based appliances don't require any additional hardware and installation and configuration is less time consuming with the NAS based NVRs and time is money, as they say. Post sales support also seems to be much lower as there are fewer potetial problems than with installing application software on a wide variety of systems. This is a particularly important issue for traditional securtiy installers who have limited IT skills. Toshiba's ESV4-1T 4 channel unit sels for about $500 online and included a 1 TB drive. Understand, That puts you in the realm of analog kits from Costco. I am not suggesting these be considered for enterprise class projects but there is definately a place for them at the lower end of the market.


I meant to post on this earlier but I forgot with all the shit happening here I Cyprus.

In my mind the an NVR NAS appliance falls beetween mainstream cheap NVRs like Dahua, e.t.c and full blown server VMS. So I ahve them categorized like this in my mind:

1) The main cheap NVRs usually only allow one brand of cameras to be used. Good for resi and small projects up to 16 cameras

2) The middle level NVR NAS. 16-50 cameras?

3) VMS systems. Anything over 50 cameras?

I am not certain for my above categorization so please feel free to critisize and comment if you think I am way off.

We have been looking at using Qnap for some of our projects. It seems though the same problem exists as with the cheaper one brand NVRs: It is not easy to find in the specs the maximum number of cameras that can record at a specific resolution. It seems this is usually hidden because these devices do not have enough power ro record many megapixel streams? Shouldnt this be one the first things they mention in the specs?


First, I hope everything will be OK for you in Cyrpurs. Scary situation!

As for categories, for smaller systems, there are definitely more appliances -whether NVRs or hybrid DVRs. However, in the US, it seems to be non-NAS nVR appliance - for example, Exacq EL - it's an appliance but it's not a NAS.

As for specifing resolution and cameras, I agree that it is typically not offered. The rationale generally offered is that it depends on overall bandwidth (which is also heavily dictated by fps choice, frame rate selection, CBR vs VBR, complexity of scene, etc.). Because of that, it's fairly dangerous to spec X number of cameras, unless one is being conservative. For those readers interested in more on this topic, see our VMS server sizing guide.