Pros and Cons - Automating Firmware Updates

By Ethan Ace, Published Jul 01, 2015, 12:00am EDT

Firmware and software updates are one of the most tedious tasks in surveillance, so why not make them easier? While other devices, like PCs, phones, and other consumer electronics have featured automatic updates for years, few manufacturers even automatically check for, let alone perform updates. 

In this note, we look at Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Exacq and Speco proceses as well as the advantages and disadvantages of automatic updates and easing this process.

Advantages

There are key advantages to pushing updates automatically:

Latest Security Fixes

Automatic updates would first and foremost help to reduce security issues found in cameras and recorders, as manufacturers could push fixes to address known issues. Patching these flaws reduces liability introduced by the potential for lost video or compromised systems during a critical event, and the related damage to the manufacturers brand. This is especially important in light of recent hacking incidents.

Latest And Greatest Performance

Many users never install updates once a camera or recorder is in place, missing potentially improved performance and new features. A good example of this can be seen in Bosch's starlight 720p model, which greatly improved low light performance between 5.70 and 5.80 firmwares, seen here:

Reduced Support Costs

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Automating the update process reduces the number of cameras running old (potentially buggier) version of firmware.With more users on a single version, tech support training may focus more on up to date firmware/software, lowering costs.

Disadvantages

Number One Objection: Broken Integrations

Whenever firmware updates are mentioned, someone is bound to mention the possibility of an update breaking a VMS integration. Indeed, in the past we have seen firsthand and heard of this happening ourselves.

However, over the course of 100+ tests in the past two years, using 5-6 different VMSes, we have never experienced broken VMS integration due to a firmware update. In fact, the opposite has been true on more than one occasion, with new firmwares making some previously buggy or unstable integrations work properly.

Disadvantage: Camera Outages

Automated updates introduce one issue not seen in manual methods: cameras being unexpectedly unavailable during an incident. Though some update processes are short, as quick as a minute, others may take 10-15 minutes to apply. Though in many cases this may be permissable in less critical facilities, even a minute outage may miss key video in systems used by law enforcement and critical infrastructure. Because of this, manual updates should be used in these cases.

Current Camera and VMS Examples

Many consumer cameras, such as Dropcam, Simplicam, etc., automatically apply updates, while commercial options are limited. Though they are few, there are some manufacturers which provide automated checking or even fully automated updates. 

Fully Automated Updates: Speco

Only one commercial In the Speco web interface, users may select from manual updates, notifications of new firmware, and fully automated updating:

Axis and Bosch: Manual Check, Automatic Update

Axis performs this check and update process via Axis Camera Management. Once in the update firmware screen, a list of firmwares is retrieved, with the latest automatically downloaded and applied to one or more cameras simultaneously. The process for Bosch is similar, but performed on one camera at a time.

Avigilon: Manual VMS Updates, Automatic Camera

Avigilon Control Center requires users to manually update software, with no notification of new versions in the client or server manager. However, once a new version has been installed, up-to-date firmware versions are pushed to all connected Avigilon cameras. Note that there is no process for updating cameras automatically aside from this, and updates must be performed manually.

Exacq: Manual Check, Automatic Update

In current versions of Exacq, users may check for new server versions in the Update tab of the system menu, select one, and automatically download and apply it in only one click. No further user interaction is required. 

What Do You Think?

Seeing these advantages and disadvantages, where do you stand? Are automatic updates a bad thing, prone to failures? Or do they reduce management hassle and keep systems secure and at peak performance?

3 reports cite this report:

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