Cisco Surveillance Problems - Case Study

Author: John Honovich, Published on Nov 14, 2011

An end user recently came to us with a detailed report about the challenges he is having with Cisco's video surveillance solution. His report, written in his own words, shares important challenges including lack of 3rd party support, limited functionalities and troubleshooting problems on the client side.

"First off I’d like to provide you with a short background on our current campus and Cisco VSM system. Our main campus covers a few hundred acres most of it was retro-fitted in stages with large open parking lots. We have several other satellite campuses around the area which also utilize Cisco’s VSM. We have about 100 cameras on the system now – the majority are Cisco 2500 series, 32 are analog cameras on Axis Q7406 encoders and the rest are a mix of Axis 216s and 209s. We have hundreds of analog cameras which we will eventually transition to IP. We have a fairly extensive system spread across several building in several different locations."

"Cisco entered the video surveillance market on the hopes they could easily sell their product to IT departments who heavily utilize Cisco products in their network infrastructure. Their marketing ploy is “It’s a Cisco product so it’s guaranteed to work on your network with no problems,” IT departments love to hear this so the sell is relatively easy. There is no need for IT to take the next step and ask about features of the system, compatible cameras, analytics, SDKs, etc. Cisco’s VSM is designed to be accessible and usable on any network infrastructure, they have optimized their product to take up as little bandwidth as possible. This works well if your video surveillance needs are simple and if your network infrastructure cannot handle excessive bandwidth. This is another major selling point to many IT departments as they do not want all of their bandwidth taken by several IP security cameras."

"We have been using Cisco’s VSM and Cisco’s cameras going on two years now, and to be honest as time passes I wish I was here when the decision was made to move forward with this product because I would not have recommended it. To make a very general statement Cisco’s VSM behind industry standards, below are some points I have noticed that are available in other VSMs but not Cisco."

  • Relevant analytics
  • Access to third party cameras is extremely limited
  • The ability to batch add camera feeds
  • Customization on archives is limited
  • GUI is a bit cumbersome
  • ONVIF compliance (not available until VSM 7.0 scheduled for released in March 2012)

"Cisco’s VSM does have a forensic search feature which became available in a spring update (6.3.0). This feature does work for us as it is much easier to comb through video, yet there is no event timeline which is something that has been available on DVRs for years."

"My biggest complaint with Cisco’s entry into the video surveillance industry is based around its cameras and camera compatibility. For all intensive purposes you can count the amount of cameras made by Cisco on one hand, in my opinion their cameras are a year behind the rest of the industry. There are only two Cisco cameras to my knowledge that support H.264, there is also a very disturbing lack of multi megapixel cameras available. Another drawback of Cisco’s cameras is their inability to accept third party applications. Now you can say, “this isn’t a big deal just go with another camera brand” well I would but the compatibility matrix is extremely limited. Most models on their compatibility list are discontinued products from third-party manufacturers. Currently Axis, the largest of the IP camera companies, only has 2-5 cameras officially compatible with Cisco’s VSM. To my knowledge Cisco’s list has not changed in ~1 year. No Cisco camera has the ability to support SDKs and they have zero analytics capabilities. Most large camera manufacturers have offered exterior domes that are fully PoE powered, at the time we purchased Cisco domes ~4 months ago that was not available and we were forced to pull more cable. Cisco’s VSM and its cameras are not OVIF compliant which is a major detractor, interoperability with products other than Cisco is almost non-existent."

"Lastly I would like to touch on their support process, TAC Request. If you are having an issue on the media server where the VSM and VSOM lives Cisco is very helpful. If you are having an issue on a client machine their response will be this, “You machine does not meet the baseline requirement,” and they will be very difficult to get any help from. Below is the baseline requirement for a client machine. Notice that minimum memory is 6GB and minimum CPU is an i7 – meaning the overwhelming majority of PCs are incompatible."

Workstation Attribute

Legacy Specification

Physical Security Client Workstation

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Operating System (OS)

Windows XP Professional 32-bit, SP3

Windows 7 Pro, Ultimate or Enterprise, 64-bit


Intel 950 i7 Core - 3.07 GHz

Intel Xeon quad-core – 2.53 GHz





NVIDIA GeForce GTX260 896MB PCIe

NVIDIA Quadro FX 3800 1 GB PCIe


Microsoft Internet Explorer 7

Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, 32-bit

Cisco VSOM configuration

VMR mode enabled

Network connection

Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) network connection required

Display configuration

Single monitor

"In conclusion I think Cisco has to completely revamp its development team and its development path to have any hope of coming close to competing with what is on the market right now. In my opinion Cisco is attempting to maintain an iron grip on its hardware and software (keep it as proprietary as possible). With the way technology has progressed in the past 15 years the thought of developing proprietary products in order to force end-users to continue purchasing products from one particular company is an antiquated school of thought."

This is very enlightening as it sheds a public light on the real challenges an end user faces. We are not surprised about the interoperability issues as we see this as part of Cisco's overall approach to the surveillance market. See our September 2011 report on Cisco's surveillance strategy.

We encourage end users to share their concerns and bad experiences as it can help your peers around the world to avoid problems and push manufacturers to rectify their shortcomings. You can share anonymously by emailing to or using our contact form.

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