Testing ipConfigure Enterprise Surveillance Manager v. 5.1

By: Benros Emata, Published on Apr 19, 2010

With interest in web based solutions growing, ipConfigure is an interesting option to explore. Unlike most VMS systems, ipConfigure is a fully web based VMS system targeted at the enterprise market.

In this test, we examine ipConfigure Enterprise Surveillance Manager [link no longer available] (version 5.1). The test was hosted on a Windows Server 2003 machine connected to the IQInvision Series 4 and Axis Q1755 cameras. 

Below is a preview of our ipConfigure test results:

The following key product / technology points likely impact selection of ipConfigure's VMS:

  • Web server architecture / IT 'setup': The system requires setting up a web server (IIS) running on a Windows server release (2003 or 2008). As such, it's neither compatible nor simple for someone to run on a 'regular' PC. This makes it less desirable for small camera count deployments and more appropriate for larger projects with IT competent installers/admins.
  • Simple to Learn to Operate and Configure: There are not many options and all the options are available in one of 5 panes or in the admin web page (divided into 5 sections). As such, it does not require not much time to explore or stumble onto almost any given functionality. This will be beneficial for infrequent users or for organizations that have high turnover amongst their operators.
  • A Few Key Advanced Features: The system has a number of important, advanced enterprise level features: centralized user management across recorders, batch configuration/templating of settings, thumbnail based search, motion grooming of video (deletes continuously recorded video without motion after a user determined number of days), alarm management, maps, etc.
  • Limited monitoring and investigative functionalities: The downside of the system's simplicity to learn is that a number of common and advanced functionalities are unavailable. We mention a number in the usability section such as no ability to rearrange live video panes via drag and drop nor save images from live video feeds, no timeline scrollbar for multi-screen playback. Beyond lacking common 'utility' features, it lacks more advanced functions like video sharing between operator's PCs, acknowledging alarms, access control integration, redundancy for the VMS application as well as recording, etc.
 
Best Fits
 
Given the setup requirements and price point ($245 MSRP per channel), the product's potential fit is really in the enterprise / high end market. By contrast, in the mid market, simple single server solutions with trivial setup on 'regular' PCs are available for half the price.
 
At the high end of the market, there are a number of competitors (e.g., compare to tests for Genetec, DVTel, OnSSI, Milestone, etc.). The biggest tradeoff between ipConfigure and other VMS systems positioned for the high end will be:
  • ipConfigure relatively strong in simplicity (web based, simple UI, limited options)
  • ipConfigure relatively weak compared to competitors on various advanced features and integrations
We do not find a specific verticals that would be ideal for ipConfigure. However, many verticals have specific integration or feature requirements (e.g., access control or video matrix integration, redundancy for recording, etc.). Specifiers should ensure that ipConfigure's limitations are acceptable for their use cases.

Product Overview

For a background on ipConfigure, read our review of ipConfigure's product's offering/approach.

ipConfigure offers limited on-line documentation [link no longer available]. Administrators should review the Pre-Install Worksheet [link no longer available] to understand deploying either on a single or distributed architecture and how to fabricate all the other Windows components.

Computing Platform Support

ipConfigure supports only Server 2008,  Server 2003. A single executable will provide installation for both client and server with a file size of 120 MB. As specified in the pre-install worksheet, applications such as Windows IIS, .NET, SQL, etc. are required.

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Third Party Support

ipConfigure provides a limited number of third party IP camera manufacturer support [link no longer available] and the Barix Barionet [link no longer available] for IP based I/O controls.

Pricing

ipConfigure has an MSRP of $245 per camera. Pricing includes enterprise management and other functionalities listed.

Usability

The following screencast provides usability highlights of ipConfigure's VMS, in addition to items we found challenging. Key points include:

  • Various Windows components required (00:18 min)
  • We pose the question, is ipConfigure simple or simplistic? (00:43 min)
  • Some documentation is more high level overview (admin manual) (2:32 min)
  • Configuration is easy to navigate (03:28 min)
  • Enterprise management is built into the architecture (03:46 min)
  • Templates can provide speed & minimize error (04:17 min)
  • 'Motion Grooming' removes non-motion frames (04:59 min)
  • By default, MJPEG is the only option for live streaming (05:15 min)
  • No application level redundancy (06:21 min)
  • Some changes require manual configurations within the database (07:01 min)
  • Internet Explorer is the only supported web browser for both administration and operators (07:27 min)
  • Mapping system not integrated with the matrix (08:00 min)
  • 16:9 is not supported in live view and the FoV is 'squished' (09:06 min)
  • Not optimized for large scale live monitoring (10:14 min)
  • ipConfigure recommends using e-mail notifications for alarms (10:51 min)
  • Limited search options are available (11:44 min)
  • Controls differ when viewing single vs. multiple cameras (12:53 min)
  • 'Export as Evidence' provides additional hash files for watermark verification (13:21 min)
  • Multi-camera exports are transcoded and merged (13:56 min)

Administration

The following screencast examines how to configure/setup ipConfigure's VMS system. Key points include:

  • Several Windows components are required prior to installing the ESM client interface (00:39 min)
  • Multiple 'Locations' can be associated to a single 'Archiver' (03:18 min)
  • 'Motion Grooming' will shed frames with no motion (04:40 min)
  • MJPEG is the single option for live viewing (06:45)
  • By default permissions are not provided to the Administrator (07:17 min)
  • The best practice for bulk user permission configurations are groups (08:43 min)
  • Dynamic grid lines in motion detection provide custom tuning (11:06 min)

Live Monitoring

The following screencast examines monitoring live video with ipConfigure's VMS software. Key point include:

  • 16:9 cameras will be 'squished' to fit the 4:3 standard definition aspect ration (01:49 min)
  • Large / dual-display monitoring stations can utilize the pop-up windows (03:24 min)
  • At least a 15 second delay will exist with Alarm notifications (04:23 min) [Update: ipCongifure reports that a direct change to the database can reduce delay to 1 second, however this setting is not available through standard client UI]
  • User accounts sharing views require proper permissions to view associated cameras (05:18 min)

Investigations

The following screencast examines how to conduct investigations with ipConfigure's VMS software. Key points include:

  • Search results are presented in hourly increments in the timeline review (00:58 min)
  • Multi-camera view does not display the progress bar (01:51 min)
  • Export as evidence provides additional hash files (02:13 min)
  • Exports are downsampled and merged to fit a 4:3 standard definition resolution (multi-camera) (02:57 min)
  • The Thumbnail view is segmented by the hour and can be drilled down into the minute (03:20 min)
  • Library is similar to case management (04:08 min)

VMS Questions - Basic Use (Live and Recorded)

How do I watch live video?

Through the client side web interface, the operator can enable cameras in the matrix view via check boxes within the left side structure tree. Multiple cameras can be displayed at once using the 'View' vs. the 'Preview' option.

Additionally, in the defaulted map tab view, the operator can click on or hover the mouse over the camera icons to view the live video stream

 

What ways can I monitor many video feeds simultaneously?

With multiple locations added to the Enterprise Management System, the operator can select multiple cameras via the left structure tree, then either drag-n-drop or use the check boxes to bring those feeds into the viewing area.

 

Additionally, each camera can be displayed in it's own separate pop-up window. In a large monitor or dual-display environment, the operator can move those separate windows to a secondary monitor while still maintaining view of the client webpage. 

 

How can I be notified and review alarms?

The Alarm tab will list all notifications on motion detection to camera errors. In addition to this, notification e-mails can be sent based on motion detection, alerts and errors & updates.

Its important to note that the minimum refresh rate is 15 seconds, so the operator should expect delays of these alarms.

 

How do I search for recorded video?

Using the Archive tab, the investigator has the Search and Thumbnail options.

Search will provide multi-camera search functionality via the structure tree and date selector on the left sidebar.

 

What ways can I search multiple video feeds?

When in the Archive tab, the investigator can select multiple cameras only using the Search tab (vs. Thumbnail). When events are displayed in the Search Histogram from multiple cameras, the 'View' option can be used to display the archived video from those sources.

 

How do you share images from video

When in the 'View' window, there is a 'Capture Frame' button that will provide a window prompt to save the desired screenshot. To clarify, this option is only available when displaying a single camera.

 

How do you share video clips from recorded video?

There are several locations to export video.

Within the 'Archive' tab the 'Preview' function will load video into the embeddd onscreen media player (one camera at a time). Using the 'View' option, the investigator has two options:  1) 'Quick Export, which simply prompts for a single file download and 2) 'Export as Evidence' that provide additional hash files to very the watermark.

The investigator can also add the desired clip(s) to the media player playlist or the library. From there, they will be prompted a 'Quick Export' download.

 

How do I know if I am in live or recorded video mode?

These function are separated in tabs or windows dependent on how the operator chooses to display the tabs. The 'Matrix' tab will provide the user with live video streams and the 'Archive' will provide the user with recorded video. Each of these tabs can be viewed via a pop-up window and would be applied in a multi-monitor environment (up to two physical monitors).

 

How do you switch between live video, investigations and configuration?

All but the configuration options are available via the client side web browser. The administrator can use the same IP address plus '/admin' to access the login screen. For example, 192.168.2.107/admin. 

 

How can I conduct searches from video feeds stored in different appliances/servers?

The 'Archive' page will allow the investigator to choose from various cameras of different 'locations' via check boxes. Assuming the user has been granted proper permissions, they can access any given number of recorders under the management server.

 

Are there any limitations or potential issues with the video playback controls?

There are several limitations when playing back video due to the dependency of Windows Media Player embedded in the web page.

First, there is no 'traditional' controls for fast forward or rewind. When viewing only a single camea, the progress bar within the media player will be available to skip through; however, there are no frame-by-frame or speed controls.

When viewing multiple cameras, the progress bar within the media player is not available and the user is locked into the speed of the media player plaback.

 

VMS Questions - Administrative

How do I add/setup a camera?

After adding a new 'Location,' the administrator must first 'link' to the management server via IP address. Once this link is established, right-clicking on the newly added 'location' will allow the "Add Camera" option. 

The camera configuration menu will then appear within the main viewing area on the right.

 

How do you restrict access to the system?

Within the administrator interface group permissions will allow restricting users to specific 'locations.' Permissions cannot be applied to individual user accounts so the adminintrator must add any given user to a group(s).

 

How can you setup the VMS to handle failures to servers/appliances?

There are no integrated options to do this.

 

How to provide server failover?

ipConifgure does not support any failover or redundancy within their system.

 

How can you access reports or alerts on the health status of the servers/appliances applications?

The Alarm tab on the client interface will list notifications and alarms registered with the system such as motion detection alerts to camera connection errors. 

In addition, the administrator can access health reports in the "Reporting" page. These reports provide statistical data on items such as server storage, general health and camera reports. The administrator can pick via checklist what items to report on with the opiton to export the information.

 

How can you upgrade the VMS software?

ipConfigure provides an updater tool to upgrade to the current version; however, our tests did not consist of utilizing this option.

 

VMS Questions - Usability

What, if any, VMS functionalities regularly take more than 10 seconds to load?

Depending on the amount of video, settings of the camera and client PC, playback in the Archive tab can take extensive amounts of time. For example, to 'view' a few minutes of video from a camera configured at 1920x1080, MJPEG, 15 fps can take up approximately 15 seconds to start playback.

 

What options does the VMS provide to reduce storage consumption?

At the 'Archive Server' level, storage can be limited by days of storage (short, medium and long), allocated space limit and "Motion Grooming." 

Motion Grooming is a ipConfigure specific algorithm that removes non-motion frames - this process occurs after seven days and is built in (cannot be turned off). The 'grooming' frequency can be adjusted and the default is seven days - after seven days grooming is initiated. 

 

What help functionality does the VMS provide while using the client?

The client nor the administration interfaces provide any help funcitonality. There is no help text or main help context menus.

ipConfigure has released a suite of limited documentation, detailing processes such as:  changing the server IP address [link no longer available], installing the Archive Server [link no longer available], creating schedules, maps, etc.

 

How similar is the use of the VMS client to a DVR?

The fact that the both client and administration is conducted via a web browser, this creates a hard contrast for functionality. For example, to preview any video, ActiveX and Flash Player are required to load video into the media player embedded on the web page. If there are issues with ActiveX or Flash, this can cause the interface or video not to display properly. 

 

How simple is it for an untrained operator?

ipConfigure does not overwhelm the operator/user with a busy web interface or extensively detailed configurations; therefore, the end-user will adapt quickly.

On the administration/installation level, they require extensive technical knowledge of installing, configuring and troubleshooting of IIS and SQL servers, Internet Explorer and Java troubleshooting, etc. Without this knowledge and expertise, the administrator can hit hard blocks that would prevent the security system from functioning properly.

ipConfigure has suggested the use of their service to conduct the initial steps of the server installations.

 

How powerful is it for the expert operator?

There is very limited advanced functionality and the expert operator will find the system simple and perhaps even lacking more sophisticated functionality that is generally available. For example, the alarms page funcitionality is limited to simply viewing details and cannot be acknowledged, forwarded, etc.

 

VMS Questions - Scalability

How do you restrict access when using multiple servers/appliances?

As mentioned previously, permissions can only be applied to groups. The group permissions is what will allow the administrator to assign specific 'location' and associated devices to users of the permitted list.

 

How can I watch live video feeds from different appliances/servers?

Assuming the user has been added to a permitted group, the structure tree on the left side will provide cameras from the different 'locations.' Using the checkboxes, the operator can choose what to view in the live virtual matrix area.

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