VMS vs PSIM

Author: John Honovich, Published on Aug 04, 2011

Confusion in the security world is increasing about what the hell PSIM and VMS means and how they are different? Indeed, a major factor in this confusion is that many vendors market themselves using these terms even though they offer much different feature sets and functionalities. Smart people are left asking questions such as : Is OnSSI a PSIM? If OnSSI is a PSIM, than what about Milestone? Is Vidsys a PSIM, a VMS, both or neither? And what about Genetec - are they a VMS vendor, an access control vendor, a PSIM vendor or something else?

In this report, we explain the various factors impacting Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) vs Video Management System (VMS) categorization.

To start with, it is critical to understand that no naming standardization nor broad agreement exists on these terms. Because of that, it is important to understand the key tradeoffs and the disputed points so that you can properly appreciate and distinguish the various marketing claims used.

Here are the fundamental elements we believe you need to understand:

  • Differentiating PSIM as a Process vs PSIM as a Product Category
  • Integration: Critical to both, how does integration differ between a PSIM and a VMS?
  • Real-time Monitoring: how much and what type of monitoring does PSIM and VMS provide?
  • What is the packaging and price of PSIMs vs VMS?
  • What 'level' of PSIM is needed?
  • What manufacturers are really a PSIM or a VMS?

PSIM as a Process vs PSIM as a Product Category

The term PSIM is overloaded as it can be applied to both a generic process and a specific product category.

  • Process: Physical Security Information Management can be thought of as a general process to manage information from computer systems handling physical security. In this broad definition, any physical security system (intrusion, access, video) can be thought of as PSIM since each one does manage a type of physical security information. Nevertheless, this is less commonly used in the industry. On the other hand, as we examine later, for many users lower levels of management are often sufficient.
  • Product Category: PSIM is most commonly the name of a specific product category with vendors CNL, Proximex, Orsus and Vidsys the most frequently cited 'members' (though there are many small PSIM providers worldwide).

PSIM, the product category, generally has 2 major differentiators from the VMS category:

  • The level of 3rd party integration, especially with video systems
  • The level and sophistication of real-time monitoring and response

Let's examine each of them.

Integration: Critical to both, how does integration differ between a PSIM and a VMS?

Both PSIM and VMS systems integrate with other devices. Making things even more complex is that many VMS systems integrate with other security systems - such as access control, intrusion, PoS systems, etc. Only lower end VMS systems only integrate with cameras. Like PSIM, enterprise VMS systems tend to integrate with many other security systems.

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However, when looking at integration, two important elements tend to differentiate a PSIM from a VMS:

  • Integrating with VMS systems: Generally, a VMS provider will not integrate with another VMS provider (e.g. neither Milestone nor Genetec integrates with one another). If you have 2 video recorders or VMS software setups, usually one can not manage or view the other's video. Typically, this is a business decision by the VMS provider to not support or get support from their direct competitors (see our tutorial on recorders integrating with other recorders). By contrast, PSIM systems are generally designed to integrate with multiple VMS or DVR systems. On the other hand, even most 'true' PSIM systems only integrate with a fraction of the total VMS/DVR systems on the market since each integration requires a new proprietary development effort.
  • Video Sent or Received: Typically, the VMS system sends the video to the other security system, whether it is the access control or central station software. The VMS client, therefore, typically does not provide a full view of what is happening with your entry system or your alarms. By contrast, PSIM systems are designed to received, process and display all information and video in a single client. In this regard, an access control system tends to be more 'PSIM' than the average VMS system because access control systems are aggregating information similar to PSIMs.

As a counterpoint, a few vendors argue that a PSIM does not need to integrate with 3rd party systems. We think this is crazy and would fail to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of users. See the debate on PSIM 3rd party integration.

Real-time Monitoring: how much and what type of monitoring does PSIM and VMS provide?

As noted, above, most systems classified as VMS do not receive information from other security systems. This limits what they can display for operators. Beyond that, PSIMs tend to provide much more sophisticated real time monitoring.

  • A higher end VMS system often provides ways to share video, situation maps with embedded video feeds, the ability to move quickly between camera feeds, check alarms and take notes about the status of those alarms.
  • PSIM systems tend to do all that, from multiple VMS systems, AND provide integrated response procedures and escalation steps to ensure that an incident is successfully responded to and an evidentiary log is recorded for after the fact analysis. PSIMs generally go significantly farther than VMS systems in terms of handling incidents / crises.

What is the packaging and price of PSIMs vs VMS?

As a practical manner, the packaging and price of PSIM and VMS systems tends to vary significantly.

  • PSIM systems tend to be a 'middleware' software application that is added on top of existing VMS, access control, intrusion and other security systems. Usually this requires extensive on-site setup and optimization by specialists. Minimal pricing is in the tens of thousand of dollars and common pricing is in the $500,000 to $1 Million USD range.
  • VMS systems generally record video directly from IP cameras. A system can be set in a day or two by a moderately trained security technician. Pricing is usually in the $100 to $300 per camera price range and even large systems generally cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

This segmentation is not universal nor necessary. A few PSIM providers actually record video directly, absorbing video management directly into their application. However, this is not common as (1) VMS/recorders are generally already existing on-site and (2) customers often want more specific VMS functions that PSIM's video recording does not offer. Additionally, VMS providers can and do add PSIM feature sets into their software - sometimes as a core package of their enterprise offerings, other times as license add on that might cost a few thousand dollars.

What 'level' of PSIM is needed?

Users will vary in how complex their physical security information management needs are. When looking to choose between PSIM, enterprise VMS and access control offerings, here are common issues that impact decisions:

  • Number of systems to integrate: Generally, the more systems one needs to integrate or the less common those systems are, the more a PSIM system is needed. This is because PSIM systems generally focus on integrating with a greater and more diverse set of third party providers.
  • Real-time monitoring / workflow management: The greater the demand for auditing workflow and responding to regular emergencies, the greater the value for a PSIM system over a VMS.

The bottom line is that PSIM product deployments are quite rare (we estimate in the thousands total) and that most organizations use their access control or VMS software as cheaper, simpler, 'good enough' PSIM solutions (i.e., PSIM defined as a general process).

Who is really a PSIM or a VMS?

The real challenge in assigning categories is from the VMS side. As a group, the VMS providers are fast growing and profitable. By contrast, the 'pure' PSIM providers have struggled and are relatively small companies (recently being acquired at low prices).

The point about growth and profitability is important because the VMS providers keep moving up market. In each new release, they add more and more PSIM like features for integrating with third party systems and providing more sophisticated real time monitoring. That said, more traditional PSIM products like CNL, Vidsys, Proximex/ADT, Orsus/NICE tend to outperform VMS companies like Milestone, OnSSI, Genetec, etc. in the key PSIM product differentiators listed above.

As a final note and a practical example, let us examine the cases of OnSSI Ocularis and Genetec Security Center. These are an interesting contrast because OnSSI regularly markets itself as a PSIM or PSIM Lite or Video Centric PSIM solution while Genetec never markets itself as a PSIM. However, Genetec's Security Center provides far greater PSIM type capabilities than OnSSI. Specifically, OnSSI has limited to no third party VMS system integration and does not integrate access control into its client. By contrast, Genetec Security Center integrates with multiple DVRs and access control systems with significant real time event management. Eventually, we expect to see some VMS providers like Genetec become full fledged threats against PSIM even in the biggest PSIM applications. In the meantime, caution is needed in understanding the features relative to the claims.

Ultimately, the range of feature sets offered by companies called PSIM or VMS are going to range significantly Additionally, user needs for specific PSIM functions will vary greatly. To figure out what is correct, and more importantly, what is appropriate for an application, will require an investigation into the specifics of the product offering and the extent of the user's requirements.

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