School VMS Upgrade - Ripoff or Deal?

By Carlton Purvis, Published Mar 18, 2013, 12:00am EDT

A local US newspaper has questioned the need for a local school district to upgrade its VMS software just a few years after its initial install. Commenters have attacked the upgrade, claiming the school is getting ripped off. IPVM investigated, speaking with the school district and the manufacturer to understand what the reality of the situation is.

Portage's Systems

During its original installation in 2009, Portage Public Schools had a choice between two versions of management software. It chose the less expensive package because it fit the needs of it’s then 60-camera system. Fours years later, the number of cameras in its surveillance system has increased to more than five times that. 

How did the system get so big so fast? Portage originally planned only to add cameras to new construction projects coming out of $19 million in construction bonds that were approved in 2007. 

With $450,000 of that budgeted for surveillance, it realized that it had enough to cover surveillance for the whole district. That’s when Daniel Vomastek, Portage Public Schools Director of Information and Technology Systems, decided it was time for an upgrade.

The school installed cameras on all of its 15 buildings, increasing the number of cameras system-wide to 311. 

The cameras cover entryways and exits, playgrounds, hallways and bus pick-up and drop-off areas. Both the Portage Public School central office and individual schools can monitor cameras in real-time but their main purpose is to keep a record of events for playback. The most recent change is coming to Portage's management software.

"When we started, we didn't have a lot of cameras so we bought a lower grade version of OnSSI. But now that our system has grown, we need the ES package to support it,” Vomastek said.  

Upgrade Details

Portage upgraded from the CS version [link no longer available] of OnSSI's management software to the ES version [link no longer available]. ES removes the license cap of 64 cameras per server, and adds a number of notable features including centralized management, multi-stage storage, rules, multicasting and redundancy.

OnSSI said either version supported the total number of cameras but that the upgraded version improved manageability

Pricing

OnSSI credited Portage Public Schools 100 percent for it's original software and billed only $28,900 for the upgrade of 311 camera licenses. That's less than $100 per camera for the upgrade. In addition, the school district confirmed that they had not paid annual maintenance fees in the interim.

Given the going rates of those VMS software versions, that is not expensive at all.

Public Reaction

However, judging by the comments about the upgrade on Mlive.com, many see the $28,000 investment as a waste of money, despite the upgrade deal from OnSSI.

“$28,000 just for the software? They're getting ripped off,” said Ryan Cousins. Cousins said he recently installed an eight-camera system in a store for less than $300. 

Commenter Alexander Feldman says when organizations see bigger price tags, they usually think it means better software, saying $28,000 is "just abnormal, even for hundreds of cameras." He recommended webcam software from Xeoma instead.

Unfortunately, this demonstrates public misconceptions about surveillance. A $300 Costco kit lacks the features and scalability of what a school district needs. Plus, upgrading hundreds of cameras for less than $30,000 is abnormal, ironically, in that it is lower than industry average and a relatively good deal for real VMS software, not just a consumer webcam application.

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