School VMS Upgrade - Ripoff or Deal?

Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on Mar 18, 2013

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. 

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Comments (17)

This is almost the exact same scenario that played out at a school district in Wenatchee, however, there was no backlash from the public and it went from Pelco's Digital Sentry to Milestone.

How irritating the ignorance of the public here. The IT director deserves a pat on the back for this move. What a great deal getting full credit and discount upgrade even though the district had not even paid maintenance fees!

I do think there is an increasing risk to the industry in how warped public perceptions have become about surveillance - both on the magic/CSI side and also on the 'I can buy that at Costco for 90% less' side.

It's even worse when people with in the industry start believing the "I can buy it at Costco Crowd" I'm currently trying to convince a couple of directors at the company I work for why we shouldn't trust the company that wants to sell us cheap cameras with odd features I've never seen before. All the email's grammar was horrible.

I actually lost an industrial quote to a large industrial giant because I broke out the materials & labor on the quote.

They Wanted Costco, and I Specified Quality and Megapixel with a VMS. Needless to say, they did the project inhouse, with their own personnel.

Thier people just could not see why we charged so much for a camera anyone can buy from frys, costco, or off the internet. Thought anyone could do the job.

No Professionalism, Just Business with the Good old boys.

Sometimes its just a combination of technical ignorance and the drive towards low cost.

When you read the product descriptions on the retail packaging, and don't know any better, you could be persuaded towards purchase.

Most consumer products (photo and video camera) have default settings intended to provide acceptable results with minimal or no configuration needed. People are used to buying such products and easily using them.

Without any other basis for comparison, poor purchasing decisions are made.

When the results turn out to be less than expected, no one wants to get into hot water by admitting it. In such a situation if there is an incident, and the video system coverage and/or quality turn out not to be acceptable, that's when professional help is considered necessary and the budget get a second look.

Sound reason to avoid IP systems with license fees and operating systems which require incessant updates as a means of ensuring their continued upgradability, and "reliability".

I've always regarded PC-based video solutions as old news, especially those which require licensing and store their GUI and/or OS on a hard drive- it's like Y2K all over again.

License-free hardware and software, whether IP or analog, is where it's at.

If "License-free hardware and software, whether IP or analog, is where it's at," then why do so many people buy Milestone, Genetec, Exacq, etc.?

Listen, I don't like annual software licensing fees, but the reality is that a lot of very strong products require them to get access to updates. And, despite this, large portions of the professional market, continue to choose it.

Lack of any prior knowledge or options... Until recently.

Now, so many organizations have jumped the gun and are standardized on these licensed platforms, they're hard pressed to look elsewhere for fear that they may lose their job, upset their employer, or create a city-wide outrage such as the one described herein; you bought your PC and your VMS, and now you have to live with it.

License-free, embedded IP solutions are taking the industry by storm. They're fault-proof, there are no recurring costs... This is the same revolution our industry saw with the release of embedded DVRs. Defrag, scheduled reboots, updates, anti-virus, Solitaire and Minesweeper... Nope, not on a truly embedded solution.

You find a solution that is a marriage of the two, and you've got it figured out.

Matt, care to elaborate on the specific 'license free embedded IP solutions' that are taking the industry by storm? Name 3, excluding your own.

Let's look at how they compare to top VMS software options.





.. even SuperCircuits.

I mention products that are both embedded, and support third-party cameras.

Now, of course each has their own strengths and weaknesses, but in the end, they archive IP cameras, have a multi-site VMS, are embedded, and are license-free.

'My' product is different altogether, but bears the same central theme, with vastly more expandability and enterprise-level features.

I might also add, folks may choose to ignore these manufacturers, but the fact remains, they're moving product, often at a rapid pace.

Why don't we hear about them? They're in the business of hardware, not software, yielding less profitability (read: fewer marketing dollars).

Now, get a monster like Axis to jeopardize their referral base with these big VMS' and put out their own embedded recording platform, thereby effectively monopolizing, and these software houses are going to see an even greater opponent. One might even say Axis' advancements toward cloud storage and cloud VMS are an even greater source of concern.

Yeah, license renewals are ridiculous. Why would anyone want to get paid for their time & resources or pay anyone else for their time / resources? That's an absurd concept.

I don't know why I keep paying year after year for this stinkin IPVM website...

Maybe because John and his team spend their time, money, resources to bring new content, revisions and updates to the site?

Hardware companies don't give away updated hardware for free. Why would software companies give away software for free? Especially if they are software only?

Unless of course they stated up front there would be no continued fees for updates, maintenance, support.

Hello, Josh:

That's fair until you discount there is only an ongoing subscription fee for IPVM, and we don't soak customers for a 'base liscense' fee up front or anything like that. Some feel the burn of 'post sale' recurring fees after paying tens of thousands up front.

@Matt Bischof:

This is the same revolution our industry saw with the release of embedded DVRs. Defrag, scheduled reboots, updates, anti-virus, Solitaire and Minesweeper... Nope, not on a truly embedded solution.

Keep in mind this is the same industry that just awarded a Windows embedded camera 'best in show' at ISC West and deemed it revolutionary.

I can't speak for the companies I referenced above, but I DO know our firmware and software upgrade practices. Improvements to camera technology inherently means new hardware, Joshua- DigiSS is no less bound to this than any other manufacturer. The capture process itself, however, rarely, if ever, changes. I don't question your right and need for profitability, I only question why someone seeking the basics, IP video retention and viewing software, would choose to purchase a product that requires they pay down for something immaterial, especially on something they already own... Unless they were originally mislead. Features are one thing, but hardware inevitably governs the capacity of any software, whether it be the processing power of a PC running a VMS, or the processing power of the hardware doing the video capture; one NEEDS the hardware to complete the task, the software is just the wrapper. If one can land a non-proprietary 'black box' that only knows how to capture video, with no moving parts, licensing, of other recurring costs, why wouldn't they? These options are here now, and they're growing by the minute.


That is wrong. Once a user pays for the system if they do not want to make any changes or want any updates then whatever solution they go with will continue working as is. They will always have access to the same number of cameras, servers and whatever they paid for up front and this is perfectly reasonable. If they want to expand their system or get new features then it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to pay for the expansion or new features. We have systems on Genetec, Milestone, ONSSI & Exacq that have not paid a cent for updates for 3 years and they work fine still to this date without paying even a penny in updates.

However, if I ended my subscription to IPVM I'm pretty sure I wouldn't even have access to anything, even including everything I've paid to have access to up to this point.

Despite your idealistic view - short of having the resources & hankerin' to do so no one works for free - including you and all those developers out there.

I believe it's reasonable to expect an organization to be paid for their time for updates, maintenance & support unless they state up front there will be no recurring costs for the aforementioned items.

I subscribe & continue to subscribe to IPVM for the updated content and I know I will need to pay each year because that's what I agreed to.

If an end user does not like the ongoing costs they should have chosen a different product. PERIOD! There is such a thing as diligence. This applies to both product & integrator selection.

Matt, these statements are quite misleading: "hardware inevitably governs the capacity of any software" and "one NEEDS the hardware to complete the task, the software is just the wrapper."

Certainly, there are upper limits to what software can do with a given set of hardware but there are immense range of variations and enhancements that can be delivered with trivial impact of computing resources.

Here are some example of software enhancements that basically are resource 'free':

  • New camera integrations
  • Adding controls for panoramic cameras
  • Automating multi-server upgrades
  • Improved usability and options for configuration

Those are just a few I picked from Exacq's recent 5.4. You could certainly find many others in versions of Genetec, Milestone, previous dot releases of Exacq, others, etc.

It's funny that you allege companies like Exacq and Genetec at being good at marketing in contrast to companies like GE and Supercircuits: "They're in the business of hardware, not software, yielding less profitability (read: fewer marketing dollars)." Exacq and Genetec have built their companies on excellent software despite conservative marketing while GE (now Interlogix) released a cake last year.

As I said at the beginning of this, I am not a fan of the annual upgrade fee. However, they are optional and the companies that do charge them, typically release far more new features than the software development team at Supercircuits.

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