Should I use Cisco's Video Surveillance in my Router (ISR)?

By: John Honovich, Published on Oct 15, 2008

Cisco offers a DVR/NVR to be plugged into their office routers. Despite the appealing concept, Cisco's IP Video in a router solution will be uncompetitive and unattractive to most customers. The offering has serious flaws in features, applicability and pricing. (Disclaimer: I have previously written that Cisco has a weak video surveillance strategy. I think this is an example of how Cisco is focused on maximizing its network products rather than solving video surveillance problems.)

This reports overviews the offering, its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Eliminate Security Systems Integrator
  • Attractive to customers with existing ISR routers that can support these modules
  • Attractive to customers who are evaluating purchasing new ISR routers

Disadvantages

  • More expensive than almost any NVR/DVR/IP Video software solution on the market
  • Less Flexible / Expandable than software only IP Video solutions
  • Mediocre Video Management capabilities compared to today's top solutions
  • Deployable on only a small percentage on routers deployed
  • Not realistic to deploy new routers simply to add video surveillance

Cisco ISR Overview

This new solution allows video surveillance modules to be plugged in to Cisco routers (watch a nice video of Cisco ISR IP Video solution). Many of Cisco routers allow for different devices to be plugged in to the back of the router. Wireless networking, IP telephony, Ethernet switches and many other devices can be plugged in to the back of the router to add these services. Likewise, you now can add video surveillance to a Cisco router.

Cisco offers 2 types of video surveillance modules: an encoder and an NVR. The encoder lets you use existing analog cameras. The NVR manages and records video from either the encoder module or from third-party IP cameras/encoders. The NVR comes with a 120GB or 160GB hard drive with an ISCI connection for external storage.

You can use the video surveillance models on a select number of their Integrated Services Router (ISR) line which has over 4 million units deployed. The ISR has four series. All of the models in the top series (3800) supports the video surveillance modules and most of the models in the next series (2800) supports these modules. None of the models in the bottom two series (800 and 1800) support the modules.

MSRP pricing for the 16 channel encoder module (EVM-IPVS-16A) is $4,800 (foundonline for $3,380 [link no longer available]) while the MSRP for the 16 channel NVR module (NME-VMSS-16) is $10,000 (found online for $6,880). ISCI Storage beyond the 120GB/160GB on board can be purchased separately.

Advantage: Eliminate Security Systems Integrator

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By centralizing all video surveillance services within your existing networking infrastructure, you can use you network/IT engineers to manage data, voice and now surveillance video. While I see issues in this (less expertise in camera configuration/optimization, higher hourly costs), this could be attractive to IT centric organizations.

Advantage: Attractive to customers with existing ISR routers that can support these modules

If you have a 2800 or 3800 series router, you can plug in a DVR/NVR solution. So long as you are not using the modules already for IP telephony or other services, you should be able to quickly add in video surveillance. IT departments with available slots should find this attractive.

Advantage: Attractive to customers who are evaluating purchasing new ISR routers

If you are evaluating a new router purchase, you may find it beneficial to upgrade to a higher series so you can have slots available for adding video surveillance. The incremental cost of moving up should not be dramatic and you can deploy video surveillance as a seamless part of your network infrastructure.

Other Cisco Cited Advantages

Cisco cites increased reliability, network performance and security. Examples include eliminating video surveillance server, easier to provide back up power, easier to apply QoS, lower latency and embedded security infrastructure.

I think these advantages are modest at best. The main issue in video surveillance reliability is hard drives. Cisco does not improve that situation. With the Cisco ISR solution, you would need to deploy iSCI RAID system which is actually more expensive than leading NVR/DVR solutions. As for QoS, most customers operate satisfactorily with existing video surveillance system without QoS for video surveillance. Nevertheless, this requires its own review at a later date. As for the security, it should be increased but it should not be terribly dramatic. NVR/DVRs today are much more secure than the horror cases frequently cited from earlier in the decade. As such, I think a premium should exist but it should be modest.

Disadvantage: Significantly More Expensive than Leading NVR/DVR Platforms

Whether using the Cisco modules for analog or IP cameras, the solution is far more expensive. As a DVR replacement with analog cameras, end user pricing for the Cisco solution will be about $13,000 to $15,000 per 16 cameras – double the cost of top DVR systems (note I am using rough end user pricing, not MSRP). As an NVR replacement with IP cameras, the Cisco solution costs about $10,00 to $13,000, substantially more expensive than even market leaders such as Milestone or Genetec. Here's how the numbers break down:

  • Cisco Encoder module: $3,380
  • Cisco NVR module: $6,8800
  • 500Gb to 1 TB iSCI External storage: few hundred if you already have an external array, few thousand if you do not (challenge here is that many field offices will not have or will not want to use for video surveillance)
  • Opportunity cost for using 1 or 2 slots on ISR: $500 to $1,000

Such a dramatic increase in price is going to be quite hard to justify for any organization that is doing a careful comparison of the alternatives. The natural question will arise, "Why don't I just set up a stand alone appliance and save $4,000 per store or branch office?"

Disadvantage: Less Flexible / Expandable

One of the key advantages of moving to IP video surveillance is having the freedom of a software only solution. Unfortunately, this solution locks you into Cisco's hardware. Cisco basic NVR module offers only 1 GHz CPU and 512 MB RAM; the premium one only 1.4 GHz and 2GB RAM. This will limit your ability to handle megapixel cameras and analytics. You can, of course, only choose to do analytics at the camera but this is quite constraining and could deny you significant savings from the increase in processing power that other NVR/DVR appliances will be using to do more analytics centrally.

The risk is extremely high that this hardware will block you from taking advantage of some of the critical and most valuable advances in video surveillance that are emerging now and will continue to evolve over the next 5 years. Cisco certainly offers alternative deployment models but this defeats the purpose of placing a module inside your existing router.

Disadvantage: Mediocre Video Management capabilities

As a video management system, Cisco offers no significant features that are not common on any mid-level DVR or NVR. Moreover, they are weak to moderate on analytics, megapixel cameras (less variety), POS / ATM support, access control integration and advanced search – all key elements for today's surveillance state-of-the-art surveillance systems.

Megapixel cameras, 3rd party integration and analytics are driving most customer purchasing at the enterprise level. Customers are essentially going to have to sacrifice some of these benefits to participate in the Cisco solution. Such sacrifice will be hard for many to do.

Disadvantage: Deployable on only a small percentage on routers deployed

While the marketing efforts focus on support for Cisco's ISRs, only a small percentage of ISRs in the market are actually compatible for this solution. None of the very popular 800 series, 1800 series or 2801 routers will work with this solution. Therefore, of the 4 million or so deployed ISRs, a large portion do not support video surveillance. And if you need to support analog cameras, even the 2811 does not support the solution.

The problem, then, is that most people can't even use it even if they wanted to do so.

Disadvantage: Not realistic to deploy new routers simply to add video surveillance

It's unlikely that organizations will purchase new routers simply to take advantage of the video surveillance modules. It's logistically complex to coordinate purchasing routers and video surveillance at the same time. Almost everyone has routers and video surveillance already in place. Timing both at the same time or the video surveillance after the routers will be necessary but challenging.

Conclusion

The Cisco IP video surveillance router plug-ins are a disappointment. With many constraints, few advantages, a much higher price and limited flexibility, these modules will have limited appeal.

Do the benefits of Cisco's networking advantages outweigh its much higher cost and limited video surveillance abilities? I think most will judge "no".

Note: This article was originally published in June. Pricing has been updated for current online levels. Due to significant interest in the topic, it is being re-run.

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