Testing Axis STS/AVHS Hosted Video (Secure-i)

Author: John Honovich, Published on Aug 04, 2009

Axis' hosted video offering, formerly called STS, now called AVHS, is a key contender in the future of video surveillance.  Hosted video offers simpler and more accessible video surveillance solutions. It also has the potential to re-align the power structure between camera manufacturers and software suppliers as well as between security integrators and service providers. However, it is still early and there are many challenges for hosted/managed video to overcome.

Secure-i, an Axis AVHS partner, is the first company in the US to fully implement the Axis AVHS system and offer it as service. For background on Secure-i, view their product overview demos. For an overview of AVHS (Axis Video Hosting System), see Axis' brochure and application note.

In our test and analysis of the Secure-i Hosted Video Recorder / AVHS solution, we found:

  • The system required no on site setup (just plugged it in) and trivial software configuration to fully record, view and alert
  • Compared to basic/mid-level VMS systems (like Axis Camera Station), the VMS software was simplistic and limited
  • On-site recording option and future Axis camera firmware upgrades will substantially increase competitive value of the solution
  • The service has the potential to disrupt existing forces in the industry yet has 3 major limitations relative to traditional video surveillance solutions
[As always, the test was not paid by the vendor. They loaned us a unit and provided technical support.]

Secure-i HVR Product and Pricing Overview

Secure-i offers 6 basic service packages, ranging from live viewing only (no recording) to up to 30 days of centrally stored video. Per camera, per month, the MSRP of these packages range from $15 USD (for live viewing only) to $40 USD. Service fee for running a local on-site NAS device is $5 per month (requires at least $20 USD per camera package).

Secure-i sells only through partners (such as security dealers, integrators, service providers, etc.). Secure-i has two tiers of partners. Partners in Tier 1 market the solution with the Secure-i brand and Secure-i bills the end user directly for the service payment each month. Tier 1 partners profit from the sale of hardware and from an ongoing commission from the service revenue. By contrast, Tier 2 partners market the service under their own brand ("white labeled") and bill the customer directly each month for service.

Tier 1 partners have a minimum contract term of 1 year. Tier2 partners have no minimum contract term and can set their own terms. A 1 month demo is provided for customers to connect to Secure-i's demo server.

The service only supports Axis cameras. Currently, these Axis cameras use specialized firmware that is not available on generally distributed Axis cameras. However, in the next few months, all Axis cameras will have the AVHS firmware pre-loaded, enabling any Axis camera to be used within Secure-i or other AVHS solution.

For megapixel cameras, the service currently supports the 207mw and the 209MFD-R, By Q4 2009, they plan to support the 216mfd-v, 211M, 223M, and Q1755. Given the bandwidth loads of 720/1080 megapixel cameras (generally at least 1 Mb/s and often as high as 7 Mb/s), megapixel should certainly use an on-site NAS device.

In addition to cameras, the service supports NAS devices. These NAS devices come pre-loaded with AVHS firmware. Currently, Secure-i offers a 500 GB NAS device that MSRPs for $360 USD. Secure-i reports that approximately 35-40% of customers use the local NAS device. They also report that the maximum size of the NAS device offered will increase in the next few months to 1TB.

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The AVHS cameras and NAS devices can automatically communicate with the central service as well as one another without setup of storage arrays, DDNS or port forwarding.

Setup and Administration

To setup, the system, all I did was power up and plug in the provided Axis camera. I then logged in to the website and it displayed a live feed of the camera in my office.

My office setup uses dynamic private IP addresses for my internal network with a dynamic public IP address from Time Warner. A fairly common setup, this normally requires me to enable port forwarding in my DLink office router and configure DDNS, etc. Neither were needed.

Once logged in, the main configuration is to configure recording and notification preferences - very similar to a DVR. A NAS device can be added and connected to cameras in the same simple manner as the cameras.

For our test, off-site storage was set for 4CIF / 5 fps (the maximum the service provides for on-site). On-site storage (using the NAS) was set at 4CIF / 15 fps.

For most applications, the availability of a NAS device eliminates upstream WAN bandwidth as a barrier. Given the low up-front cost of a NAS device and the minimal monthly service fee to use it ($5 per month), unless you were doing 1 or 2 cameras, using a NAS is the 'obvious choice'.

See screencast below:

Monitoring and Investigations

The system is simple to use but limited in functionality.

There is a live monitoring tab which lets you view cameras, control mechanical PTZs, take snapshots and record video manually. The client also supports a virtual multiplex allowing layouts of multiple cameras regardless of their physical placement.  Additionally, using IE only, the system plays audio from cameras. The client does not provide digital PTZ, mapping  or event management.

The investigation tab provides a list of video clips. These clips can be sorted based on type (alarm, manual, scheduled) and filtered by time period. There's no timeline view demonstrating when motion occurs. There's also no way to search by motion in a region. Exporting is very easy. You simply click the clip you want to export and the system exports it to your desktop.  Limitations on exporting include waiting for large clips on a local NAS device (they are first uploaded to the central server and then downloaded to the client's PC) and complexity in defining specific time frames for exporting (see screencast below).

The system does not offer 3rd party integration such as analytics, access control, ATM or PoS Integration.

Competitive Comparison to Traditional DVRs/IP Video Software

Compared to traditional DVR/NVRs, there are a number of important strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths

  • Setup is trivial, very little time and no technical expertise required on site. A low level tech can do the entire job including deploying a NAS.
  • An on-site recorder is not needed. However, if it is used, the cost of the NAS device is far lower than any DVR and far simpler to setup than typical NAS systems.
  • As with hosted video in general, the Secure-i/AVHS system is inexpensive for small camera counts and provides access anywhere on the web without having to open up holes in firewalls or use VPNS.
 
Weaknesses
  • For camera counts of more than 2-4, the total cost of ownership over a 3 to 5 year period can be significantly more than traditional solutions. For instance, an 8 camera solution using an on-site NAS will cost $165 per month or $5,940 in addition to the up-front cost of the Axis cameras and NAS device. This would be significantly more than an 8 camera analog camera plus DVR. You can certainly argue that's it better but the cost would be much higher (an 8 channel DVR would be about $3,000 and the cameras would be $100 or more less per camera).
  • Many common functionalities in DVR/VMS are lacking in Secure-i (e.g., maps, digital PTZ, event management, search tools, etc.) On the other hand, Secure-i offers enterprise management across locations and easier remote access.
  • Third party integration is missing. For many professional applications, this will be a deal-breaker. Many retailers need PoS integration, banks need ATM integration, offices need access control integration, etc.

Competitive Comparison to Envysion's Managed Video

The most relevant direct competitive comparison is Envysion (see our report on Envysion). Secure-i use of on-site NAS devices and the expansion of AVHS to support all Axis cameras will increase Secure-i's competitiveness against Envysion. The strength of Axis channel and brand will also help.

However, Envysion's deeper 3rd party integration and 3rd party IP camera support will likely make it more attractive to higher end, larger organizations with more advanced integration needs.

Ultimately, the lower end of the market will be determined on reducing prices and being capable of profitably serving the market at rates comparable to today's DVR solutions. The higher end of the market is more likely to be determined by the sophistication of 3rd party integration.

Axis AVHS Global Program and Partners

In addition to Secure-i, Axis reports 30 global partners including:

Axis Long Term Competitive Positioning

The growing portfolio of AVHS partners, the added support of on-site NAS storage and AVHS firmware standard on all Axis cameras points to the expansion of this program and potential incursion into traditional DVR/VMS solutions.

With today's pricing, the solution will have difficulty competing with 8-16 channel DVR deployments (if simply because of price). However, the prices can and will decrease (how much and how soon are open issues). 

In the next 2 to 3 years, with falling prices, it's likely that significant numbers of traditional DVR users will opt for this type of solution. As this happens, Axis will increasingly become a significant force in the video management space - primarily competing with analog manufacturers but certainly bumping into major partners like Milestone and ONSSi on multi-site, small camera count projects.

However, until and unless the service adds in broad 3rd party support, AVHS and services like Secure-I will likely not compete head to head against the core of the IP video software market - mid to large scale projects.

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