Testing Decentralized / Edge Recording (Mobotix / MxControlCenter)

Author: John Honovich, Published on May 10, 2010

What if you could eliminate your VMS servers and get your video management software for free? That's the value proposition behind Mobotix's IP video surveillance solution. They refer to this architecture as 'decentralized' in contrast to 'centralized' approaches where cameras must connect and record to dedicated VMS servers.

Free software and less hardware is certainly attractive but what are the tradeoffs and limitations involved?

In this test, we examine Mobotix's overall video management solution including the use of Mobotix's MxControlCenter client and on-board storage for Mobotix's panoramic cameras and their dome cameras. For a primer on Mobotix's cameras, please review our test/examination of Mobotix camera configuration.

We think users should carefully consider the tradeoffs as we find there to be fairly complex advantages and disadvantages (unlike most VMS systems where a few major feature or price differences generally drive a straightforward decision).

Overview / Key Differences

We find 2 major differences that make Mobotix somewhat 'unique' among IP video offerings:

  • The decentralized approach makes some things much better and others easier much worse or harder to do
  • Mobotix makes it easy to access and use advanced functionality but this makes it harder for people to do basic tasks without training

For example, with a decentralized approach, you eliminate a single point of failure but you know need to ensure that cameras are time synched because the VMS server does not act as the synchronizer, you have to set up workarounds or manually copy client settings from user client to user client. Additionally, there are limitations in managing users or doing batch configurations across multiple cameras. [Note: this is just an overview - details are provided in the usability and admin video screencasts].

Additionally, Mobotix offers dozens of advanced functionalities but they are almost always listed side by side with basic ones, obscuring where to find common activities. For instance, you cannot drag and drop cameras into 'normal' matrix views but you can create nearly unlimited custom layouts of cameras. When you search, the default is asynchronous and their are two options for synchronous search. Additionally, there are two ways to use the digital PTZ controls (and depending on how you set these controls can impact recording, latency of control, etc.).
 
If you really learn the system well and use it regularly this should not be a problem. However, it's a big burden to task of any normal security user or technician and not something many (if not most) can commit to do.

Key Criteria / Decision Points

When evaluating Mobotix, the following 9 key criteria / decision points should be considered.

Criteria Strength Description
 Pricing Strong VMS Software Free, Storage can be done entirely and directly to low cost NAS devices
 Simplicity Weak Training critical, infeasible for people to learn by experimentation; violates standard conventions making it hard for even experience operators to figure out without training
 3rd Party IP Camera Support  Weak Limited range of support, only MJPEG encoding, only continuous recording
 3rd Party System Support Moderately Weak Little to no 'out of box' integrations, requires custom integration using IP Notify/Receive
 Analytics Support  Moderate Not true video analytics but complex event configuration possible with VMD and audio analytics
 Enterprise Management  Moderately Weak Limited enterprise management, requires 'work-arounds' to centralize configuration
 Alarm Monitoring  Moderately Strong Integrated column, provides tracking of alarms, instructions for guards
 Video Distribution  Moderate IP Notify can trigger changes to applications and switching to preferred views
 Redundancy Strong Eliminates VMS Server as central point of failure

Recommendations

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Recommendations are tough because this is an inexpensive but complex system to use. Inexpensive is generally good for residential and SMB. However, because of the system's complexity, non-technical users may become frustrated and waste significant amount of time. This is reminiscent of the old saying that 'Linux is only free if your time is worthless.' 

On the other hand, if you are technically strong and you like to optimize and personalize your solution, Mobotix is attractive. This is even more so if your technical skills outpace your budget as Mobotix provides a technologically sophisticated offering for the price basically of a camera.

For larger scale systems (with hundreds of cameras), we think the limitations on 3rd party IP camera support and 3rd party security system support plus the constraints on management will become more significant issues. Perhaps the cost savings can outweigh the specific functional limitations. However, in our experience, the bigger the organization, the more 3rd party support and 'first class' enterprise management become hard requirements.

The cost savings are significant and if the system's usability was simplified we believe this would become a very attractive mass market solution. Mobotix's cameras are fairly competitively priced to other megapixel cameras (even without factoring in the free VMS, NAS storage etc.). The hard cost reduction for eliminating VMS licenses, servers and allowing for cheaper/more flexible storage options is worth easily $200 USD which is about a 20% cost reduction for overall video surveillance equipment (compared to most mainstream competitive offerings). As it is today, though, specifiers should carefully weigh the tradeoffs.

3rd Party Systems Support

For 3rd party IP camera support, Mobotix offers integration through its MxServer application/service. However, there are important limitations:

  • Narrow range of manufacturers supported: Axis, LILIN, Toshiba, Sony
  • Only MJPEG encoding
  • Only SD resolution [Note: In Summer 2010, a new version will support up to 3 MP]
  • Only continuous recording

3rd party cameras are second class citizens in Mobotix's VMS. While support is free, the functional drawbacks are significant.

Usability

In the screencast below, we examine the key usability challenges we found:

  • Overview of administration (00:14 min)
  • Administering live monitoring functionality (01:12 min)
  • Configuring cameras (03:00 min)
  • Optimization options (05:07 min)

Live Monitoring

In the screencast below, we examine

  • Overview of layout (00:11 min)
  • Creating Layouts (00:35 min)
  • Creating Background Layouts (03:45 min)
  • Network Video Display (06:20 min)

Investigations

In this video we examine investigations. We found investigation functionality hard to locate on the UI and complex to use, especially for multi-camera synchronous search and exporting.

  • Overview of stored video (00:20 min)
  • Two search modes (00:50 min)
  • Synchronize camera controls (03:40 min)
  • Exporting (04:55 min)

Administration

In the screencast below, we examine key elements of administering a Mobotix system. Given its 'decentralized' approach, a number of elements are materially different or restricted compared to traditional enterprise video management systems.

  • Potential money savers (00:19 min)
  • Understanding storage workflow (00:25 min)
  • Issues working with live monitoring (01:20 min)
  • Issues in investigations (03:50 min)
  • Isssues in administration (07:11 min)
  • Recommended support (08:55 min)

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