Video Management Optimized for Large-Scale Surveillance

By: John Honovich, Published on Jul 07, 2008

Steelbox provides a unique and very attractive solution to large scale video surveillance deployments. In applications where more than a hundred cameras are being deployed in a location and a command and control system is being used, Steelbox [link no longer available] may be the very best solution on the market. Of course, most customers do not fit this scenario but Steelbox [link no longer available] delivers a very powerful solution to one of the fastest growing segments of the video surveillance market.

To appreciate Steelbox's [link no longer available] value and differentiation, two elements must be properly understood:

  • Steelbox appliances maximize video distribution for large camera counts rather than optimizing for built-in features and branch office deployments
  • Steelbox reduces cost and redundancy by not providing an enterprise level client application

Steelbox Appliance

The dominant trend in video management today is software only applications that run on Windows or Linux. You buy a sever and software licenses from an IP Video Surveillance vendor. A technician loads the application on the server which can handle on average 32 IP cameras.

Steelbox approach is the mirror opposite of that. Steelbox provides a bundled hardware/software solution (an appliance) that does not require any loading of software. Each Steelbox appliance can manage hundreds of cameras (at 3MB/s each) in the same size format as a traditional server than only handles about 32 IP cameras. (Note: storage is separate from the Steelbox 'NVR' appliance.)

Most importantly, Steelbox integrates the video management into the operating system and does not provide a traditional application. This is significantly different than conventional NVRs. With conventional systems, providing software as an application loaded on a typical PC provides a lot of flexibility. You can use any type of hardware and fairly easily add in new management functionalities.

The penalty you pay for an application's flexibility is a loss in speed. For instance, you could run a routing or switching application and use your PC as a router or a switch. The problem is that it is dramatically slower than using a purpose built solution (like a Cisco router). Often, for client based tasks, this does not make a significant different. Even if it takes a second to open a web browser, you are only going to open a web browser every so often. When dealing with hundreds or thousands of video frames per second, the load or penalty in processing can be far more severe.

Steelbox dramatically increases the camera count that can be supported by simplifying the processing of video and eliminating the use of a PC application. For instance, the Steelbox 2500 (the size of a PC) can receive 1.5 GB/s of video, store 1.5 Gb/s of video and transmit out 1.5 Gb/s of video at the same time. This is 10 times or so greater than any PC based video surveillance offering on the market.

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The limitation of the Steelbox approach is that the appliance itself does come with built-in video analytics or third party integrations. With Steelbox, you will have to do analytics in the camera or stream video out to a secondary appliance. By contrast, many systems are now touting performing of analytics inside the NVR. Similarly, while you can perform 3rd party integrations, these will come from using Steelbox's APIs or using a command and control/PSIM system.

Steelbox Client Application

Steelbox's architecture limits the complexity of its client application and, therefore, essentially mandates the use of a third party command and control/ PSIM system. Steelbox currently supports Vidsys, Telindus and SRI among others. Steelbox, of course, has its own client application that does basic viewing and searching but more sophisticated tasks, common in large applications, requires a third party system.

It is becoming common today for super large video surveillance deployments to use a command and control system to integrate the numerous sub-systems and provide a structured workflow. For this use, Steelbox approach is actually a benefit. One of the major problems with integrating video surveillance with command and control systems is the overlap and redundancy of functionalities. Most of the larger DVR/NVR providers have developed integration with numerous systems and numerous advanced user functionalities. The problem is so have the command and control systems. This creates waste and potential confusion about what system to use when. Steelbox eliminates this.

Steelbox Pricing

For large camera deployments, Steelbox is incredibly inexpensive. The MSRP for a Steelbox 2500 supporting up to 500 cameras is $35,000. That is $70 per camera for both the hardware and software (storage excluded). This is 50% to 80% less than the cost of an equivalent NVR/DVR solution. Even in a software only solution, the per channel MSRP for a software license is $100 - $300 and the hardware works out to be another $50 to $100. Steelbox provides you substantial savings, especially if you want to use a command and control system anyway.

Uses for Steelbox

Let's start with clarifying what are poor uses for Steelbox:

  • Small camera count per site (under 32): If you have quick server restaurants, bank branches, remote offices, etc, Steelbox is not a good solution for you. Steelbox does not optimize for small camera counts and you are better off with a more traditional solution.
  • Moderate camera count per site (32 to 64) but do not want a command and control system: If you want some system integration, mapping and other advanced functionality right out of your NVR/DVR, it is likely to be cheaper to purchase a traditional video management solution rather than Steelbox and a command and control system.

However, if you have very large camera counts and have need for sophisticated management system, Steelbox can be an ideal fit:

  • Large camera counts per site (more than 64): With large camera counts, Steelbox will not only reduce the cost of deployment, it will reduce the space needed and power consumption to deploy video management.
  • Sophisticated management: Steelbox's focus on fundamental video management provides an excellent complement to command and control systems. Steelbox will save you money on eliminated redundancy and eliminate the contention of whether to use the NVR or the command and control system for monitoring.
  • Existing command and control systems: Many large customers already have command and control systems deployed. Steelbox offers significant value for video surveillance expansion or upgrades for those systems. Rather than continuing to pay premiums for NVR/DVR functionalities you do not use, consider Steelbox as a very scalable and reliable alternative for adding new cameras or upgrading existing NVR/DVR units.
  • Conclusion

    Steelbox provides a unique and very attractive solution to large scale video surveillance deployments. In applications where more than a hundred cameras are being deployed in a location and a command and control system is being used, Steelbox may be the very best solution on the market. Of course, most customers do not fit this scenario but Steelbox delivers a very powerful solution to one of the fastest growing segments of the video surveillance market.

    2 reports cite this report:

    Steelbox Foreclosed - Purchased by ASG on Nov 19, 2008
    NVR provider Steelbox Networks [link no longer available] has gone out of business in the last month.  Steelbox, a specialist in large scale video...
    Should You Use Software-Only Video Management Systems? on Oct 30, 2008
    Software only has lots of the momentum. But should you use software only? While DVR/NVR appliances are increasingly viewed as antiquated, over 80%...

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