VMS Health Monitoring ShootoutBy Sarit Williams, Published Sep 18, 2013, 12:00am EDT (Research)
Monitoring the health of video surveillance systems is critical to ensuring reliability and eliminating the security risks of outages. VMS software, as the central component of viewing, recording and managing video is typically looked at for monitoring the health of the overall system. However, what features do these VMSes provide?
Which VMSes are better or worse at health monitoring? In this report, we share the results of our study.
We tested Milestone, Genetec, Avigilon, Exacq, Network Optix / Digital Watchdog, and Video Insight VMSes.
11 Key Differentiators
Our testing revealed 11 differentiators:
- Views Offered: The main options included (1) real time dashboards, (2) exceptions, (3) statistics and (4) logs. Some offered only one of these with others offered 2 or 3 of these options.
- Default Rules: Whether fundamental rules were activated out of the box or required user setup.
- Server Down Rule: Whether the VMS allowed for notifications if the VMS was down.
- Camera Rules: Whether the VMS notified if cameras were down and what type of details were offered.
- Storage, Database and Network Problem Rules on these specific low level issues
- Communication Methods: Whether the VMS offered client onscreen notifications, Email, SMS/Text, and/or System Logs.
- Reporting Options: What VMS allowed for - HTML, CSV, and/or PDF (or none).
- Maintenance Mode: Whether the VMS allows temporarily turning off notifications when scheduled maintenance is being performed.
- Server Independence: Whether the VMS ran health monitoring as part of the server or separately so it can still notify even in case of a VMS server problem.
Here is how the 11 key differentiators compared across VMSes:
- Views Offered: We identified 4 types of views. The first is a real time dashboard view as offered by Milestone, and Network Optix/Digital Watchdog (though not as thorough as Milestone's). The rest of the VMSes offered a collection of grid like view of exceptions, logs (Avigilon, Video Insight, and Exacq) and long term statistics (Genetec and Milestone).
- Default Rules: Network Optix/Digital Watchdog, and Milestone both have 6 with preset default rules (NO/DW offered critical ones, while Milestone offered generic defaults not related to HM). The other VMSes required an administrator to configure even the basic ones for any implementation (such as cameras up/down (Video Insight default) or server issues).
- Server Down Rule: One of the most critical ones. Avigilon, Video Insight (using HM add on), Network Optix/Digital Watchdog, Milestone and Genetec offer server down rules, and Exacq does not (unless Enterprise and purchased HM app is used).
- Camera rules: All VMSes offer camera events, but Genetec separates by recording type (recording stopped on Motion Only camera).
- Storage rules: Network Optix/Digital Watchdog, Milestone, Avigilon, Video Insight (Unable to Write errors only) and Genetec offer rules related to storage. Exacq does not.
- Database rules: Video Insight offers a limited can't connect error. While the rest of the VMSes offer granular database related errors with the exception of Exacq offering no database related errors.
- Network Issues rule: Network Optix/Digital Watchdog, Genetec and Milestone also include lost packets, while Avigilon, Video Insight, Genetec all notify when the server or cameras are not reachable.
- Communication Methods: There are 4 notification types: Client onscreen notifications, Email (All VMSes), SMS/Text, and System Logs. All VMSes offered some form of client notifications with the exception of Exacq (action results only). Texting in Milestone (Professional and Enterprise) and Exacq Professional. All VMSes offered system logs.
- Reporting: HTML, CSV, and PDF were the main report types across all VMSes. However, the reports Included 2 types: real-time reporting and statistical reports. Milestone offers long term statistical reports in PDF. Genetec offers CSV, PDF, and Excel. Video Insight offers an HTML realtime only, while Network Optix/Digital Watchdog (CSV, HTML), Avigilon (PDF), and Exacq offer no statistical reports (only system log text file).
- Maintenance Mode: Genetec was the only VMS to offer a 'Maintenance Mode' where notifications are downgraded to informational during planned downtime. The rest required users to either disable the server entry in HM (Video Insight), or worst: disable each and every rule individually and reactivate once maintenance is completed or become inundated with many notifications.
- Server Independence: Health Monitor (HM) should be able to monitor both servers and cameras and not prone to the same errors it is meant to report. Avigilon, Exacq, Genetec (separate engine), Milestone (only in Corporate/Expert), and Network Optix/Digital Watchdog all include the HM built into server- server goes down, so do all notifications. Video insight and Exacq offer an external separate install HM that can reside on a separate server (if installed on same server machine will be like rest of VMSes, otherwise must dedicate a different server to it which is added cost) Milestone offers an Integrators Browser based dashboard.
Here is an overview summary of features:
Video Insight's Health Monitor application is included in VMS cost and Exacq's Enterprise Health Manager's MSRP is $995. Milestone's Integrator customer dashboard is available to Enterprise, Professional, Express, and Essential. The rest of the VMSes do not have any additional cost associated with Health Monitoring.
Administrators responsible for monitoring the health of their security environment must have a way to holistically view all critical components via a graphical interface or a single dashboard. It allows users to be able to quickly identify trend lines and or weak areas prone to failure and take immediate action.
Milestone (Corporate) offered this both via realtime stats and historical graphs accessible from client or management applications in a one screen view (vs. different areas as in the rest of the VMSes). This Performance Monitor leveraged design requires the user to have the dashboard accessible at all times to review (proactive), where as the other VMSes show exceptions (reactive).
Other editions of Milestone offer a Storage overview via a pie chart as well:
Network Optix/Digital Watchdog offered realtime view of CPU, RAM, HDD writing activity, and NIC cards activity. The rest were in client notification area or logs via a list of 'issues' and exceptions.
Avigilon offered a very limited real time server page with information that can be seen from the usual Operating System's Task Manager without much added Health Monitoring information:
Video Insight's Server Statistics pop-up offers several different current information ranging from CPU/RAM of server to current storage usage and bandwidth used per cameras in one, multi tab pop-up in a grid like listing that can be sorted. It does require the user to have the pop-up always visible though to identify any issues or setup rules.
Genetec offers a Health Monitor list of messages accessed from both Security Desk's Notification Tray or the Config Tool. The information can be filtered, but displayed in a grid like view requiring the user to sort through warnings, errors, or informational messages. However, their messages also cover very low level OS errors such as: "9/11/2013 9:00:27 AM A necessary dependency for this application can not be found. Video stability and performance are not guaranteed. Install the following hotfixes in that order: KB2468871 then KB2494124. They can be found on your installation DVD under the path \Hotfixes\Microsoft".
Exacq offers no notifications for health monitoring events via their interface, other than the catch all system log where all informational and errors would appear and a Video Monitoring pane where the actions to those events would be displayed. Here is a sample image:
With each VMS installation there are basic rules any and all integrators and customers would need, those include the critical components of a security system: Servers, Cameras, Network and finally Storage. Leaving the configuration to the administrator may result in errors first thus reminding the user to setup rules, resulting in extended configuration time.
Milestone offered 6 basic rules such as motion settings, PTZ and others, none relating to critical components previously mentioned. Network Optix/Digital Watchdog, and Avigilon offered the most rules specifically addressing the critical components so only editing of existing rules can be started while having the basics already implemented, saving time.
Genetec, and Exacq were the worst by not offering none of the critical components notifications/Rules already configured. Video Insight offers a camera up/down pop up, and Genetec and Exacq offer a video loss or Signal lost label in client's camera pane.
Each of the VMSes offered a listing of available rules, with Exacq and Video Insight being the most limited. Exacq's Event naming conventions were mostly unclear and separated rules based on camera type: 'video loss' for Analog and "IP Camera Connection' for IP cameras, but the end result would be the same for the end user- loss of video so why create two distinct rules?
Exacq's rules options failed to cover server down, server status, Network (bandwidth, packet loss, etc) and Database issues. Only 8 event types ranging from video loss to analytics. They do however offer the ability to trigger alerts as they relate to temperature problems with devices, and connection issue to network drive failures (good to catch write errors).
Video Insight's rules were limited, even using their external health monitor where 2 conditions were given: warning and error. Moreover, the notifications were limited to server down or cameras up/down emails.
Milestone, Genetec, Avigilon and Network Optix/Digital Watchdog offered a long list of rules covering all of the basics and much more that, once configured, will ensure the user is certainly notified.
Each of the VMSes offered some type of reports as they relate to Health Monitoring. Milestone offered the most useable reports for long term statistical overview of both servers and cameras pre built for daily, weekly and 30 days intervals utilizing quick to digest graphs for each (PDF). Network Optix/Digital Watchdog offers both a CSV and an HTML report (Video Insight as well). Genetec offers the most used options for any user: CSV, Excel and PDF formats (Avigilon as well). Exacq was the worst by offering a basic text file export of their log only.
Genetec offers a maintenance mode to the health Monitor role allowing for all would be critical server down or camera down errors to be downgraded to informational messages; thus communicating and allotting for expected downtimes without affecting historical statistical reports. Users would have to disable each and every rule individually or accept a slew of emails/notifications in the other VMSes, making it difficult to decipher which are true alarms and which are bogus counting on extremely clear company communication.
External Health Monitor Option
Video Insight (included in the cost of VMS), Exacq (MSRP is $995), and Milestone (included in SUP) were the only VMSes that offered an external Health monitor independent of the server rules and the physical server itself. This is especially beneficial in cases where the VMS server is having network issues or a power outage and isn't accessible, the health monitor can still send notifications. For Exacq and Video Insight It does however require a separate server purchase to install the HM and will involve additional cost and maintenance. Milestone's Dashboard HM is browser based and resides in their cloud.
Milestone (Corporate, and Expert) outperformed by offering a clearly displayed dashboard accessible via management or client applications. The dashboard already displays all cameras and servers and both their current status along with a historical view for each. Moreover, they offer a slew of rules for Database, Server, Cameras and network issues. Offering those critical rules as default would be an added missed feature. Here is an example PDF export for servers.
Milestone's recently launched (September 17, 2013) Integrators' customer dashboard further increases their competitive advantage here. It does not require its own server and is completely browser based. This new dashboard will allow integrators to review the customer's cameras, servers, storage, and other critical components. This will alleviate the need to setup rules on each server negating the need for lengthy configuration. However, this requires paying the annual Software Update Plan and is limited to Milestone's Professional editions only (Enterprise, Professional, Express, and Essential), not Corporate installations where the System Dashboard is available and a certification process is required to use. Here is Milestone's overview video.
Here is a screenshot of the new Integrator dashboard:
Here is an overview video:
Video Insight's VMS lacks health monitoring event notification and statistical reports. It does offer a realtime Server statistics multi tab pop-up that lists up/down time of the servers and lists number of failures, though no details at all as to the failure date time or cause (storage/network/database?). Furthermore, it offers one default rule when cameras are up/down via a pop-up notifying logged in users only. They offer a storage 'unable to write error" that will be buried in System Log and the rules built into the VMS have no coverage of health monitoring type rules (access control, I/O, Motion detection, etc). They do however have an external Health Monitor application that can be installed on a separate server that should (We had numerous Object Reference errors and registry errors when attempting to use) send server, and camera status. User can export an HTML type report of the current status.
Here is an overview video:
Network Optix/Digital Watchdog
Network Optix/Digital Watchdog offers a clear realtime graph display (can be viewed while monitoring live video) of server stats such as CPU, RAM and storage activity. It has all notifications tucked away from the main client view that can be quickly expanded to show any messages. As a default they also offer 6 rules covering all critical system components such as server, cameras, storage, network and other alerts- all a user has to do is configure email server and the system is now monitored. It does however lack statistical reports and all other messages are displayed in the grid view requiring sorting, filtering and searching through. A report can be exported as either HTML or CSV.
Here is an overview video:
Avigilon is strictly exception based. It has no dashboard to review current overview of system health. Notifications will alert the user via the client interface (or email), and there is a very limited server status information (CPU, Memory, Network status). They do however offer quite a few rules (unlimited in Enterprise, 3 in Standard and none in Core) that cover the critical system components mentioned. They offer a PDF export of the server stats.
Here is an overview video:
Genetec Security Center offers lots and lots of actions (aka rules) offering both breadth and depth to the system overview and general health. However, the views presented to the user with all of that information or would be notifications is still very primitive; grid like views and a notification tray without a single holistic overview. They do offer a Health Statistics grid (again) with percentages of up/down filtered by date range allowing for historical patterns. However, those would have to be imported to Excel, or another program to create a graphical representation. You may export those reports to excel, pdf, and comma delimited files.
Here is an overview video:
Exacq Professional is very limited and makes it difficult for users to gauge the health of their systems in a proactive manner. Moreover, users would have to spend time setting up rules; of which are very limited, not offering any Database, Network, or server down errors. Communication is available via emails or SMS/Text and no client side on screen notification of events forcing users to review a long listing of informational messages not necessarily related to critical health monitoring events. Exporting of events history is limited to a system log export of a text file (.log).
Exacq's Enterprise version offers a quick overview grid with a current status that will show Servers, Cameras, and Storage status, while allowing users to right click and view the Alert reason as a tool tip.
Exacq also offers a stand alone Enterprise Health Manager (EHM) for an added $995 (for Enterprise editions only) with the main difference that it can monitor several servers at once, which would be useful for those many recorders/servers.
Here is a screenshot of all servers:
And as you can see below, the event selection is similar to what is already built in to Professional:
Here is an overview video:
VMS Versions Tested
- Genetec Security Center version Server/Client 5.2.1045.3016 SR3
- Milestone Enterprise version Enterprise server version 8.1a/Client 8.0a and Corporate 2013
- Avigilon Server/Client 184.108.40.206
- Exacq Server/Client version 220.127.116.11120
- Network Optix/Digital Watchdog Server/Client version 2.0.1
- Video Insight version 18.104.22.168 and HM 5.5
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