VMS Remote Monitoring Tested

Author: Sarit Williams, Published on Aug 21, 2013

Remote monitoring of VMS systems is often critical. Large organizations have campuses, offices or branches scattered across a country, with a need to access that surveillance video. Indeed, all organization, large and small, frequently want to watch video from their homes or while on the road.

Limited bandwidth remains a key problem, with remote locations often only providing 1Mb/s upstream to send video out. Worse, many locations (e.g., banks and retailers) want to constrain how much bandwidth video takes up to ensure transactions are always promptly processed.

At the same time, megapixel adoption has surged, becoming the de facto standard for new IP video surveillance systems, raising the question of how well remote monitoring will work with increased strain.

The Test

We decided to test performance of remotely monitored VMS systems. We used a tool to throttle bandwidth to 3 levels:

  • 56kb/s: Worst case scenario for legacy systems
  • 256kb/s: Challenging but common scenario with limited bandwidth
  • 1.5Mb/s: "Good" bandwidth for remote monitoring

We then tested the following VMSes: Avigilon, Exacq, Genetec, Milestone, Network Optix/Digital Watchdog and VideoInsight.

We started with thick clients and then tested web clients. (Note: a future report will be dedicated to mobile applications).

The Key Questions

This report examines and answers the following:

  • How good or bad was performance at 56kb/s, 256kb/s and 1.5Mb/s?
  • How did performance vary between a single and 4 camera view?
  • How usable was live monitoring vs investigations?
  • What difference in performance occurred across cameras and resolutions?
  • What optimization techniques were available to improve performance?
  • How did manufacturer performance vary?

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Comments (33)

What about testing other VMSes? Since this question comes up for every test, let me pre-empt it with our priority for remote monitoring tests.

We will test other VMS remote monitoring capabilities but the priority will be on systems that support transcoding (e.g., Ocularis X, 3xLogic Aztech, etc.). If you know of a VMS that has a sophisticated transcoding capability, recommend it, otherwise no. Thanks.

How about Command from March. I'm pretty sure they transcode. I've ran their free version on the free tier at AWS and streamed one (720p or D1 sorry can't remember) and it worked pretty well from a remote location. No exstensive testing just playing around one afternoon. It uses a web client as well

March would be a secondary priority, simply from the standpoint of general user interest, unless there was a significantly improved implementation / approach.

John, I'm interested to see how 3VR would fare as well. They offer:

VISIONPOINT™ VMS PRO FEATURES
Bandwidth Throttle, Bandwidth Scheduling, and
Adaptive Bandwidth for IP control over networks.2

Also, with searching, they claim it to be much faster since based on their thumbnail approach.

I'm looking heavily into using this more and more because its the only VMS I can find that can email a simple JPEG with an alert; much faster than getting sent a link or a 24MB video clip!

Matt, a long time ago, I worked at 3VR, I was there when the original development of bandwidth throttling and control was done as well as the thumbnail / storyboard search navigation. The throttling / remote bandwidth worked quite well, even then. The thumbnails do help a lot, structurally, to grab lower res, representative shots to push over low bandwidth connections (common in banks and retailers). As for search, it works best if you are searching for particular events - like teller transactions or faces, etc. If remote monitoring is a priority, I think it's worth considering.

In general, VMS / recorders that focus on small box retail / banking do better than those that don't (e.g., Milestone/Exacq) because it's typically less of a priority to make the product work on such low bandwidth connections.

That said, as for 3VR, I am not sure when we would formally test it but we will definitely consider and I appreciate you calling it out.

thanks for the response; didnt know of the 3vr past!

I dont intend to veer off topic, but I again hear 3VR typecasted into banks and retail.

i do NOT do a lot of banks or little retail, and im having a hard time finding things that the "big players (Milestone, Genetec)" can do that 3VR can't do. but, maybe im missing something, can someone enlighten me?

Matt, I don't think 3VR is simply 'typecasted' as banking/retail. That's been their choice in marketing / targeting for a while (not exclusive, but certainly the core focus).

Now, the bigger 'why hasn't 3VR become a big industry wide player like Genetec or Milestone (or Exacq)' is an interesting one.

3VR certainly does have a lot of features, far more analytic oriented/related ones than any of the software only VMS offerings.

One big technical barrier was not offering a software only COTS option until recently. The other was the focus on analytics that did not work out as well as simply building a general VMS.

Now, 3VR is having some real financial challenges (see our layoffs post). Maybe they will get a new round of funding or acquired by someone big, that I don't know.

As a Genetec dealer I love reports like this... It's nothing we've run into before (thankfully); but from what I know of their developers and product managers, they are very sensitive to feedback like this, especially from IPVM (as I am sure most manufacturers are), and I think it will only result in a vastly improved 3.2 WebClient.

Does IPVM have plans on testing Smartphone based mobile clients as well?

Hi Sean, Thanks for the feedback. We are planning on testing mobile apps in the future, certainly. Also, we have reviewed this with Genetec directly so they are aware of what we experienced / tried.

This is a timely article for me because one of our customers had asked me to investigate the interactions of Milestone Clients (Smart and Web) with the Server he bought from us.

We were doing performance testing on our Workstation machines so it was easy to do this investigation.

In our lab we established the utility Server to draw streams from and used either SmartClient on a workstation or WebClient on a laptop.

For MS, the key is where the transcoding is performed and what can trigger it.

For SmartClient, the transcoding trigger happens when one sets up the image quality in the Properties for a camera. The documentation says "While using a reduced image quality helps limit bandwidth use, it will—due to the need for re-encoding images—use additional resources on the surveillance system server."

The net on that is to keep it on "Full" quality or get a LOT more CPU in your system to service the transcoding.

For Web Clients the transcoding is always performed by the WebServer application. Do not make the mistake of installing this on your recording server as this application will always transcode every single camera to MJPEG before sending it out to the WebClient.

The net here is to run this app on a dedicated system with lots of horsepower and plenty of network capability.

We also pulled the WebClient up on Smartphones...which also uses the Mobile Server. The 'App' that MS provides does a good job of this.

An overall design consideration we took away from this is to consider the use of cameras that can Dual Stream where you can establish the H264 stream to record with and a MJPEG stream for the live streams. The MJPEG live streams use significantly less CPU to transcode and allows a Server to not get overwhelmed feeding Clients. The caveat here is you need to design in the network bandwidth.

Mike Dotson - Thank you very much for your note on transcoding and server load.

I am finding an increasing trend among my clients and other end users, who initially had little to no interest in considering video for operations purposes.

Once they see what megapixel cameras can do, they now have a very high interest in using video for operations purposes,

Before they saw their new system, they could only envision the poor video from their very old analog system, which had never been of much use for operations.

For many of my clients a wider use of live video—especially with tablets and laptopsmeans that ad hoc video stream connections may be established from any point on the company network. For security use we usually get to design or upgrade key parts of the network to fit video needs. For operations use, we have to make things work over existing connectivity, which is often low bandwidth to remote locations.

We're dealing right now with a situation where the server CPU utilization has skyrocketed, because the client has been giving a lot more people access to video—well beyond any previous expectations. This just came to our attention, and now we'll have to take a closer look at options for where the transcoding is done and what use to make of multi-streaming.

Just wondering if you have tried multi-site VMS performance, not just streaming from one site? The reason I ask is because I am working on a project for a client that needs multiple sites (about 10-12 2MP cams per site) fed back to HQ via broadband based networks. Right now it is 4 off-site locations, but sure to grow to more in the near future.

We have been testing the Network Optics HD Witness program for this scenario and have found some pros and cons. The thick client works pretty well for our test setup of a few cams, we are limited by the 4 camera trial license.

However, the web client will only show streams from cameras that are local to the Enterprise Controller, unless a VPN is enabled (Hamachi). We have found that the VPN is limiting our bandwidth somewhat, but don't have a measurement yet. We would like to avoid using the VPN because of the overhead it adds.

We are working with Netwok Optics at the present time trying to get this worked out. Also, we noticed that in the 2.0 version we could override the settings for camera resolution and frame rate, but those settings are lost once the Media Server is restarted. After a restart of the Media Server software, HD Witness takes over the streams again and you lose your customizations of resolution and frame rate.

This is important to us because we plan on using a 3MP camera, but only need to record 2MP (1080p). We are only chosing the 3MP camera for other features not found in the 2MP models. We don't need the extra resolution and the disk space it would waste.

Thanks for the feedback and sharing your experiences.

Mike- yes, transcoding does come at increased CPU usage on the mobile server (Milestone recommends installing it on a separate server as you mentioned), however, their multistreaming feature is only supported in the Corporate version- what about the other versions' end users?

Jon- for this test it was only me as the remote user so I can imagine both CPU usage and stream load times would increase when the number of remote users is increased. Thanks for that note regarding 2.0, I'll pass that on to them and get a response.

Hi Jon,

Our engineers have fixed that issue you found with the stream settings of our software overiding camera settings after a media server re-start. We also fixed two other minor glitches with our new RTSP stream pull (now you can pull channels from the web if you want) as well as a bug in our new "Spyglass" feature for when streams were rotated. You can download the update any time from our site now.

Thanks again for finding that for us.

Nathan

Nathan,

Awesome update! I will give that a go tomorrow. I hope that we can get our cams to stay at our prefered resolutions and frame rates. It was a big issue for us in 1.5 and we were so glad to see that feature in 2.0.

On another note, can you tell me if I am supposed to be able to see cameras from remote Media Servers in the web client? We have a two site demo set up, SITE A and SITE B. Both have two cameras at each site. The EC is at SITE A. When using HTTPS://SITE-A-AP:7001/web to view the web client, only cams from SITE A are usable. SITE B cams are not viewable, but are listed.

I have had a different experience with multi-streaming than reported here.

We recently did an Exacq/Axis install that included a number of 5 megapixel cameras on the exterior, and all M30 series on the interior. The internet connection is terrible. The 5MP recordings were unusable remotely, and the 1/2/3MP M30 streams were not a whole lot better.

I configured all cameras with secondary CIF streams at 4fps, and moderate to high compression. I set Exacq to record both streams. This wastes space and CPU on the server - but with resolutions so low it's negligible to the point of being unnoticeable.

I was very surprised by how well it solved the problem. Response was speedy, and you can do a lot more investigation at CIF resolutions than you would think.

Undisclosed, thanks, yes, Exacq was a positive outlier for multistreaming. I suspect your effective bitrate might have been lower than ours (given your resolution / fps / compression) and that helped as well. One advantage of Exacq (and a few others) in this regard is allowing custom configuration of the low stream (which reduces bitrate, which reduces load delay).

Btw, you could accomplish the same thing without setting up a second stream by using the advanced web client / transcoding (which would help investigations as well).

How well does the web client handle scrubbing caching scrubbing hours of video? I am guessing not as well as the thick client.

I would also guess it takes a moderate to significant increase in server CPU and disk bandwidth resources to do transcoding.

Salient touts dynamic resolution scaling which automatically changes resolution before transmission. Would be very interested to see how they stack up considering there high emphasis on this topic.

Salient White Paper

Wow, one manufacturer recommending another!

I forget about Salient's scaling. Good recommendation. Thanks.

As I understand you have only limited the bandwith in this case.

We regularly see different problems with transmission links that is not necesarily bandwith related. Delay on the links can be significant and also packet errors.

With high latency links Web clients can meet severe problems due to the inherent structure of the HTTP protocol.

So other issues than limited bandwidth can give significant impact on your remote operation.

Yes, we agree. For example, I have been involved in projects where video was transmitted over satellite, causing 500ms delay as well as increased packet errors. However, those are not typical projects overall.

That said, the tool we used could also simulate that.

We believe the most common case is simply constrained bandwidth so that is why we focused on that. However, in the future, we would certainly consider testing for the parameters you are mentioning.

Thanks for the raising a strong point!

  • While multi-streaming with a secondary low stream is billed to improve remote monitoring, in our tests, many VMS's low stream took almost as long to load as the high stream with negligible benefits in real-time performance.

Any ideas why this would be the case?

John and group, I've made some 'interesting' discoveries regarding remote sites as well, that may be worth sharing.

I most often use Milestone Essential for single site applications for under 20-30 cameras, as I feel its 'thin client' viewing interface (Smart Client) is the most user friendly (esp. in viewing recordings, although I still prefer the old 6.0d version), and the cost is most attractive in this price sensitive market.

However, I have a growing customer base that have multiple remote sites, with 2-5 cameras at each remote site. And, employees at these remote sites are becoming more engaged in using the cameras locally, for local operations support - so video stream access at the remote site is now becoming a requirement as well. This will become a key issue in solution architecture.

Also, users at 'corporate' are not very excited about viewing cameras at these remote sites in less than full HD (1 MP, typically) - after all, that's what they bought- high res. You can see the challenges mounting.

Initially, I tried the obvious - H.264 of course, and high compression and very low frame rates. I've found that even 1 FPS is OK to most users I'm serving for recording and viewing, as long as its HD, for these remote sites.

Here's where I 'discovered' a very interesting 'feature' of Milestone's essential/Enterprise platform - in that when recording at very low frame rates in H.264, Milestone's software 'overrides' the GOV rate (or key frame refresh rate) with it's own settings. For example, at 1 FPS, Milestone will set at GOV/KFRR of 1 keyframe per second - essentially, JPEG! You can imagine this is not very useful for minimizing data rates on a typical T! (1.5Mbps) connection. (To be fair, I undertand their Corporate platform allows you to set this rate, but its too expensive for this customer base)

I've tested 4 other VMS's for this low frame rate/remote site performance (a subset of the ones you've tested here) , and most will use the camera's settings for GOV/KFRR. So, much better for viewing and recording remote cameras.

However, as user's at the remote sites get more engaged with using the cameras locally, you now have video streams going both ways, essentailly doubling the bandwidth requirements, and quickly using too much of a T1 for video, and impacting local applications - including remote terminal apps for centralized servers. A problem...

I've found that the best solution is not the cheapest, and has several counterveilling drawbacks, and that is to put a local recording server at each remote site. The drawbacks are mostly obvious - expense, maintenance, phyical security - but balancing the performance expectations at both HQ and locally is very challenging, with limited bandwidth - almost always a T1 - and not impacting local applicaitons that also must use the connection.

With, this architecture, I've found I like exacq's capability to limit the total amount of bandwidth the server 'feeds' to connections off the local network, combined with their thin client's viewing capabiliites to view multiple servers simultaneously. This means that I can have several viewers remote from the local site viewing the cameras and drawing video streams, an not worry about using more than the 'allotted' bandwidth on the connection for video. And a veiwing client can see the cameras at multiple sites in a single instantiation. It appears that bandwidth limitations are mitigated in the software by reducing frame transmission - OK in most instances.

I can also, of course, set up a second stream at lower bandwidth and frame rate for recording at an off-site server as well - say at HQ - at the cost of an additional license. This is kind of a bummer, as I don't think you should have to pay twice for a camera license for a paticular camera, just because you're recording it on multiple servers - ought to be a strickly 'per camera' license, in my opinion.

Both Milestone and exacq are great platforms, with different strengths and weaknesses...

Undisclosed, Thanks for sharing your experience, I appreciate it. A few thoughts come to mind:

1. There isn't multi streaming (using multiple, independent streams configured differently) in Essential. There is Live View option that only some cameras support (one stream with different settings for fps, etc) which then would allow to have a different setting for recorded. However, if the camera does not have it lowering fps/res/compression will sacrifice recorded quality, storage, and fps since the same stream settings would apply to both live and recorded.

2. The workaround of creating local servers to band-aid the remote capability of a VMS does cost more as you mentioned due to additional licenses (as well as a myriad of other redundancies), but it also maxes out the number of streams each camera can serve concurrently, overloading it- some servers may not stream, until another concurrent server is no longer using the same camera (some cameras max out at 3 concurrent unique streams for either direct access via browser or multiple servers).

1. Yes, that is indeed a limitaion of Essential, but the real issue I had was the GOV/KFRR issue at low FPS rates....

2. Should have clarified that I'm only recording locally - the option to simultaneously record at a central location is avialable/possible (I use AXIS cameras almost exclusively) but I've not found a good reason (beyond physical security redundancy) to consider it. So. only one steam to server per camera (locally) and one license per camera - but woould be nice if licenses were linked to camera and not server so option was available without additional cost...

BTW, one of the really nice multi-stream options on the same local server (with exacq) is to set a second stream to be a time-lapse - set to record at say, one image an hour. Customers really like this to go back and very quickly get an overall understanding of equipment movements, inventory level changes, etc... and in this instance, the same camera license covers it, since it's on the same server.

Hello John,

I too would like to see some more tests done on 3VR systems. They have advanced in the past two years and broadened their offerings. My thoughts are similar to the previous comments, I have not seen anything else that has more, or even the same capabilities as their product. I do not work for them, nor have I in the past. I'm not an engineer. I work for an integrator. We support national accounts with multi-site applications. Our customer base includes several verticals (Retail, "C" stores, Fast Food, Commercial and Banking). 3VR is attempting a big push into the Retail vertical.

I have worked with them on several projects with multiple customers. The bandwidth consumption is minimal, can be throttled and we have had good results with remote viewing of 2 MP cameras at 256kb/s. We typically record in the range of 7-10 FPS (I think 1FPS would be worthless in any investigation I have done in the past). The response time was better than average. It would be great to see more comparisons/testing given the advancement of many manufacturers. Maybe I have missed something. :)

As it relates to the layoffs, at least a few of those that have moved on to other companies ... I wouldn't count as a loss to 3VR if you understand what I mean.

Thanks!

In fairness, 3VR has been attempting a "big push into the retail vertical" for what? 3? 5 years? more? And they do have a number of wins in retail but overall the company does not appear to have established a firm overall financial footing

I think the product is interesting and has a lot of functionality. It's something we will consider testing in the future.

As for the layoffs, regardless of whether or not certain employees were good or bad, it's pretty clear that they have a serious cash crunch. Maybe they resolve it - new round of funding or acquisition, etc. But that's a bearish sign until they can turn it around. I'd like to see evidence to that end.

I'm newbie in this arena but it seems that these manufacturers could create a side application for remote live viewing delivered via a CDN. Allow the VMS, as an option and possibly an additional revenue stream, to stream (based on how much upstream bandwidth is available at each site) to a CDN. It of course will be slightly buffered but would allow 100s of live view streams and it could eventually be done for event based recordings too. Have some intelligence built into it so it knows you are remote and not on the LAN and charge like AWS does - only on usage. This may only be an option for larger spread out customers. I need to check AWS pricing - it may be outrageous. Hopefully this wasn't a ludicrous post

Is it worth testing?

Brian, CDNs work best when there are a small number of feeds and a larger number of viewers. The problem with surveillance is that it's typically the opposite. There generally are large number of feeds (dozens, hundreds) and only a handful of simultaneous viewers (1, 2, maybe 5 at most).

The only time a CDN type solution would make sense would be in a robbery / hostage / ongoing crime scene.

It's not something we could directly test as it would require hacking an add on to a VMS. However, with more VMSes offering cloud components this will might become more practical.

If you are interested in mass remote live viewing, check out what NLSS is doing with peer to peer connections (see page 3 of their cloud services brochure).

I re-read the thread and it seems to be mostly talking about multi-streaming so i was a little off with my post

It's funny you mentioned robbery/crime scene. I was going to say that would be a great case for it.

Content delivery is great for reducing hops, delivering data to a wide footprint, and reducing bandwidth for the originating source.

Not to hijack the post but could you clarify you comment: Large number of feeds and handful of views. Wouldn't you have the same number of feeds as remote live view viewers?

You mentioned cloud components - makes me think of MarchCloud which transcodes and presents in a browser, but I thinks that's off this topic too

"Large number of feeds and handful of views. Wouldn't you have the same number of feeds as remote live view viewers?"

I am saying compared to traditional Internet video streaming, i.e., a Madonna concert or a football game. That's a single feed but with thousands or hundred of thousands of viewers.

By contrast, with security, you have hundreds (or thousands of camera feeds) and even at the worse case scenario, you might have dozens of people looking at any one.

I am not sure how March is implementing their cloud service but if they replicating streams on a central / cloud server, that would certainly help, even without having a CDN. The big historical problem has always been asking the DVR/NVR/VMS server to suddenly replicate dozens of streams! They are just not designed for that type of extreme workload increase.

Btw...thanks for the FYI on nlss. Never have seen them in action only window shopped

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