Why Centralized NVR Recording Does Not Work

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jul 10, 2008

Centrally recording video from remote sites is as frequently claimed as it is wrong. It is an exciting concept that fails due to basic technical details. Vendors claiming their system eliminates local recording are almost invariably wrong. The problem is simple - the cost of long-distance (WAN) bandwidth is very high and it destroys any savings you might achieve from eliminating the local device.

[UPDATE 2012: While VSaaS vendors have promoted such an archictecture, the reality 4 years later is that centralized NVR recording is still not viable for anything more than a trival number of cameras per site and even then the economics remain poor.]

The Concept

You are a retailer, organization or corporation with multiple stores, locations or branch offices. Today, at each of those locations, you have a DVR with storage at each of these remote sites. It's expensive to buy all of these units. It is hard to maintain them because when they break, someone needs to be dispatched far away.

It would be far better if we just had IP cameras and used an IP network to stream the video directly from the cameras to a centralized storage cluster. This would significantly reduce equipment cost, increase storage utilization and make fixing hardware failures easy because the equipment is all in one simple to access location.

The concept is bulletproof. Unfortunately you cannot deploy concepts.

The Reality

The key problem is bandwidth. If you are not comfortable with how much bandwidth is available and how much it costs, please read my bandwidth basics tutorial.

While bandwidth is cheap inside of buildings, connecting a facility to a remote facility is usually very expensive. Getting 10 Mb/s of bandwidth can easily cost $1,000+ USD per month.

If you are going to record off-site, even if you only have 8 cameras, it can easily take 10 Mb/s. And that's just for standard definition cameras. If you start to use megapixel cameras, the situation is far worse.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

As a customer, it will cost you far more in bandwidth than what you can save in system costs. Over a 5 year period, the bandwidth cost will be $60,000 per site. The DVR itself costs less than $10,000 so even if you magically eliminated the DVR, the bandwidth increase would still make it a loss.

The Spin

Most vendors are prepared to handle rebuttals to this. Here are a couple and the truth to them:

  • "Of course, you need to have the bandwidth": This is the "it ain't my fault" rejoinder. The vendor's point is that their system is capable of doing, it's someone else's fault. I find this entirely unconvincing. Since almost no one has the bandwidth available to do this cost-effectively, they should simply drop the pitch rather than try to spin the customer"
  • "You may have the bandwidth": You may have the bandwidth but almost no IT department wants to waste such valuable resources to reduce equipment cost. Large 'pipes' across the WAN are usually used for business critical operations and running surveillance video 24/7 will generally be seen as a poor use."
  • "Bandwidth is Getting Cheaper": Bandwidth to remote sites is getting cheaper at a very slow rate. Your cable modem speed and pricing is not that much different than it was 10 years ago even though your computer offers 10x the CPU speed at less cost. Bandwidth for this application has not got much cheaper and there is no real explanation of why it will get significantly cheaper in the next few years."
  • "You can Record at a lower rate and resolution": Since bandwidth is very expensive, if you lower the bandwidth per camera, then you can make it fit. This usually results in recording at CIF at only a few fps. This is a very significant tradeoff that most people do not want to make. It significantly undermines the quality of the video which at a basic level, is somewhat self-defeating."
  • "You can put Storage in the Camera.": This is the hot new spin that takes 2 forms; using (1) flash or (2) hard drives. While the price of flash is dropping faster than the price of hard drives, flash is still drastically more expensive than hard drives. Plus video consumes lots of storage. The economics of flash are not even close for general usage. Hard drives inside of cameras has unrealistic economics and logistics as well. VideoIQ has recently started pushing cameras with built-in storage. It is significantly more expensive than normal cameras (they claim $1295 MSRP for their cameras with an 80GB hard drive). The form factor is quite large and prevents customers from using discrete domes (which are often preferred). It currently requires to use their video management system. They claim that their hard drives last 4 times as long as normal hard drives, an extremely hard to believe claim. I expect to see more claims of storage in cameras and that such products will be a poor fit for most customers.


I hope this article helps clarify the problems with the oft-repeated claim that you can or should do centralized NVR recording. While it's a nice concept, the chances are extremely high that it will not work for you. Hopefully vendors will take a more responsible and prudent approach going forward.

2 reports cite this report:

Is Bandwidth a Problem for IP Cameras? on Mar 21, 2009
Integrators often cite bandwidth as a key concern for deploying IP cameras. Let's examine what the potential issues are and where they may be...
Value of Managed Video (MVaaS) for Video Surveillance on Sep 03, 2008
Managed video is poised to experience similar growth and impact that IP video surveillance software has achieved over the past 5 - 10 years. As...

Related Reports

Testing Bandwidth Vs. Low Light on Jan 16, 2019
Nighttime bandwidth spikes are a major concern in video surveillance. Many calculate bandwidth as a single 24/7 number, but bit rates vary...
Winter 2019 IP Networking Course on Jan 10, 2019
Today is the last day to register for the Winter 2019 IP Networking course. This is the only networking course designed specifically for video...
Managed Video Services UL 827B Examined on Jan 09, 2019
Historically, UL listings for central stations have been important, with UL 827 having widespread support. However, few central stations have...
H.265 / HEVC Codec Tutorial on Jan 08, 2019
H.265 support improved significantly in 2018, with H.265 camera/VMS compatibility increased compared to only a year ago, and most manufacturers...
Surveillance Codec Guide on Jan 03, 2019
Codecs are core to surveillance, with names like H.264, H.265, and MJPEG commonly cited. How do they work? Why should you use them? What issues may...
Camera Course January 2019 on Jan 03, 2019
This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth product and technology testing. Lots of manufacturer training exists...
The Battle For The VSaaS Market Begins 2019 - Alarm.com, Arcules, Eagle Eye, OpenEye, Qumulex, Verkada, More on Jan 02, 2019
2019 will be the year that VSaaS finally becomes a real factor for professional video surveillance. While Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS)...
8MP / 4K Fixed Lens Camera Shootout - Dahua, Hikvision, TVT, Uniview on Dec 17, 2018
8MP / 4K fixed lens models are now common in lower cost lines, with nearly every Chinese brand and their OEMs now offering multiple options. To...
Cisco Meraki New Cameras and AI Analytics on Dec 14, 2018
Meraki has released their second generation of video surveillance with 3 new cameras, AI-based video analytics, and 2 cloud-based storage...
Ubiquiti $79 Flex IP Camera Tested on Dec 07, 2018
U.S. Manufacturer Ubiquiti has released a 1080p, integrated IR IP camera, selling it directly for $79, making this one of the least expensive IP...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Access Control Records Maintenance Guide on Jan 16, 2019
Weeding out old entries, turning off unused credentials, and updating who carries which credentials is as important as to maintaining security as...
UK Fines Security Firms For Illegal Direct Marketing on Jan 16, 2019
Two UK security firms have paid over $200,000 in fines for illegally making hundreds of thousands of calls to people registered on a government...
Access Control Cabling Tutorial on Jan 15, 2019
Access Control is only as reliable as its cables. While this aspect lacks the sexiness of other components, it remains a vital part of every...
Avigilon Favorability Results 2019 on Jan 15, 2019
Since IPVM's 2017 Avigilon favorability results, the company was acquired by Motorola and has shifted from being an aggressive startup to a more...
Gorilla Technology AI Provider, Raises $15 Million, Profiled on Jan 15, 2019
Gorilla Technology is a Taiwanese video analytics manufacturer that recently announced a $15 million investment from SBI Group, saying this...
2019 IP Networking Book Released on Jan 14, 2019
The new IP Networking Book 2019 is a 285 page in-depth guide that teaches you how IT and telecom technologies impact modern security...
Arecont Costar Layoffs on Jan 14, 2019
Arecont Vision, a Costar Company, has laid off more than 10% of their workforce in a move the company described to IPVM as a result of "important...
The False SCMP Story on Hikvision NYC AI on Jan 14, 2019
In the past week, one of Asia's largest publications, the South China Morning Post (SCMP), posted an article about "Chinese [facial recognition]...
WDR Tutorial on Jan 11, 2019
Understanding wide dynamic range (WDR) is critical to capturing high quality images in demanding conditions. However, with no real standards, any...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact