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Contributing Writer

Video surveillance as a service: VSaaS dos and don’ts

Oct 12, 20107 mins
Physical SecuritySurveillance

Considering hosted/managed surveillance services? Here's real-world selection and implementation advice.

Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS)—another name for hosted or managed video services—may help streamline your operations. But as with any service or product, you have to choose the right match for your specific needs. Here are critical considations from the front lines.

For a look at the VSaaS provider market and essential concepts, see the companion article The basics of surveillance as a service.

DON’T expect specialized capabilities. Hosted systems are best for companies that need general surveillance in normal resolution. “There are systems that specialize in analytics, where they’re analyzing movement in certain frames and taking action on that, or where you have three guys watching screens all day, with direct access to the cameras to manually move them on their patrols—that’s not what these systems do,” says Christopher Kuncaitis, director of operations at the K Group of Companies. “It’s a static system, but you can quickly get video from anywhere in the world.”

Bob Stockwell, director of systems operations at security integrator Niscayah, agrees that aside from motion detection or variable frame rate, you can’t expect to get features like sophisticated analytics. “Hosted is for someone with the need for a simple deployment—recording what’s happening when people are there,” he says. This is exactly what 80 percent to 90 percent of the market needs, he says.

“Not many [businesses] need to read a dollar bill or a form on someone’s desk,” he says. “In a pharmacy, they don’t want to read someone’s prescription, they just want general surveillance.”

DON’T assume all systems are plug-and-play. Some systems require more configuration than others, warns John Honovich, founder of IP Video Market. He defines plug-and-play as the camera and recorder connecting to a central-management server without having to set up IP addresses or DNS information, forward ports or change firewall configurations.

Plug-and-play systems offer many benefits, including elimination of the need for a technician with networking skills to set up the system, which reduces the cost of and time needed for set up and follow-up service, he says. These systems are also more reliable, he adds, as they are less affected by changes in broadband providers, network configurations or routers.

DO consider image quality. Jeff Vining, an analyst at Gartner Research, says hosted systems are best if you don’t require high-quality video. The systems are capable of five to 15 frames per second (fps), he says, compared to the 30fps required in police work. The lower resolution would be fine, he says, in a restaurant or retail store, when you’re not recording a lot of movement and are mainly focused on the entrance, exit and cash registers, in case of a robbery.

Vining points out that police departments have recently begun using SaaS-based Taser applications, including wearable recording devices that stream audio and video to an external data center. “It’s a first kick in the door,” he says, and an indication that this industry sector will adopt hosted video.

DO consider onsite video storage. Most customers will prefer that at least some of their video—if not the majority—be stored onsite, Honovich says. One reason is bandwidth: Since it is streamed over the network, video stored offsite has to have a significantly lower maximum frame rate and resolution.

Also see VMS: How to manage surveillance video on

Bandwidth is an especially big issue for customers who use megapixel cameras, Honovich says; the upstream bandwidth available for most users would barely support a single megapixel camera at a low frame rate.

A second reason to favor onsite storage is that it eliminates dependence on the customer’s network connection in the event of an outage or unreliable bandwidth. Surace says this is an important feature with Connexed, which includes onsite storage. While there has been just one outage in the three years of using the system, the redundant storage prevented any data loss.

Onsite storage also significantly reduces what the provider pays for bandwidth and storage arrays, Honovich points out, which produces savings that can be passed to customers.

Offsite storage is still an important complement to onsite storage, Honovich says, as it provides redundancy against onsite failure or theft.

DO research how the systems handle bandwidth issues. Providers are taking a variety of tacks to cut down on the amount of data that needs to stream over the network. For instance, Connexed offers an onsite appliance that records and compresses video locally and then transfers it over time. According to Surace, the system can also be set to record just motion, which also saves bandwidth.

Kuncaitis says VIAAS’s system handles bandwidth issues by building memory into the camera itself. “If the connection is lost, it continues to write to memory, and when the connection is restored, it syncs back to the cloud,” he says. You can also adjust the frame rate and set the system to transmit only motion, which can dramatically reduce bandwidth, he says.

DO research how the systems handle local storage. There are many approaches to local storage, including in-camera memory through SD cards, appliances and NAS.

According to Stockwell, the up-and-coming approach is to use NAS devices, which he says will soon be able to handle 60 terabytes of storage. This approach is more secure than network-attached—and therefore hackable—DVRs or NVRs because there is no way for outside computers to access it. “You could wake up one day and your recordings could be on YouTube,” he says.

NAS devices are also less expensive than DVRs or NVRs. “When I buy a DVR, I’m spending $2,500 of the client’s money to put in a terabyte of storage versus $1,500 for eight terabytes,” he says.

DO verify which cameras the system is compatible with. Some systems, such as VIAAS, require their own proprietary cameras, while others work with a variety of equipment from various manufacturers. Kuncaitis says VIAAS’s cameras are very resilient, adjusting for lighting shifts and bandwidth needs. They also provide Power over Ethernet, eliminating extra wiring, and can zoom and adjust focus from the camera itself.

The user interface also offers analytic capabilities, such as the ability to mask or focus in on a specific area for motion detection. You can also see a graph of activity over a particular period or click on a certain day. “Those are capabilities that in the past were mainly for high-dollar, dedicated solutions,” he says.

Michael Payne, vice president of Achieve, implements systems from Brivo, which uses Axis cameras with on-board memory but can also support others. With one customer, Payne wanted to integrate the Brivo system with existing Panasonic pan-and-tilt cameras. Brivo was able to provide a device that the cameras hooked into to be managed offsite.

DO consider integration with access control. The Brivo video-surveillance system that Payne works with integrates with the provider’s access control system. So when someone uses a card reader to access a site, the camera is activated to record who comes through the door. “From anywhere in the world, if you have a computer, iPad, iPhone or BlackBerry, you can log into Brivo and watch who comes through the door,” Payne says. In one case, an employee quit when the administrator was on vacation, and he was able to lock the employee out through the browser, he says.

Kuncaitis says he is talking with VIAAS about integrating with an access control system. “It’s not possible out of the box right now, but it has the capabilities and flexibility to do triggered events and video overlay with physical security,” he says.