Hybrid video security: why expand a VMS installation with VSaaS?

July 03, 2024

Many security professionals are excited about the prospect of monitoring footage and alarms from video management software (VMS) and video surveillance as a service (VSaaS) on the same screen—without switching between the two platforms. But under which circumstances would this hybrid cloud approach even make sense?

It’s sometimes easier and cheaper to monitor remote sites with VSaaS than it is to connect them to your core VMS installation. Before we dive into the reasons why, let’s go over the key differences between VMS and VSaaS.

What is VMS versus VSaaS?

Both systems help safeguard people and property in a much more efficient way than it was even five years ago. Nowadays, they also enable many advanced analytics, some going beyond security and into optimization. We’ll return to the topic of analytics further below. The main difference between VMS and VSaaS is how you maintain and pay for them.

  • VMS is more commonly installed on-premises with surveillance software running on work laptops and video recordings stored on servers somewhere in the basement. It’s up to the customer to update and maintain their installation. In many cases, they choose to outsource to a system integrator. A one-off payment will often give you a perpetual VMS license. That said, software manufacturers won’t necessarily include access to updates.

  • VSaaS is cloud-based video surveillance over the internet. As this is surveillance as a service, VSaaS customers usually get cloud storage (e.g., in Google data centers), software updates and maintenance at no additional cost in exchange for a recurring subscription fee. Overall, VSaaS has lower upfront costs as they don’t have to invest in many storage devices and other expenses associated with deploying a more complex VMS.

  • Cloud-based VMS is also worth defining in the context of a hybrid discussion. You can deploy a VMS entirely on the cloud or, more commonly, have some components running on the cloud and others on-prem. Cloud-based VMS and VSaaS share the same benefit of offloading storage to the cloud. However, most leading VMS solutions are not cloud-native applications, so the onus for maintaining and updating the installation is still on the customer. Another distinction is that you have to pay for the cloud services on top of the VMS license, whereas it’s a package deal with VSaaS.
Why expand security coverage with VSaaS?

Many organizations already have an on-prem VMS but face challenges in monitoring remote sites. Here are four circumstances that, especially if two or more of them apply to your situation, indicate that the total cost of ownership will be lower with a hybrid VMS + VSaaS setup.

1. It's impractical to have direct cable or wireless connection to the same local area network (LAN) as the VMS.

The term “remote” can refer to spaces in different cities or even countries, but it can also refer to spaces within the vicinity of the core location. For example, a school or university with a sprawling campus might already have a VMS for classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, etc. However, they also need surveillance for outdoor sporting fields and more remote parking lots.

  • Cabling: In such a scenario, running cables out to football fields and other remote areas from the main building is a possible way to 1) power the cameras and 2) connect them to the same network. However, the distance might be too great. Ethernet cables, for example, have a maximum effective length of about 100 meters (328 feet) without requiring additional hardware like repeaters or switches, which can add to the cost and complexity. Moreover, environmental barriers such as roads and other structures can make a cabled connection take longer and cost more due to trenching, conduit installation and having to restore whatever’s been dug up or otherwise disturbed.
  • Wireless: Using wireless bridges or point-to-point wireless systems could be an alternative to cabling. This requires power to be available at each remote site, or you’d otherwise need to invest in solar-powered cameras. Nevertheless, a wireless connection to the core site also comes with challenges. A clear line of sight between transmission points is also necessary, but it can be obstructed by buildings, trees or other barriers. Additionally, these systems are susceptible to interference from other wireless devices and environmental factors such as weather conditions, which can impact signal reliability and performance.

  • VSaaS: With VSaaS, the primary costs involve purchasing the cameras and subscribing to the service. Depending on the VSaaS, you might be able to use the cameras you already have. There’s no need for extensive cabling or complex wireless infrastructure, significantly reducing the initial investment. Granted, you’d still need internet access for VSaaS (see point 3) and a way to power the cameras, but the maintenance of the software is on the shoulders of the provider rather than your IT department. There are elements of the security system that will still need to be maintained, such as cameras needing lens cleaning, refocusing or changing the frame view. If your organization maintains its own hardware, then some site visits will be needed. An alternative is to outsource these services to a security integrator.

2. It’s not feasible to have a server at each remote site.

In VMS and VSaaS deployments, stalling a server at each site is common practice. A local server or gateway can buffer video footage temporarily when the internet connection is unreliable or experiences intermittent outages. The gateway ensures that video data is not lost and can be uploaded to the cloud once connectivity is restored.

  • VMS: Some VMS projects need to link multiple sites together despite unstable network connectivity. Certain providers support security infrastructure where each facility continues to function independently if a connection is lost. An important piece of this puzzle is having a server at each location to ensure that no footage is lost. It’s possible to regularly offload saved footage from the dispersed servers to the central site (e.g., at set intervals or whenever communication is re-established).

  • VSaaS (server/gateway transmission): As with a VMS, having a local server to support VSaaS minimizes the chances of footage being lost. Another benefit of gateway transmission is that it can aggregate and compress data before sending it to the cloud, optimizing bandwidth usage. A gateway can also perform local video analytics and processing, reducing the need for constant high-bandwidth connections to the cloud—more on this topic in point 4.

  • VSaaS (direct transmission): Either of the server-based options above could do the job for certain zones. However, having a server at each location is not feasible for some organizations. This could be the case for a franchise, gas station chain or a similar where the IT department works from the head office. Even if each locale has employees, they’re most likely busy with customer service. It would be unrealistic to address server-related issues. A VSaaS with direct transmission (also known as camera-to-cloud) is a better alternative, as it doesn’t rely on servers.

3. There is sufficient broadband coverage to support direct transmission VSaaS.

So, while direct transmission VSaaS can help in scenarios where a local server isn’t feasible, there is a caveat. While server-based installations can handle an unstable internet connection, “camera-to-cloud" VSaaS installations rely on a high-speed internet connection. If there isn’t enough broadband to support continuous video streaming, you need to make a choice. Either choose a different fix or factor in the costs of extra network services (e.g., satellite internet or mobile networks). With sufficient broadband, the problem is solvable and both types of data transmission are on the table.

4. You don’t need the same features for the remote sites as for the central site.

Disclaimer: Some advanced analytics are also available with certain VSaaS providers. Yet, we tend to hear from customers that more heavy-duty features (heat mapping, facial recognition, etc.) are often used for a central site with VMS. Meanwhile, "lighter” analytics like line detection are required for parking lots of other peripheral zones. VSaaS is a cost-effective way to meet those needs. So, depending on which analytics are on your wish list (if any), a hybrid setup might work. 

What should you look for in a VMS + VSaaS vendor?

If you’re shopping around, here are a few key factors that can help you gauge which level of flexibility you need from your VMS and VSaaS.

  • Device compatibility: Determine whether the solution supports a wide range of third-party cameras and hardware or if it requires proprietary devices. While propriety systems are sometimes easier to use, they’re much less flexible. A downside of proprietary VSaaS, for example, is that your cameras might be useless if you cancel your plan.

  • Integration capabilities: Check if the solution allows integration with third-party analytics, applications, and systems, or if it restricts you to the vendor's ecosystem. Open platforms provide more flexibility for customization and future expansion.

  • Reputation/customer service: Look at customer reviews on sites like Gartner, G2, Quora and Reddit. If you plan to work with a system integrator, ask them what they know about the vendors you’re considering. In the case of VSaaS, it’s a good idea to be crystal clear on cancellation policies, as some vendors hold video footage hostage if the subscription service doesn’t get renewed.

Combining video surveillance as a service (VSaaS) and video management software (VMS) is a relatively recent option within the security world. As of today, only several vendors sell both. And even fewer let you use them in the same setup. Milestone Systems is one of them. We offer a device-agnostic, open-platform video security that combines our XProtect VMS and Kite VSaaS.

Are you interested in learning more? Please send us a message or book a demo.

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