Video Management: XProtect Corporate

The growth in deployments of VMS solutions for video surveillance and security management has been significant in recent years, and for good reason. Many VMS providers take an open platform approach, ensuring that third party devices can be supported. This enables ‘best of breed’ solutions to be easily created. However, the systems are increasingly winning favour due to their highly flexible and efficient event-handling capabilities.

In the past it would have been true to say that the mainstream video surveillance market was very much hardware-centric when it came to recording and system management. However, with today’s evolving technological landscape, the case for software-based open platform VMS solutions is becoming ever more compelling.

VMS – video management system – is actually something of a misnomer. The leading packages combine video management and recording, access control, perimeter and intruder detection, building management, health and safety, business intelligence and a host of other benefits. In many cases, a VMS can provide an advanced and flexible security management solution, which is highly cost-effective, for a system which doesn’t even include video! The depth of flexibility and the ability to create truly bespoke solutions can be deployed in so many different ways.

When migrating to a VMS solution, there are a number of drivers for those making the move. The systems deliver the simple installation and integration of a wide range of third party devices. Many VMS packages support hundreds of devices from professional manufacturers, with the market-leaders boasting thousands of supported products. This eliminates the frustrations associated with generic specifications such as ONVIF and removes the limitations of many hardware-based devices.

Often hardware-based NVRs (network video recorders) have limitations with regards to third party compatibility. Many support their manufacturer’s own cameras and codecs, along with a few models from partner companies. In some cases, future firmware upgrades don’t support new models, so systems cannot be upgraded as camera technologies advance.

Not only will an open platform VMS offer a vast array of supported third party models, but because the drivers have been created specifically for the individual devices, typically all features and even proprietary functionality should be supported. This rarely happens with a common protocol approach where a generic specification is applied.

The ability to bring together seemingly disparate system elements with ease allows the selection of devices which best fit the needs of the site. As a result, legacy system elements can be retained, ensuring that the resulting system is cost-effective.

Another driver for the deployment of VMS solutions is the fact that they are scalable and upgradable. As the heart of the system is software-based, developments in technology – including advances from other sectors – can be quickly implemented, ensuring that end users can realise the full potential from their investment.

Many who switch to VMS platforms find that the functionality and flexibility on offer is far in excess of what is available from most hardware solutions. Additionally, they usually discover that the feature-set is also significantly greater than anticipated!

One area where VMS solutions excel is with regard to event management. The reason for this is simple: software-based solutions have the ability to exploit the full functionality of supported products, and this allows the creation of alarm and event management rules based upon both physical and logical triggers.

These can be used in combination to create scenarios, or to apply filters that dictate differing actions dependent upon a wide range of criteria.

Leading the field

XProtect Corporate is Milestone Systems’ flagship VMS product. Despite its pedigree, the package is under ongoing development, which is evident as the latest incarnation of the software recently won the Benchmark Innovation Award 2016 for Video Surveillance Software. A fully scalable option, it supports unlimited devices in multi-server and multi-site applications.

XProtect Corporate features all of the functionality you’d expect from a high end VMS including failover servers, mapping, edge recording management, flexible archive control and a host of features to cater for most user requirements.

When it comes to the open platform approach, Milestone leads the way with direct integrations for all of the leading and credible security manufacturers.

However, whilst often underplayed in the marketing message, the VMS has one of the industry’s best developed and flexible Rules engines which allows the creation of advanced event management scenarios using AND/OR logical operators via drop-down menus.

XProtect Corporate works as a server and client model, but uses a single software installer. When the installation utility is run, it checks the system and identifies any missing Microsoft elements. Milestone uses a licence file which is supplied direct, and this is loaded before installation commences. There are single server, multi-server and custom options. This relates to where the database and recording server software are installed.

Initial server configurations are carried out using the Management Client and an integral wizard is used to add cameras and encoders. A nice touch is that you can add multiple usernames and passwords for non-default devices before searching.

Due to Milestone’s open platform approach, connected cameras are automatically discovered and added. Cameras can also have inputs and outputs and any integral VMD (video motion detection) or IVA (intelligent video analytics) added as potential sources of triggers or recipients of actions, dependent upon their type.The VMS also has options to add a wide range of other devices including audio and I/O equipment.

There is the flexibility to enable or disable camera features such as microphone, speaker, inputs and outputs, etc.. Enabled functions can be deployed as a part of Rules to manage alarms and events.
Before looking in more detail at the way events and alarms are managed, it is worth noting that with regards to installation and configuration, XProtect Corporate is – in our experience – one of the simplest VMS packages to implement. For those new to the platform, the depth of flexibility may make it look complex, but everything works as it should and that’s an important point.

Follow the Rules

XProtect Corporate’s event and alarm management is handled via its Rules engine. Despite an enormous amount of flexibility with regard to the creation of Rules, the process is simple. Creating the Rules makes use of nothing more challenging than radio buttons, menus and links which bring up all of the relevant options, based upon the specific system and its connected devices. This prevents users from creating Rules that cannot be run!

Rules options can include security events and actions, business intelligence, site management, transactional triggers, system events, maintenance schedules, etc..

The first step is to define an Rule type. This specifies if the Rule is triggered by an event or scheduled. An event-based Rule can include a device – motion detection, video analytics, inputs or outputs, detection devices or interactions with access control systems – or system triggers such as recording server or system monitor events. Rules can even be instigated manually via a user-defined event or by way of a generic event.

Rules can then have Conditions added to control or filter events. Parameters can be applied to filter potential triggers by time, date, duration, motion detection window, etc..

The type of event, its source and the parameters are predominantly configured using clickable links. These show all of the valid choices and the user simply selects the appropriate choice.

With triggering and conditions configured, the resultant actions to be performed can be defined. These are diverse and cover any relevant options based upon the set-up of the system. Actions are effectively the results of the Rule. Multiple actions can be selected such as recording changes, PTZ commands, notifications, switching outputs, etc.. The final step is to establish Stop criteria if required.

The creation of Rules is intuitive, and despite sounding complex it is an easy and straightforward process. When writing Rules, it’s not possible to progress if required criteria are not set or are set incorrectly. As such, this acts as a safeguard.

The Rules engine in XProtect Corporate works very well, and its performance is consistent and robust. The flexibility on offer will suit the needs of most applications, whether it be for simple event/action relationships or for more advanced event management.

With Milestone involved in ongoing development of the Rules engine, it continues to set a level of functionality and flexibility for event handling that few other VMS solutions can match.

Recent upgrades

The video sector is standing on the edge of a 4K future. With this in mind, one of the significant changes that Milestone Systems introduced in XProtect Corporate 2016 is to ensure that the software is 4K ready. While this might not sound remarkable – after all, many VMS providers claim to support 4K streams – Milestone has delivered improvements that are significant when multiple streams are being managed.

This has been achieved in two ways. Firstly, software processes have been optimised to enhance video stream performance. Secondly, are more importantly, the software can take advantage of accelerated hardware decoding. This allows it to use spare processing power inherent in the server hardware, this taking the strain off the software itself.

The impact of this can be seen in two ways: visually when looking at multiple 4K streams, and via the software’s System Monitor.

When viewing multiple real-time 4K streams, you will spot the almost inevitable dropped frame. In truth, there are many systems out there that do the same with HD streams, so there’s no real shame in it happening with video streams containing four times the data of HD.

With optimisation and hardware decoding switched off, XProtect Corporate will deliver multiple true 4K streams. There will be occasional dropped frames and the odd stutter as the system struggles. A look at the System Monitor shows why: processing is pretty much hitting its ceiling in terms of performance.

However, with optimisation and hardware decoding enabled, the processing levels fall away dramatically (we saw changes from around 90-95 per cent usage to 30-40 per cent). This is also visibly obvious just from viewing the streams. Quality is enhanced, frames are not dropped and the streaming is smooth and consistent.

For thosewith growing demand for the inclusion of 4K in solutions – even for just a handful of streams – this capability will be vital if a user’s expectations are to be met.

XProtect Corporate 2016 has also taken significant steps when it comes to remote connectivity. In the consumer and IT worlds, mobile connectivity has become a de facto feature, and it needs to be simple.

Where XProtect Corporate 2016 is used with the Care package, the server can send an invitation to a specified mobile device. This will allow the device to connect with a Cloud service for a single instance, and this one-off connection enables configuration data to be downloaded. Once this is done, all future communications are direct between the mobile device and the server running the XProtect VMS. This combines simple configuration with the reliability of a direct server connection.

Other advances include the ability to move physical archiving locations without delving into the database. For anyone who has had to reconcile SQL changes, this will be a benefit.

The event manager process has also been optimised, delivering a better experience for those implementing larger complex systems.

Benchmark Smart Solutions
Benchmark Smart Solutions is dedicated to supporting those seeking innovative and bespoke value-added solutions for business and the home environment. Through real-world field trials it assesses the potential available from current technologies and integrated systems. Benchmark Smart Solutions is produced by the team at Benchmark magazine.