Video Management System (VMS for CCTV): An Introduction

In Hartford, Connecticut, live surveillance cameras blanket the city, and ShotSpotter gunshot technology checks for gunfire, giving police a 24/7 visual of what’s happening on city blocks and streets.

Data analysts within the police department monitor and review this video surveillance system from the Hartford Real-Time Crime and Data Intelligence Center, where 30, 55-inch, 4K video monitors provide real-time camera feed and views of the action and combine with video data and video feeds from the ShotSpotter system, the dispatch system, and social media mining tools.

Analysts use the video data to help officers with crimes in progress and to analyze recordings later as police investigate crimes.

This example provides a sophisticated view of what is possible when an open-source, Windows-based video management system (VMS) is employed.

Though only some applications will be this advanced, the video management system (VMS) changes how video surveillance footage is collected and utilized in security applications.

To fully benefit from video management system (VMS) CCTV, users must understand what it is and is not, how it works, and where it works best.

What is Video Management System (VMS) CCTV?

VMS for CCTV enables users to record and view live video recording from multiple cameras or existing cameras. It can be appliance- or Windows-based, depending on the manufacturer, and used with IP or analog cameras with an encoder.

Appliance-based video management system typically utilizes a variant of a Linux operating system to function. 

Newer embedded appliances generally require a network drop and a web browser that communicates directly with the Linux-based VMS software running on the appliance.

On the other hand, VMS, running on a Windows-based server, functions like other Microsoft-based tools. The Microsoft Windows Server runs the host application and communicates with either proprietary VMS software or web-based client VMS software over a client network.

business surveillance system

Appliance vs Server

Both VMS types typically operate on a Windows-based platform, whether appliance or server-based. “90% of the VMS on the market today run on Windows,” says Josh Sherer, senior field solution architect of video surveillance for CDW, a security integrator in the public safety space. “There are a handful of players that are Linux-based, but even then, it’s still [VMS] software running on an operating system. The appliance is just the specified server.”

The primary difference between the two is that an appliance-based system, even one with VMS software, is essentially a system used to record and later review video surveillance. 

Such a system lacks advanced features and will not integrate with other systems, such as video analytics or access control systems.

A server-based VMS, however, acts as a building block for a physical security camera system and features video surveillance, access control for recorded video, analytics, motion detection, trigger alarms, and more built-in.

Pros & Cons of the Best Video Management Software

An appliance-based VMS for CCTV is very stable and requires little user intervention to maintain. Thus, an appliance-based system might work well in a client environment with few IT resources to maintain the VMS.

However, the benefits of reduced setup, installation complexity, and maintenance needs also come with a downside—appliances are generally proprietary and purpose-built, rendering them less flexible, with fewer opportunities for customization, and making it difficult to integrate with other security systems.

“If you are just looking for the ability to record with a few cameras and review the footage at a later date, do not plan to do any live monitoring or integrate with anything, then a basic video recorder and cameras might be a good solution,” Sherer says.

Windows-based servers, in contrast, require routine maintenance and management. For this reason, the active directory works best in scenarios where in-house IT resources are available to ensure the servers and other features always operate correctly.

However, these video management systems have the ability to be more expandable and flexible than traditional appliance-based systems.

Employees can control the VMS from anywhere on the IP network, and the video management software (VMS) allows them to access live monitoring and review captured security footage for investigative and forensic purposes.

In addition, Windows-based server platforms do not limit the system to a specific hardware manufacturer; any server meeting the minimum specifications the video manufacturer sets can be access. 

“That’s the beauty of [server-based] VMS,” says Sherer. “They are pretty much hardware agnostic. You can use whatever hardware you want, as long as it meets the performance requirements.”

Video Management Software Servers Can Be Built to Spec

Video cards built into the servers can help simultaneously process video surveillance and video feeds from several cameras. Nvidia video cards are most often used by users, but others also exist.

Video cards are generally added to a server if the user plans to run video analytics. Adding video cards lets them offload video processing from the Central Processing Unit (CPU) to the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).

GPUs are especially valuable in end-users and workstations because they speed up video viewing. 

For instance, if a video wall monitors security footage from thousands of cameras in a large international airport, GPU software can access and speed up the time it takes to process the video footage and put it on the screen.

“You get the most use out of a GPU on the decode of compressed video,” Sherer says. “H.264 and H.265 have to be decompressed then put into a format that the computer can see to display it on a monitor. That’s a heavy load. Putting GPUs into a workstation speeds up this process.”

server board

Video Cards

Video cards built into the servers have capabilities to process video surveillance from several cameras at a time. Nvidia video cards are most often used, but others also exist.

Video cards are generally added to a server if the user plans to run video analytics. Adding video cards in the software enables them to offload some video surveillance processing from the Central Processing Unit (CPU) to the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).

GPUs are especially valuable in end-user workstations because they can speed up video viewing. 

For instance, if there is a video surveillance wall monitoring security footage coming from thousands of cameras in a large international airport, a GPU software can access and speed the time it takes to process the video footage and put it on the screen.

“You get the most use out of a GPU on the decode of compressed video,” Sherer says. “H.264 and H.265 have to be decompressed then put into a format that the computer can see to display it on a monitor. That’s a heavy load. Putting GPUs into a workstation speeds up this process.”

Open Platform vs Closed Platform

Open Platform Software allows third parties to integrate with the VMS through an application programming interface (API). This video management software (VMS) is standard in the security industry, as most mid- and enterprise-level platforms allow some integration with other systems.

Milestone Systems, for example, offers an open-platform video management software (VMS) for CCTV that integrates well with different products from third-party manufacturers. 

Other VMS platforms do the same but often limit integration capabilities to encourage end-users and organizations to select their proprietary ancillary products instead.

“An open platform system, like Milestone’s, gives you the ability to select the best-of-breed product from different categories and integrate all of them into one system,” Sherer says.

“You can pick an access control system from one company, an analytics suite from another, and you can actually take a product out of an existing system and replace it with something else without starting over completely.”

Milestone video analytics partners write their video management software (VMS) code to Milestone’s open platforms so security camera companies and organizations can incorporate multiple integrations into the IP security camera CCTV network.

milestone vms

However, organizations and users may want to select a more closed platform like Avigilon. Working with a single company for the entire system can simplify integration. 

“It really depends on what the customer is looking for,” says Sherer. “Open Platform Software gives you a lot of flexibility, but when products are not all from the same manufacturer, integration might not be seamless.”

Avigilon Camera Systems uses video software as a service (VSaaS) to incorporate license plate recognition cameras or reader cameras, facial recognition, and appearance search for commercial security camera systems in a proprietary, closed interface.

Connecting Security Cameras to Video Management Systems

Open-source VMS for CCTV platforms also builds drivers for thousands of cameras to offer full functionality inside the video management software. It is a more robust application than a simple ONVIF compatibility.

Sherer explains three ways a security camera can connect to video management software (VMS).

The first is the universal RTSP system. It is a basic integration where the user gets a video stream and has capabilities of recording videos.

In between is ONVIF, which is the standard most camera companies and users currently adhere to. An ONVIF driver incorporates the ability to control the security camera from within the VMS or recorder.

The third method, which is the most preferred, is a direct driver written toward the specific security camera provider and the VMS.

This method allows the control of advanced camera functions within the video management system (VMS). For example, users could put a region of interest into its surveillance system to keep track of loitering people or to build an automatic alert if a car stops for too long in a given area.

Multi-Site Application

But what happens if a company seeks to operate a video surveillance system across multiple sites? In those situations, which VMS, appliance or server-based, makes the most sense?

That depends on how the surveillance system is managed. A basic appliance-based system will not allow unified platforms in multi-site applications. 

It will be a group of systems operating independently where the end user can only be in one system simultaneously and cannot view multiple sites simultaneously. And that may be OK in various applications.

A server-based VMS enables a multi-site surveillance system to be centrally managed. The system might have servers in 10 cities but operates a centralized management server that controls all of them. 

When the end-user logs in, they can see video footage from many different servers seamlessly and simultaneously.

For example, the user can log into a central management server in Chicago and talk to recorders and users in New York and Los Angeles.

“An old-school independent system is not easily managed across multiple sites,” says Sherer. “This is where a server-based VMS really shines. It makes life a lot easier when multiple sites are centrally managed.”

VMS Systems Leading Providers

Numerous Video Management System (VMS) providers are available, showcasing their unique features and capabilities. Among the industry leaders are:

  1. Milestone Systems: Renowned for its open platform architecture, Milestone Systems facilitates seamless integration with third-party security systems and devices. They provide the best video management software for various applications and massive storage.

  2. Genetec: A leading video management system provider offering a comprehensive suite of security solutions, including video management, access control, active directory, and license plate recognition.

  3. Avigilon: Specializing in high-definition video surveillance, Avigilon stands out by providing the best video management software with massive storage and advanced video analytics like facial and license plate recognition.

  4. Bosch Security Systems: Bosch Security Systems is a global security solutions provider recognized for the scalability, storage, and user-friendliness of its VMS systems.

  5. Hanwha Vision: A Korean-based video management system provider offering diverse security solutions, from video surveillance and video analytics to access control of recorded video and intercom systems.


What types of cameras are compatible with Video Management Systems?

Most modern VMS solutions are compatible with a wide range of IP cameras, including dome cameras, bullet cameras, PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) cameras, and even specialized cameras like license plate recognition cameras.

Users should check the camera system compatibility provided by your video management system (VMS) provider.

Can I integrate other security systems, such as access control or alarms, with my video management system?

Yes, many video management system (VMS) providers support integration with various security systems, including access control, alarms, analog and digital cameras, separate cameras, and other recording devices to streamline operations.

Integrating video management systems with other security systems enhances your overall security system and allows for a more effective incident management system and operations for users.

The innovative features of a video management system can be used for video management of small businesses and medium-sized businesses to monitor video recording, active directory, video surveillance cameras, and other access control security systems.

What is the difference between NVR and VMS systems?

The main difference between a Network Video Recorder (NVR) and a Video Management System (VMS) lies in their key features, scope, and functionality.

An NVR primarily serves as a local storage device for CCTV systems. At the same time, VMS systems offer centralized control, management, and storage capabilities for a broader array of cameras across multiple locations.

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