Buying a Security Camera System: Top 10 Questions to Ask
Report by Dean Drako, CEO of Eagle Eye Networks
The PDF version includes additional content; download for more on this subject.
Review of “gotchas”: camera incompatibilities to security vulnerabilities
Do your security camera system options look alike on paper? Selecting the right video security system to buy can be difficult, especially since at first glance, many of the systems’ features may sound very similar.
To help you get a look “under the hood” before you buy, we’ve created a checklist of specific questions you can ask to go beyond the datasheet descriptions and help you avoid hidden costs after you have purchased your system. Knowing these areas will help you do a better product review and avoid costly mistakes.
1. Will you need to replace your current cameras to use their system?
Often security camera systems – especially cloud systems, which offer some exciting new features, such as mobile access and alerts, come with a catch: You have to use their cameras. You’ve already made a major investment in camera hardware and wiring; throwing out your current cameras and buying new ones can easily double the cost of the VMS. It’s important to have the maximum choice of cameras within the camera price target you have set. Camera quality and reliability affects the entire system. This keeps you from being locked in both now and in the future. Ask the VMS provider if they support your particular camera brand and type. Do they support Analog cameras? ONVIF IP cameras? Can you mix and match for both analog and digital types?
2. What is required to get the system fully installed? What ongoing support is needed?
What will be required after you purchase the DVR/NVR and the cameras? Does the DVR/NVR installation require networking expertise, router configuration, or software installation? Is your own company required to manage the ongoing IT related items such as getting static IP addresses, license keys, configure DDNS or VPNs, disk space, configurations, hardware failures, backups, O/S upgrades and other IT related items?
What steps are required to configure your initial cameras and to add new ones? All of this combined overhead costs money – either in terms of hiring experts, or in taking your own time and effort away from you running your business.
3. Do you have a choice of where the video is recorded?
Are you required to do your video recording only on premise? More and more criminals have learned to steal or destroy the DVR/NVR when they steal your property, which undermines the value of the system and adds to the loss you suffer during a theft. Do they offer a secure cloud recording with redundancies to prevent such hardware theft or tampering? On-site only video recording also makes integrating multiple sites more challenging.
If the vendor offers cloud recording, do they force it 100%, or do they also allow some on-premise recording as needed, for example to ensure there are no bandwidth issues? Can you move back and forth between the on-premise and cloud recording transparently?
There is a cost to being locked in to only one type of video storage as your business grows and evolves.
4. What steps has the vendor taken to eliminate security vulnerabilities?
There are multiple vulnerabilities to manage from a network security standpoint. Is the security burden and expense placed on your business?
Does the system have vulnerabilities to cybercrime? This is especially significant with systems that are connected to the Internet in any way – such as for mobile video access and viewing – where the DVR or NVR may have open ports to the Internet. Who is responsible for putting up firewalls and keeping the operating system patched and secure, your company or the vendor?
5. If the VMS has cloud recording, how does the system ensure privacy?
How do they protect of the data from tampering and privacy invasion? Is the video fully encrypted, both at rest and during transmission, to undermine such intrusion attempts?
6. What is the additional cost if you need longer recording retention or more cameras?
Traditional DVR and NVR systems typically have a fixed number of cameras they support, and inflexible retention/storage limits. The initial system may fit within your budget, but it is important to find out the additional expense to add another camera or an extra day of storage beyond these limits at a later time.
The hardware cost can escalate; for example, if you have a 16-camera system and later want to add a new camera, you may need to buy new DVR. If you’ve hit your storage limit, can you move some of the storage to the cloud, while still being able to access the data in the same smooth way?
7. If it is a cloud recording system, how can you be assured that it works within your bandwidth limits?
Bandwidth and storage is cheaper these days, making cloud recording an attractive option. However, video is highly data intensive, and cloud-based systems have unquestionably faced challenges with bandwidth consumption. How do they manage this so that you aren’t forced to buy more bandwidth after you get the system installed? What are the true camera count operating limits where you can still count on the system working reliably and with sufficiently clear images?
8. Can you actually get at the video data you need?
The value of your video system is only as good as your ability to access the data that you need. Is the data exclusively stored in a back room on-premise, or can you get mobile access when you are away from your facilities? What means do they have to find and extract the data and events, such as time stamps and motion detection to avoid the expensive overhead of spending countless hours of video review to find what you are looking for?
Is there an easy way for outside parties, from employees to police to get secure access to the video? Can you establish secure permissions to let some parties both view and download the data, and other parties only view the video?
9. How will you know if there is system tampering or if a camera fails?
What measures does the vendor have so that if you are away from your businesses, you can get email and SMS alerts for important items including not only activity and motion detection, but also camera malfunction, or system tampering?
You are making an investment in this system in part for peace of mind, and that means knowing that you will know if it is not working properly.
10. Will the VMS become obsolete in a couple of years?
Your business is growing and changing. Most businesses initially purchase a system for security or loss prevention. More and more companies are now realizing that there are applications for business operations improvement. Can the system expand to support business optimization, such as training salespeople, verifying compliance, reducing slip and fall risk, verifying product placement, viewing customer service levels, verifying operational hours, and other items?
The hardware investments for many security camera video management systems can be very high. Will your return on investment be justified, or will your your system be obsolete within a couple of years?