What is the value of "free" video management systems?
14 Nov 2018
They say that every choice has a cost. It's a basic principle that, economically speaking, nothing is free. If it doesn't cost actual money, it may be expensive in terms of time, attention and/or effort. These are interesting observations to keep in mind as one peruses the various "free" video management system (VMS) offerings available on the market. Some are provided by camera companies to unify their products into a "system", even if it's a small one. Other free VMS offerings are entry-level versions offered by software companies with the intent of the customer upgrading later to a paid version. For more insights, we asked this week's Expert Panel Roundtable: What is the value of “free” video management systems (VMSs) and how can a customer decide whether “free” is the right price for them?
There are a number of free VMS solutions on the market today. Their applications tend to be restricted to either ends users with very limited needs (such as a single live camera in a simple network) or to those who are looking to test-drive a solution before they purchase. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for, and a free VMS will come with a certain number of limitations whether in terms of features and functionality or in terms of the number of cameras being monitored. Ultimately, it is important for end users to remember that they need to carefully evaluate their needs so as to determine the appropriate level of security required to protect both their physical and digital assets and chose a partner they can trust. Free software is never a purely philanthropic act and does not represent a long-term strategy for customers.
Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein famously said: “Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain.” One must wonder whether “free” software and services would fall under that category or a more modern definition of “freemium.” Offers manufacturers provide at no cost to the market, with few exceptions, tend to be limited versions of a premium product with the capability of being converted to the more feature-rich variant. An end user must understand their requirement and the cost of the tradeoff they are making when selecting a free tier of product. Without that understanding, the choice may result in the same "gasping effort and pain" presented with unknown and unwanted limitations. A benefit is the ability to trial free software versions in a live environment to make an informed decision on whether the software is sufficient.
Many camera manufacturers have been offering “free” camera control and/or recorder management software for years to supplement the sale of their products to customers who typically do not have a budget for a true Video Management System (VMS). These basic camera/NVR software offerings are not on par with today’s advanced VMS solutions that provide high levels of intelligence, cybersecurity and integration for the most demanding enterprise level applications. And although some camera manufacturers tout their “free” VMS software, it really isn’t “free” when contingent on purchase of their hardware. If the requirement is for a product that is intuitive, easy to navigate and highly capable, picking the right VMS is critical and rarely will it ever be free.
Most people are going to upgrade from any free version of a video management system (VMS). Milestone’s free version (XProtect Essential+) offers the basic features needed for video management with support for up to eight cameras. It is easily expanded with the purchase of higher-level software offerings. Just download the file with new licenses, which unlocks the new features, and off you go. Milestone has teams in every world region who respond one-on-one to those who register for the free, online, tailored demo.
The admonition “buyer beware” applies to VMS purchases even if the price tag says “free.” Video management systems from camera manufacturers are limited in their functionality and are rarely a workable choice for a system of any size. And while “free” VMS software can provide a useful “trial run” for anyone evaluating various systems, the final system configuration will almost certainly come at a price. Customers should remember that, in the end, a system that is insufficient for the job at hand may be the costliest option of all.
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