Hyperdistributed IP video

Verkada and Meraki is freaking everyone out. They’re selling direct, and they don’t respect the hierarchy. They’re seemingly attracting big $$$ from VC’s, and they’re landing million dollar deals at a fairly impressive clip.

These spry Silicon Valley kids with their typescript, Kubernetes, hoodies and sandals don’t give a damn about the gospel we’ve long established as the only truth under the sun.

The jury is still out on their approach. Right now, to me, it smells a lot like snake-oil. There’s a distinct aura of petroleum coming from the flask the energetic salesman is offering. I’ll let someone else drink the tonic and see how it goes before I’m willing to ingest this swill. But, make no mistake – they’re on to something, and they are probably right to taunt the rest of the industry.

So, why is the hyperdistributed model so good?

Let’s say you have a campus and need 500 cameras. With a traditional solution, those 500 cameras would be streaming – non-stop – to a central location (a server room usually). At the server room, you’d have a very expensive storage solution, typically with some sort of redundancy. Along with the storage, you’d need a few PC’s who’s main objective is to simply read from the camera, and store the feed for later review. A review that 99% of the time never happens. Video is compressed, sent across the network, stored on a disk, and then deleted when it gets too old. If the data-center goes down, it takes with it ALL recordings, and you’re basically blind. You can then install redundant data-centers (certainly not free!), which brings you maybe a little close to a distributed model.

It might be that you have an area that doesn’t have great WiFi network coverage, but you might have cellular access. Do you then establish a mesh-network all the way to the shed? Or do you let the camera stream 24/7 across the LTE network? Both are costly, and the cost is sunk if you later decide to move the camera.

I see two major problems with the hyperdistributed “Veraki” solutions: 1) if the camera is damaged, the evidence is gone, and 2) you’re currently locked in with either if you go that route.

The first problem is simple enough. Veraki simply offer a box that physically separates the imager from the storage via a cable, such that the recording can be better protected and will not disappear with the destruction of the camera.

The other is harder, because establishing a standard will almost immediately cause commoditization and ultimately loss of margins. I don’t think that’s a solvable problem, and the hypothetical risk is that someone actually establishes a standard for this sort of thing. Knowing the industry, that’s not going to happen in the next 10 years.

I don’t see the lack of camera setting, sync playback and so on as a long term problem. Currently, the idea is that all things should be web-based, but they’ll soon learn that the web was not made for video surveillance. If they’ve got a good database design, it shouldn’t be a problem to write a native app that could offer a more feature-rich experience for those who crave it. Spotify, for example, requires an installed app on the PC to play, the web site only offers account management.

If memory serves, Milestone actually worked on putting a lightweight version of their recorder inside cameras, and I think they signed some partners, but did it ever go anywhere? Such a solution would be strongly preferred, as “anyone” can communicate with a Milestone VMS and even write a client from scratch based on it.

Some companies will respond to this new threat by digging themselves deeper into a hole, while claiming to be reaching for the stars.