Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Standalone DVR Myth

The Standalone DVR MythA few days ago I took a call from a nice fellow with the Secretary of State’s office from one of my favorite, but unnamed, western states. To my surprise the caller had an amazing application for a security camera system. Each system was to be a four camera setup with a limited but critical need to save video at certain times of the year. The project called for each county in the state to have one security camera system of this type and a quote was needed immediately for a high level meeting the next day.

I explained to the caller that our primary security camera system was a PC based solution using a combination of Dell systems matched with the GeoVision DVR card and software that we preinstall. I explained the benefits of a PC based system and it appeared to be a perfect fit for the application. Making the fit even more complete was that our PC based DVR’s, being ready to go out of the box, could easily be installed by the state’s IT staff present at each county office needing the equipment. Again during the entire call, as I was explaining that a PC based solution using Windows XP Pro offered an amazing variety of remote access options for both the local offices and my caller, whose office is in the state’s capitol, everything appeared to be a perfect fit. From iPhone/Blackberry remote viewing to the fact that this system was as secure, if not more so, than any PC in use by the state now the conversation went wonderfully and ended with a request for a quote ASAP.

As luck would have it, this fine state had a little e-mail problem that day and not a single e-mail I sent with the quote went through. I tried sending the quote from my office account, my Yahoo account, my Gmail account, all to no avail. Any message I sent from any mail service with even a single PDF attachment was being blocked do to what was at the time an unknown problem with the state’s e-mail. Finally, around 7:00 PM Eastern I sent the quote as text only in an e-mail from my main office account and the caller was very grateful that at least he had the numbers for his meeting the next day.

By the next morning the problem with state’s e-mail service had been corrected and every vendor who had reported the same issue the day before was now able to sent attachments with no problems.

But to get to the “Myth” I mentioned in the title: My afternoon follow-up call the next day took an unexpected turn when the nice fellow from the Secretary of State’s office used the term “Standalone DVR”. Not being able to keep quiet I politely mentioned that that term was used to describe non PC based DVR solutions and I described them as a set top box more like the DVR unit you might have at home from Direct TV or your cable company. To my surprise I received the reply: “Yes, exactly, that’s what we want!” . I was beside myself. I instantly thought of our talks the day before, I thought of the time spent explaining the benefits of a PC based solution to which every tidbit of feedback from the caller was positive. I recalled working late from home to make sure the caller had the quote in time for his meeting.... and now I am told they want a standalone solution?

Of course, I had to ask what features of the standalone product the caller was interested in? Was it the myth of the lower price? (Which, as I explained, is only realized when looking at the absolute lowest end of the standalone product line.) Was it the myth of ease of use? (And I would agree with this if you think it’s easier to navigate a cell phone menu using only 4 directional arrow buttons than it is to use a mouse and a keyboard.) But before I could go any further the nice fellow from the Secretary of State’s office interrupted and said “No it’s just that we don’t need all those features of a PC bases DVR and we don’t want anything that can get a virus or be hacked into.” And there you have it right there at the end of that statement. The great myth that makes perfectly intelligent people drop about 100 points off their IQ in seconds.

Though, I did not get into this at the time, it’s worth mentioning the absurdity of this belief. For starters, and of course correct me if I am wrong, but I’m thinking that every critical application of any business or government agency in the last 15 years is run on a computer. The belief that computers should be avoided because they can get a virus or be hacked would not prevent the same customer from using his PC based e-mail to conduct all manner of critical and confidential business. It would not prevent the Government from keeping all manner of data stored on them, from our tax returns to the tracking of terrorists. It would not prevent those same callers from going home and doing their Christmas shopping online. But yet somehow the fear that someone could hack into your DVR system and watch video of your parking lot is enough to prevent using the most flexible and feature rich DVR solution on the market?

Keep in mind that anything can be hacked. So you are left with two choices. Put your trust in a PC based DVR solution whose core technology is a known entity to your IT staff and whose security is constantly improved by one of the world’s leading software development companies. Or put your trust in a standalone product whose security is an unknown factor that your IT staff will have virtually no knowledge of or ability to improve. To me choosing the second option is no more than putting your head in the sand and pretending that you are safe.

So, in my opinion, if you need a full featured DVR, take a deep breath, look around at the world we live in, decide if you need a serious and full featured DVR solutions, and stop obsessing over the security of a PC bases solution. That is, of course, unless you just trashed all your PC’s and bought everyone in your accounting office an abacus .

For more opinions on the Myth of the Standalone DVR contact www.CameraSecurityNow.com 877-422-1907

2 comments:

José A. Noy said...

Great post. But the sad thing is that the Myth is believed by many.

raytube said...

Technically, even 'standalone' DVRs are PC's, just in a specific configuration.
If it is secure and runs the DVR application automatically, it is a standalone solution.
It was the mention of 'Windows XP' that lead to the insecure feelings.
Offer a linux based system and tout the 'secure, hardened OS' and you will get these sales.
It's like a wristwatch, it works as designed. No need to upgrade the flywheel on your watch or apply a security patch.