Video Security

Making the move into the cloud

Cloud computing is everywhere. It seems to be all the rage—the color of the season. You hear about it in TV ads and see it in the newspaper. Everyone seems to have a definition of what it is and why and when it should be used. At its simplest, cloud computing can be defined as virtual servers available over the Internet, and most likely you’re using it now in your everyday life whether you know it or not.

In fact, “the cloud” is quickly permeating every industry, including physical security, a realm in which applications are steadily and undeniably moving out of the wiring closet and into a more accessible, user-friendly arena. The cloud is attractive because it provides physical security users with a number of important advantages, including ways to increase capacity and add capabilities on the fly without training new employees, licensing new software or building new infrastructure.

A Disruptive Technology

Cloud computing and storage may be one of the most disruptive technologies to the video security industry we’ve seen yet. Already growing dramatically in the IT world, the slower-to-adopt-new-technology security space is watching closely, with several tentative applications offered.

Cloud computing and storage limits the amount of local technical resources needed to maintain a system while centralizing them in an IT data center or security operations center more efficiently. It also means higher-quality storage can be centralized to further eliminate the risk of frame loss, lost video or reduced image quality over time in order to retain more capacity. Cloud computing can improve the management of an existing video system infrastructure so that the video network administrator—the person or function responsible for keeping your surveillance system up and running—can monitor and be aware of local and remote system issues before they turn into big problems and lost video.

The physical security industry isn’t typically an early adopter of new technologies due to the stringent security demands of the physical environments they protect and monitor. So, what could be driving the flight to the cloud? The appeal is the “share” ability of a common pool of resources. By sharing resources, users enjoy economies of scale, and the cloud makes data accessible by more people and more applications. Simple, right?

As the cloud’s use in the physical security industry grows and matures, three models are evolving. In one, physical security customers are storing and retrieving video via the cloud—without the capital equipment expenditure. Another is using cloud services as a private network infrastructure, which doesn’t necessarily involve the need for transporting full video into the cloud. A final model is to use remote monitoring of the entire video system infrastructure—servers and storage on the back end, appliances and cameras on the front end and network infrastructure in between—to ensure that small issues don’t turn into big problems later. All three models are driven by the need for higher quality and lower costs.

Quality Video Surveillance

The need for quality in video surveillance is a significant impetus in the physical security industry’s embrace of cloud computing. Quality is focused on three key elements:

  • Picture clarity—high-quality HD or megapixel pictures;
  • Capture/video storage—as clarity has gotten better, the need to store video with attention on network performance and decreased frame loss has become an important focus; and
  • Access/retrieval—once picture quality is achieved and the network can effectively capture and store pictures, the need to access and retrieve video completes the drive for quality.

The cloud is a way to achieve each of these quality advancements, and clients can experience quite a few benefits including, but not limited to, increased and scalable storage. (We are assuming the network that a customer is on has the required bandwidth.) If it does the cloud could reduce operating expenses because there is no need for capital-equipment expenditures or software to support. Bandwidth costs and new technologies that reduce the amount and size of data transmitted in cloud deployments will continue to augment this growth.

Expect to see vendors offering low-cost, simple appliances that can be installed in a remote location and support a range of cameras. Each appliance needs a small amount of storage to retain and consolidate video, which can be passed up the line in a cloud system. Cameras with their own storage capacity in smaller deployments may qualify as an appliance, because they are integrated into or colocated with the device, while a more powerful unit may be used for multiple, less-costly cameras without local storage. In any case, the data is held for a brief time before all or a portion is fed up into a central location.

It is Cost-effective

The cloud offers many cost-effective benfits, including efficiency, the reduction of staff, the reduction in hardware and reduction in electricity and energy costs. The use of the cloud also may eliminate remaining analog technologies that have survived based on replacement cost and the complexity of installing a new system.

Small, medium-sized and commercial businesses are more likely to use the cloud in this way, especially when they want to support a number of cameras at their facilities without having a lot of equipment and software. By storing data remotely, a business can support remote offices, branches or retail shops. Plus, remotely stored data is relatively safe in the event of a local disaster. It also fits well into the realm of corporate IT, which manages the video once it is transmitted to the central location.

Employing cloud services to help with a current video infrastructure is the first step in managing and monitoring feed and accessing on-premise video from other locations. However, transporting full video into the cloud is not the end of the story.

The third part of the story includes services that don’t require moving video into the cloud. These service offerings are becoming more common as infrastructure and services experts provide the physical security industry with cloud-based offerings such as infrastructure management, security audits, proactive system monitoring, customer support and access. The idea is to have management tools offered through the cloud that provide physical security capabilities that connect isolated DVRs and NVRs to a video network at a management level.

This type of cloud use—software as a service (SaaS)—delivers a single application through the browser. On the customer side, it means no upfront investment in servers or software licensing and more reliable security systems; on the integrator side, with just one application to maintain, it means lower costs and a recurring revenue stream.

A Remote Infrastructure

The most advanced systems look at the whole application and allow for remote infrastructure monitoring. This helps to find any warning signs in the system and proactively act to correct them when needed, maximizing the physical security infrastructure. Systems such as these allow on-site security teams to focus on operations and not worry about system reliability. These systems are ideal for protecting, monitoring and providing a continuous health check for the physical security environments or for locations with minimal or no local security staff.

The cloud offers quite a few benefits, including improved access and retrieval of stored video, and it has extended to broader service capabilities. Its use has made the drive to quality more efficient and affordable for companies that previously could not keep up with the costs of technology.

IP’s success in converting a large and accelerating percentage of the security industry has demonstrated that when the right solution is found, the industry will eventually move toward it. Cloud technologies further build on the success of IP and further displace legacy analog systems, while promising cost savings and management capabilities.

Like IP, cloud applications are not necessarily an “everything into the boat” model. Many video network administrators may find that the best initial cloud applications for their environment may start with management and monitoring of their distributed video system infrastructure, without moving video.

Simply reducing the administrative and operational burden of video surveillance systems, while improving system reliability so that required video really is available when it’s needed, is a great benefit. Then, as experience is gained, video network administrators may be willing to adopt more cloud technologies such as offloading clips of interest and low-resolution video stream monitoring and eventually move into a full replacement of local video storage over a period of several years.

Finding the right application for the cloud depends on the user’s business model and needs. Cloud computing is exciting and sure to move physical security infrastructure technologies out of the wiring closets and into our everyday clouds.

This article originally appeared in the Security Products Magazine - July 2012 issue of Security Today.

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