Hey You, Get Onto My Cloud

The ups and downs of cloud-powered retail video surveillance

We live in an amazing era of computing that allows almost anyone to view images and videos from around the world on their device of choice with just a few clicks. This appears simple to do, but what is really happening in the background is the “global cloud” of thousands of computers working together using the Internet.

The cloud brings everyday benefits like email, online banking and storing family photos, and it continues to grow in our personal and business lives as we move important data and services from our local laptops and computers to the online cloud. Some retailers use cloud technologies to power their surveillance for more efficient security—and more efficient business.

There are many reasons retail surveillance is using the cloud. The benefits of cloud-powered surveillance include live remote monitoring and recorded video searching from a single website, online video storage, collaborative sharing of video clips and centralized management and maintenance of cameras and servers. The benefits of the cloud network propel surveillance from a tool for loss prevention and human resources into an engine for enterprise business management.

“We use our cloud-powered video surveillance solution to not only reduce shrink, theft and improve security at our stores, but also to watch customer behavior, which helps us improve store layouts and merchandising,” said Scott Hughes, of Tasti D-Lite. “In addition, we use the cloud to observe and train our employees to deliver better customer service and higher conversion rates.”

If cloud-powered surveillance were simple, everyone would be doing it. However, one challenge prevents rapid adoption, and the good news is that it can be conquered. The main obstacle to cloud surveillance is the “B” word—bandwidth.

Just to give you an idea of how big video is, one retail store with five HD cameras needs an upload speed of about 10 MBps for real-time online cloud video recording. In comparison, your PoS transactions are running at a maximum of about 2.4 KBps. Video can be 4,000 times bigger than that, or more.

If you are one of the lucky ones who is bandwidth blessed or has a rich uncle in the Internet connection business, cloud-powered surveillance becomes quite a bit more simple. Surveillance cameras can be connected to your network, and they can record video directly to the cloud using the Internet. The limit of this system is the limit of your bandwidth. If you are on a budget with slow connections, all hope is not lost because there are cloud-powered solutions that can work well.

The simple answer to the bandwidth problem is to not jam the upload pipe full of data and to keep bandwidth to the Internet as low as possible. This can be achieved by storing the majority of the large HD video files on a low-cost server at the retail store and using the upload bandwidth in a smart way with video optimization technologies that control video delivery based on bandwidth. Limiting the upload bandwidth would also require uploading only the important “shared” files, not all of the video files, and uploading video only when needed or during off hours.

Even multiple-location stores that use cost-effective and slow bandwidth can benefit from this type of cloud-powered surveillance.

“All of our stores are connected to the Internet using a DSL connection that only offers 175 KBps upload speed,” said Scott Portis, CEO of Cannon Management. “Even with ensuring that our PoS transactions always go through, I am able to log into our cloud surveillance system to see what my customers and employees are doing at all of our stores from one easy-to-use website or from my iPad.”

Once retail stores are connected with cloud-powered surveillance, the value of this new network is multiplied. The surveillance cloud creates opportunities to monitor up to thousands of retail stores from a single Web interface. A surveillance system running on a high-speed global cloud like Microsoft, Skype Cloud, Google or YouTube Cloud can support instant access to live and recorded video from any camera or server, at almost any location worldwide.

Cloud solutions can offer an interface presenting options such as “show all cash registers at the 97 southern Florida stores” or “show entrances at all 21 New York City stores.” These views are combination views of cameras from different locations in one interface.

Using the surveillance cloud to help with employee training and store layout can drive revenue. A billion-dollar retailer uses cloud-powered surveillance to help design better store layouts and merchandise placement. Using their cloud, the company’s managers sit at the corporate headquarters in the United States and watch customers interact with their products in Europe, all in real time. They also have the capability to quickly search through recorded video, collaboratively share video clips online and download HD video to analyze trends offline.

A common concern with moving video data over a global cloud is security. Is cloud-powered video surveillance secure enough for you? It is for the U.S. government.

“[Cloud] architecture would seem at first glance to be vulnerable to insider threats—indeed, no system that human beings use can be made immune to abuse, but we are convinced the controls and tools that will be built into the cloud will ensure that people cannot see any data beyond what they need for their jobs and will be swiftly identified if they make unauthorized attempts to access data,” said Army General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency.

Beyond NSA, the Government Services Administration selected Gmail cloud email from Google for all of its 15,000 employees. One of the key benefits of public cloud security over local or private cloud security is the resources that large providers such as Microsoft and Google invest in security. They get the latest gear, hire the best experts, and proactively protect their cloud as if their reputation depends on it. Due to this investment and commitment from these large organizations, threats can be more quickly identified and addressed. Is it perfect? No. If you put your video on a USB drive under your bed, it’s almost guaranteed to be safe, but then you can’t share it to help drive your business!

Future-proof technology

It’s a fact that technology continues to change rapidly. One of the key features of cloud-powered surveillance is that it can be “future proof.” As new higherresolution cameras, advanced analytics and other features are introduced, a cloud platform can upgrade as requirements change.

Although no company claims to make “hard to use” products, it’s safe to say that cloud-powered surveillance solutions tend to be easier to use because they are Web-friendly. This means they are designed to work on almost any computer—Windows or Apple—in almost any Web browser, without special software to be installed (such as ActiveX). Running in a Web browser makes it simple for anyone from loss prevention, human resources or even marketing to log in and get the video he or she needs. Web-based systems also reduce installation, training and maintenance costs usually required from systems that need special plug-ins or software.

We are entering an amazing new era of retail video surveillance powered by the cloud, which is not only here to stay but growing at a tremendous rate.

Over the next two years, cloud-based business intelligence and analytics will grow 84 percent annually, according to a new survey from Saugatuck Technologies. With this move to cloudbased business systems, an investment in cloud surveillance will no longer be based only on benefits from loss prevention and liability management. It will naturally expand to include visual business intelligence such as customer and employee management, merchandising, store layout and financial performance. Are you ready to get onto the cloud?

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Security Today.

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