Taking the Mystery Out of Video-in-the-Cloud - Why cloud storage is gaining popular support

Taking the Mystery Out of Video-in-the-Cloud

Why cloud storage is gaining popular support

In a recent Hollywood comedy, Jason Segel’s character uttered the famous line, “Nobody understands the cloud. It’s a mystery.” And yet, all of us have been using the cloud for years: for online banking, online shopping, social media, email, sharing family photos and a host of other activities.

Now, the security industry is talking about video in the cloud. People are struggling to wrap their heads around the concept. So, let’s take some of the mystery out of this “new” operating model and explain why it can be a better alternative for many end users. Then we can address some of the major concerns customers might have regarding the technology, how some businesses are already using this cloud service and how managed cloud services as a whole are continuing to evolve.

Video-in-the-Cloud Isn’t All That Mysterious

Simply put, the cloud is a centralized storage of information. The location is commonly a highly secure data center operated by a third party as a subscription service and is virtually accessible from anywhere. Multiple companies share the real estate of that storage facility instead of maintaining their own in-house storage. But each company is provided with a unique web portal that only allows them access to their own information.

The format of the data can be anything from documents to photos to video footage.

In the security world, storing video in the cloud is often referred to as hosted video or video-as-a-service (VaaS). But, it’s really the same concept. In the video surveillance world, instead of the traditional operating model of storing footage on site in DVRs, NVRs or sometimes even a VMS, you stream the video to a third-party data center for archiving. Accessibility from anywhere is the key.

DVRs, NVRs and VMS-based video surveillance systems tend to be relatively closed systems. You might be able to view the live video or access archived footage from an authorized corporate computer, but unless you’ve downloaded all the proprietary applications onto your remote viewing device—mobile phone, tablet, laptop or PC—you won’t be able to experience the system’s full feature set.

Video-In-The-Cloud Has Some Significant Advantages

Cloud stored video turns out to be the most feasible option for enabling end users to securely access their video no matter where they happen to be—whether at the office, at home, on the road, or even on vacation. They simply log onto the web-based, secure portal for their business and everything is there at their fingertips. The underlying applications that make it all work seamlessly reside in the cloud, not on their device. So they don’t have to worry about software updates or any other programming issues. Those are all managed and maintained by the service provider.

While accessibility is a hot topic, so is cost. With cloud storage, customers significantly lower their upfront capital investment. Video in the cloud eliminates the need for on-site storage (unless you want to maintain redundancy for the rare occasions when Internet connectivity might be disrupted). So no more worries about failure-prone DVRs. No mega-terabytes of server storage to purchase, find space for and maintain. With a subscription service, the only things the customer pays for upfront are the network cameras and an Internet connection.

The cost of running the system comes out of the monthly operating budget. And the nice thing about a subscription, you only need to purchase the bandwidth and cloud storage you actually need at the time you need it. This set up makes it easier to keep the system nimble and expandable at a customer’s own determined pace. The service provider handles system updates and upgrades, integrates new features, troubleshoots and performs regular maintenance rather than placing the burden on the customer who may not have the technical expertise in-house to do those tasks.

Another significant advantage of offloading video to the cloud is security. How often have we heard of intruders, or even untrustworthy employees, tampering with or stealing surveillance footage that has been stored on site? Video in the cloud mitigates the risk of losing this valuable forensic evidence.

Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

Despite the obvious advantages of video-in-thecloud, many potential customers point to serious concerns about security, bandwidth consumption, and the complexity of deploying this type of solution. Let’s examine those concerns one at a time.

Security. In light of all the recent WikiLeaks, You- Tube exposés and hacking of retail giants’ customer data, you might be wondering, “Just how secure is video-in-the-cloud?” Giving one’s sensitive video data into the safekeeping of a third party requires enormous trust. Even though users have been entrusting the transmission of their private financial data, business correspondence and other confidential information to third parties for years, it’s still reasonable to want to know what security measures are being put in place to protect their video data from unauthorized access and exploitation.

Generally there are three levels of security used to mitigate risks in a cloud environment: at the data storage facility, in the pipeline, and at the network camera. A certified cloud storage facility maintains the highest classification of data center security by complying with numerous regulations and industry guidelines, including SAS70, RSA Encryption and ISO 270001 audits. This translates into selecting premium bandwidth providers to ensure minimal latency and fast connectivity to all points of the global Internet. It also includes extensive fault tolerance and resilience at every layer to ensure consistent, uninterrupted power supply to the facility.

They employ extra safeguards to keep your video secure such as multi-level passwords, SSL encryption, virtual private networks (VPN) and firewalls. They use authentication codes to restrict camera and local storage communication to their specific hosting cloud. As an additional precaution, they might also operate multiple data centers to ensure geographic redundancy in case of a disaster.

There are a number of encryption methodologies that can be used to protect the video data as it flows through the pipeline. Two of the most common methods are symmetric and asymmetric. In the symmetric method, also known as private-key cryptography, the video data is encrypted at the sender’s end with a key and the receiver uses the same key to decrypt the data at the other end. On the other hand, an asymmetric method, also known as public-key cryptography, uses two different keys—a public one for encryption and a private one for decryption.

Most network cameras today come with vandal and tampering protection and firmware security features. But for additional security, they also support 802.1x port authentication and IP address filtering to prevent intruders from hijacking the video stream or penetrating the network. Today’s network cameras can add a digital watermark and time stamping to all recorded material to mitigate image tampering. And they maintain access logs, creating an audit trail of who has seen what images and whether they’ve made any edits to those recordings.

Bandwidth. Another misconception is that sending video to the cloud monopolizes bandwidth needed for other data communication traffic. But the beauty of most network video cameras is that their frame rates and resolution can be adjusted to accommodate the available bandwidth. Furthermore, with advanced H.264 compression the amount of data flowing through the pipeline can be reduced by more than half while maintaining excellent image quality for playback.

Another alternative is multi-streaming— storing lower resolution, lower frame rate images in the cloud and higher-resolution, higher frame rate images on an SD card in the camera or on a local network attached storage (NAS) device. This minimizes the issue of limited bandwidth and provides redundancy. The other important thing to note is that every year technology pushes the envelope further, making greater bandwidth capacity more available and more cost-effective than before. These advances are gradually making it more affordable for smaller businesses to push great volumes of video data through the pipeline.

Complexity. Using network cameras and streaming images to the cloud doesn’t mean users have to be experts in networking technology. After all, how much does someone need to know about IT infrastructure to use e-mail or a shared printer? If anything, videoin- the-cloud simplifies the surveillance process. Nowadays, integrators can preprogram many IP-based cameras before installation so that as soon as they’re connected to the network they will automatically stream the video to the appropriate cloud-based storage. This removes the complexity of port forwarding and assigning static IP addresses that is typically necessary for more traditional in-house enterprisewide surveillance systems.

Where Video-in-the-Cloud is Gaining a Foothold

Because of the technology’s inherent flexibility, users of video-in-the-cloud are quite a diverse population – from large and mid-size corporations to small one-office businesses and representative of a wide variety of industry sectors. The following are just a few typical examples.

Large retail chains. Using a videoin- the-cloud surveillance model at each retail outlet provides the corporation with a means to centrally oversee the entire operation and leverage the aggregate information to improve each individual location.

Regional directors can remotely view video from all the stores in their sector through a single portal and compare performances, identify serial shoplifters, more tightly manage staffing resources, even monitor displays to ensure each store aligns with corporate standards for particular marketing campaigns.

Video-as-a-service can prove far less costly than scheduling regular onsite visits to each store and provides more timely feedback on problems that if left unchecked could quickly erode the bottom line. With additional analytics such as heat mapping and dwell-time analysis, management can learn to optimize floor plans and displays to attract shoppers and convert browsers to buyers.

Remote branches of a financial institution. Many institutions with low camera count branch offices that originally opted for standalone, DVR-based systems at those locations are now turning to cloud storage as a better operational model. Instead of constricted by the port capacity of a DVR, a cloud-based solution lets them add cameras costefficiently, one at a time, as needed.

More importantly, hosted video gives management—local branch managers, district and regional managers, and corporate executives—remote access to live and recorded video at each site to analyze ways to improve and grow the business and the corporate brand.

A small professional services office. A hosted video model allows a one-person operation to leverage sophisticated video surveillance technology without a lot of costly hardware and onsite maintenance responsibilities. Remote access from anywhere means the small business owner can monitor events at the office while at home or even on vacation. They can see whether the afterhours cleaning crew is doing a good job or stealing supplies.

They can check if the plow service has cleared the sidewalk and parking lot before they head to the office. And should an incident occur while they aren’t onsite, they can log into the system remotely for video verification of events to avoid costly penalties for calling in a false alarm.

The Future of Managed Services in the Cloud

We’re already starting to see a gradual shift in cloud video services towards integration with other cloud-managed physical security systems. Linking multiple managed services under one umbrella allows user to access all their physical security data through a single sign-on experience.

This might include everything from surveillance video to access control logs to thermostat sensors and more. With many jurisdictions now requiring video verification of alarms before deploying responders, an integrated approach to managed services in the cloud could become the mandate for business operations in the future.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Security Today.

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