Shifting Towards the Cloud
Dramatic changes bring network technology to the forefront
- By Jeff Whitney
- Dec 01, 2018
Video surveillance has
in recent decades.
Open, IP-based network
largely replaced the
closed, proprietary world that long
dominated the security industry. Megapixel
has displaced analog technology
as the most common choice for video
surveillance cameras in both new projects
and major updates to existing
systems. Multi-sensor cameras have
reduced the demand for PTZs and offer
better overall situational awareness.
The list goes on.
While other new technologies have been
introduced by the video surveillance industry
with varying levels of impact, another
major shift is occurring almost unnoticed.
Video surveillance is now in the early stages
of a general move into the cloud.
Such a shift will inevitably lead to disruption
of markets for long-time industry
players and change how security operates
at many levels. As with any successful new
technology, the cloud brings great benefits
and promise, as well as new challenges and
a range of potential risks. Selection of the
best architecture for the cloud, and the
surveillance systems that use it, will be key
to successful projects.
The Cloud and
Cloud technology is not new. The IT industry
has long adopted cloud-based services
to reduce costs, improve resiliency,
deliver new services, and increase customer
satisfaction. Based on that experience,
many vendors now provide a wide range
of cloud-based services to the commercial,
government, education, and consumer
markets. Examples that may be familiar to
the average security professional include
Amazon Drive, Apple iCloud, Box, Carbonite,
DropBox, Filesanywhere, Google
Drive, IBM Cloud, Microsoft OneNote
and many lesser-known products.
Much more recent is cloud technology’s
growing acceptance across the security
industry, especially for video surveillance
applications. Security by its nature
is conservative overall and slow to adopt
new technologies, in large part as a natural
response to reducing potential risk. But
the benefits of the cloud for video surveillance
A cloud-based surveillance system can
reduce the amount of equipment and human
resources needed onsite. Video can
be recorded and uploaded over the Internet
to another location, eliminating the
need for significant and expensive local
video storage. Security of the video data
and the system can be enhanced. Staffing
costs can be reduced since there is less
equipment to manage and maintain, further
As an example, consider the use of
cloud-based surveillance in a convenience
store or a small office. Traditional systems
are usually composed of an NVR or PCbased
server under a counter or in a back
room. The device would require basic administration
from someone onsite. Video
quality and system reliability is often poor,
and the system may not have been professionally
installed due to cost.
A small number of single sensor cameras
is often sufficient for these types of
minimal surveillance system requirements.
By moving to a cloud-based application,
no employee would be required to administer
a local NVR or server; it would be
managed and the video content accessed
from anywhere. No technical expertise or
training would be required locally, resulting in significantly lower cost. No employee could access the system
inappropriately. Professional management of the video data
would inevitably lead to higher reliability and more secure video
protection at the same time.
The same model could be scaled out to a large number of
cameras in a single project for superior coverage, or to multiple
small projects in other locations that are aggregated together via
the cloud. Video would be recorded locally and stored over the
cloud to a professionally-managed data center, with IT-grade operational
and security best practices. Such a facility would provide
the best achievable uptime and responsiveness to any issues
as they arise while providing significant improved ROI.
Challenges and Risks
When rolling out any new technology, there are always challenges
and risks to be addressed. A long-time challenge to the first cloud
deployments has been that security professionals are often unwilling
to allow their video to be stored offsite. Instead, they have
traditionally preferred to keep their video data “locked down” in
their facility where they can physically limit and control access.
Losing this level of physical control can be perceived to be a major
issue. However, this view is changing as cost benefits are better
understood and security professionals become better educated
about cloud technology. The increasing use of the cloud for ITmanaged
corporate data and rising personal use of cloud services
are also responsible for much of this gradual shift in perception.
Another concern is that video surveillance generates very large
files, and the transfer and storage of such material can be quite
costly. Most professional-grade megapixel security cameras today
offer advanced compression technologies such as H.264 and
increasingly H.265. Many camera vendors go further by offering
their own technologies that reduce network bandwidth and video
storage requirements. These techniques and technologies are especially
important with the widespread adoption of multi-sensor
cameras and the growth of 4K or higher megapixel technology
for ever better surveillance coverage and image quality. While
these factors all help, only by selecting what video is stored locally
and what is uploaded to the cloud can the cost issue be most
effectively addressed today.
Yet the biggest concern of today’s security professionals is
cybersecurity. Highly publicized cyberattacks continue to plague
electronic systems of all kinds worldwide, and only the most cyber-
secure systems can be counted upon to adequately protect
In response to these valuable benefits and addressing justifiable
concerns, many long-time video management systems have
added remote access technology to their products and are increasing
system security. Most VMS systems now allow remote
access to the surveillance system, such as through an offsite PC
or Mac, and increasingly through a smartphone or tablet app.
Many also enable video to be streamed to additional locations for
secure offsite backup or storage.
A few vendors now provide next generation products designed
entirely from the ground up for the cloud. In these cases, video is
captured locally through megapixel cameras, then uploaded to
a remote storage service via the cloud, with various techniques
employed to reduce video file size and network bandwidth. At
present, these systems often are limited in practical use by the
number of cameras that can be supported in a single location, but
all show much promise for the future. A reasonable predication
is that eventually, the most important video will be stored offsite
using cloud applications.
Today’s Best Solution
The best solution at present may be a blended or hybrid cloud
surveillance system. Such a hybrid offers both local and cloud
recording. It starts with the traditional model, of recording locally
on an NVR or server using the vendor’s video management
system. This increases the reliability of recording and eliminates
most performance, bandwidth, or cost issues that arise from continuously
streaming all captured video over the internet to the
cloud. The hybrid approach can allow for more cameras to effectively
be used in a single location than a cloud-only solution
might affordably deliver.
The local NVR or server plus the video and user accounts it
contains can be managed remotely, over the cloud. This reduces
or eliminates the need for local admins, providing major savings
and reducing both complexity and risk of system compromise.
No local programming is required, and only those authorized can
access the system.
Important video, such as clips of activity or incidents, can be
uploaded to the cloud for long term storage or sharing with multiple
A fully-enabled thick client for laptops or desktops, a software-
free thin client accessed from most popular web browsers,
or a useful app on a smart phone or tablet are all that are required
to access and use the system with a single sign-in regardless
Strong cybersecurity is key to the reliability and protection of
both traditional and cloud-based surveillance, and may be lacking
in many in-use systems today.
For new cloud-based deployments, use of two-step verification
is a required first step. This security approach can be used
to allow access the surveillance system or the video it contains,
regardless of platform used. Having strong controls over who can
see and do on the system is also a must-have.
Video to be shared from the cloud must be password protected
with NIST-compliant data encryption for maximum security
to ensure appropriate access. Each local VMS or NVR system
must establish a trusted outbound connection to the cloud storage
platform. This eliminates potential network vulnerabilities by
eliminating need for any open ports through the network firewall.
This capability will be appreciated by the IT organization, further
reducing the risk to the entire network infrastructure versus traditional
remote access methods.
Cloud-based systems that offer these types of protection, performance,
flexibility, and cost savings are the next logical step as
video surveillance and the security industry overall moves into
this new age. Hybrid cloud solutions are available today from a
select group of vendors, and offer much additional promise for
the future through the power and potential of the cloud.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Security Today.