What is the cloud? (Can we all agree?)
22 Apr 2020
Cloud systems are among the fastest-growing segments of the physical security industry. The fortunes of integrators can improve when they embrace a recurring monthly revenue (RMR) model, and cloud systems are expanding the services and features manufacturers can provide, from remote diagnostics to simplified system design. But for all the success of cloud systems, there remains confusion in the market about the exact definition of “cloud”. Or does there? We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: what is “the cloud”? Is there agreement in the market about what the term means?
When individuals in security use the term “cloud,” they are generally referring to a “public cloud” network, wherein many subscribers can obtain services or capabilities according to their individual needs and pay for those services according to their usage. This cloud option is often attractive because it is a secure means of accessing off-site data and easily scales to meet a user’s needs. In the video surveillance market, small- to medium-sized end users are likely to equate the “cloud” with Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS), available from quite a few start-ups and established VMS companies, often through a public cloud platform. However, the cloud has many different possible connotations, depending on the context. For example, corporate CIOs will more likely understand “the cloud” to be a “private cloud” platform. As such, the public cloud is a ubiquitous term while the private cloud is more specified.
In general terms, cloud-computing means using pooled and virtualised third-party computing resources, which are typically hosted off-premise and sold as services. Additionally, there are private cloud solutions that can be hosted on-site as well as hybrids using the two. For security applications, the cloud is used for use cases such as analytic processing of video, storage of events and clips and hosted video management systems (VMS). One of the drivers for the emergence of the cloud is that it enables businesses to rapidly scale to meet customer needs, without having to make large capital purchases. So effectively, it turns what used to be capital expenses (capex) expenses, into operational expenses (opex). The downside is that these cloud expenses are ongoing and often increase as a business grows. When designing an end-to-end security solution, one needs to balance the agility and scalability and ballooning costs for data transfer, storage and processing.
The security and the IT industries definitely understand what ‘The Cloud’ means, but there is perhaps less clarity for the general public as to the differences between Public and Private Cloud, and what this means with regards to their usage for security data storage. Public servers are open to all customers, although they are controlled by a myriad of private companies (such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services [AWS]) and feature storage locations worldwide. Private servers feature infrastructure controlled physically as well as logically by the corporation or government entity within their own data centres and server farms. Whilst many individuals and businesses use Public servers for private data, there is still a sharing of systems which inevitably is less secure compared to truly Private Cloud storage. Our industry should definitely do more to clarify this for customers looking to use Cloud storage for their security needs.
Cloud computing means storing and accessing your data and programs over the Internet instead of using your computer's hard drive. As such, cloud-based electronic access control, which is widely acknowledged now to be easier to employ plus more accessible and simpler to set up, directly connects door controllers to the Internet using wireless mobile and/or wired protocols, such as Ethernet. The growth in cloud access control has been driven in part by the widespread adoption of smart phones, as well as the global availability of high-capacity wireless data networks. A word of caution when changing over to mobile systems. Many legacy access control systems require the use of back-end portal accounts. For hackers, they have become rich, easy-to-access caches of sensitive end-user data. These older mobile systems also force the user to register themselves and their integrators for every application, and each registration requires the disclosure of sensitive personal information.
This question certainly isn’t new to the industry, but right now “cloud” is starting to appear more and more as an offering from Video Management Systems (VMS) manufacturers. Additionally, they are offering hybrid solutions with onsite and offsite capabilities. More services are being built up around this and are able to offer more enriched service offerings. These include remote monitoring services, which can determine whether damage has been done to a camera, or if there were errors, providing notifications long before an onsite manager would be notified. In the VMS world, not much changes, but the growing popularity of cloud and the demand for integration is increasing, bringing about a greater demand for open protocols as well.
In simple terms, “the cloud” refers to the storing and accessing of data over the internet as opposed to on-premise hard drives. Based on this definition, I would say there is agreement in the market about what the cloud entails, but not every market has fully embraced the technology yet. For example, many financial institutions today use on-premise solutions for features such as video storage and centralised management, but we’re going to start to see a transition to cloud-based storage over the next few years as bandwidth improves and cloud-storage costs decrease. The cloud offers numerous benefits for the financial industry, such as scalability and automatic updates, as well as the ability to streamline data and video sharing with external entities such as law enforcement – a feature that allows organisations to expedite response times and investigations.
The cloud allows integrators the opportunity to easily offer new managed services for recurring monthly revenue (RMR). Many integrators think it’s too great a leap to transition into cloud solutions – and that’s not true. We also hear integrators are too busy or don’t have the resources to start offering cloud-hosted managed services. While integrators are busy now, revenue streams from managed services will keep the business afloat during economic slowdowns. Finding time to learn technologies which are best for your business and customers is something we all need to work at. Fortunately, cloud solutions provide one of the easiest learning curves. The cloud also offers simpler ways to change system configurations and add new customer services. Our Connect ONE® cloud-hosted service has technician tools to save money and time on service calls, as well as market vertical sales presentations that help differentiate your company and sales personnel from competitors.
Private cloud or public cloud? VSaaS or unlimited storage for video? There seems to be agreement on the broad concept of “the cloud”, but beyond the basics, the terms become foggy, reflecting a variety of notions about how cloud services fit into the broader physical security marketplace. As cloud usage becomes more popular, it’s important that marketers be precise in their terminology, and that integrators and end users be diligent in understanding the specifics of available product offerings.
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